Why Annie Clark of St. Vincent Looks Like No Other Rockstar Out There

Annie Clark already had a unique sound, but with the debut of her most recent album, she has also laid claim to an incredibly unique look. This is how it all comes together.
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Tyler McCall
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Annie Clark already had a unique sound, but with the debut of her most recent album, she has also laid claim to an incredibly unique look. This is how it all comes together.
The album cover for the Grammy-winning "St. Vincent." Photo: Courtesy Loma Vista

The album cover for the Grammy-winning "St. Vincent." Photo: Courtesy Loma Vista

Whether she's headlining major festivals like Coachella or hitting the rare red carpet, there's no question that St. Vincent (née Annie Clark) has an incredible sense of personal style. And when it comes to her most recent album — the Grammy award-winning "St. Vincent" — it's clear that the clothes play as much a role in creating the onstage persona as the deeply thought-out lyrics and guitar-shredding riffs. 

One might wonder if Clark is actually a robot programmed to rockstar perfection, but the truth isn't so sci-fi. Clark works with a team of great stylists to put her look together — like Karla Welch, who met Clark through another client while working the Emmys. After seeing her perform live, Welch agreed to sign on as a collaborator.

"I find her to be such a vessel," Welch says. "She’s just willing to go there, but it’s more that when I saw her play live, I just kind of had that 'Oh my God' moment. She’s so incredibly talented, and you can go from there and you’re making art. And that’s super fulfilling."

For the "St. Vincent" album era, Welch worked with Clark to invoke references like cult leaders and filmmaker Valery Petrovich Todorovsky, both in the album art and accompanying videos. Welch also helped put together some of her tour looks — with some constraints. "As amazing as she is, it’s not like you have Rihanna’s tour budget," Welch says. "It’s a labor of love."

That meant lots of custom work, either with vintage pieces Clark picked up herself or designer pieces from labels like Bottega Veneta, worn in rotation. Clark's current show is tightly choreographed and has her falling all over the stage — sometimes literally.

"In the beginning it was just us buying pieces and then fucking [them] up; we do things that would work with her stage show because she’s moving around, falling down," Welch says. "It was super physical, and we had to make sure she could wear boy shorts under the dress and that there’s a little bit of modesty, but also that she could just play the guitar."

"We have to think about shapes that would work, not only be flattering on her, but would also work for her movement," says stylist Avigail Collins, who has recently begun to work with Clark on her performance outfits for festivals like Coachella and Governor's Ball, having styled her NME cover shoot, her red carpet looks at the Q Awards and the Brit Awards, and her most recent appearance on "The Tonight Show." "She has amazing taste, which is a pleasure for me," Collins says. "And she really knows what she’s talking about."

As it turns out, Clark (who could not be reached for comment on this story) is very savvy with young designers, especially in London. She likes wearing clothing from the likes of Simone Rocha and Phoebe English, who designed her "Tonight Show" look. The pale yellow coat worn on the Q Awards red carpet was by a young Japanese label called Toga, which Clark ended up keeping. According to Collins, the designers are just as excited to work with Clark, who inspired some of their work.

"She really respects fashion, she sees it as an art, and she really loves what designers do for her as well, for her stage performance," Collins says. "She really gets that, and it’s really nice working with someone like her who does, because it becomes more of a collaboration rather than you just putting clothes on a person."

Clark is known for wearing the same outfit for long stretches of the tour, surely because every look is so thought out: She studies everything, from how the color will work with the stage, to how the shapes will work with her choreography. "I feel like she puts on that stage uniform and she becomes St. Vincent almost," Collins says. "It helps with her whole persona and everything. I love it when artists do that every night. I think if you’re changing every night, you kind of wouldn’t know who you are."

And then of course there's the hair, which has become iconic among St. Vincent fans. Pre- "St. Vincent," Clark's natural hair was brunette and curly. But in the months prior to the "St. Vincent" cover shoot, she played around with her look (not to mention her sound) following a more experimental album with David Byrne. She had taken to having friends bleach her hair on the road — which meant hairstylist Pamela Neal had her work cut out for her. 

"I met Annie for the first time on set, and her hair was a complete disaster," Neal says with a laugh. "And I mean, complete disaster. It was bleached off in many places; I mean it was just shredded, falling off in areas."

Thankfully, Neal had done some homework on Clark before meeting her on set, and brought one of the interesting colors she had on hand: a pretty lavender dye. "I had a sneaky feeling that I was going to end up with some odd thing on her head after I had researched it," she says. "So I brought some color with me, and we got to work. I wanted to get rid of the tobacco color, so I was madly neutralizing it with whatever we had in the time frame, washing it in the bathroom sink, and it turned out that beautiful, beautiful lavender color that you see on the cover."

The upside of having bleached (read: damaged) hair is that it becomes more malleable for styling. Clark, who does her own hair on the road, was able to achieve really sculptural hairstyles. On the flip side, maintaining that kind of high-maintenance hair was difficult; Neal encouraged her to visit the salon regularly for upkeep and deep conditioning, but Clark's extensive touring schedule made it almost impossible. "With hair, of course, there’s only so many times you can bleach it before you end up with none," Neal says, and that was true for Clark, whose hair is back to brunette and a few inches shorter.

When it comes to makeup, that too is handled by Clark, herself, on the road, but she taps professionals for photoshoots and red carpet appearances. Lucy Gibson, who did her makeup for the NME cover and her Q Awards red carpet look, says that, despite the fact that Clark knows her stuff when it comes to makeup, deciding on a look is always a collaborative process. 

"She always surprises me with the references that she will invoke. She doesn’t usually come in and say 'This is what I want;' I ask her what she’s into, it gives me a place to start from, and then there’s always something that she’s been looking at or trying or a product that she’s found that she likes," Gibson says. "It’s a real collaboration, which is nice — fifty-fifty."

Her otherworldly features make experimenting with makeup incredibly easy. Clark has pulled off electric blue eyeshadow just as easily as she has a bleached brow and dark lip. "She’s got amazing skin, and she’s got this amazing bone structure where you’re not trying to fix anything, you’re not trying to alter a feature," Gibson says.

On top of being talented and open to professional suggestion, Clark is also apparently wonderful to work with. Welch remarked that she "lacks any sort of vanity," and words like "bright,"  "sweet," "witty," "grateful" and "polite" come up frequently. "She’s such a nice person and deserves all her success ... and she’s so grateful for anyone that works with her," Collins says. "I don’t know how she has the time to be so lovely and so complimentary."

"She’s a dream," Gibson says. "I think it’s that pleasure of working with someone who’s so open to trying different things, someone who’s so beautiful where you can kind of get away with anything, and somebody who is just so creative."

"She’s not afraid of anything; she just has earned confidence, I think, in her talent and her ability and her intelligence," says Neal. "I think you mentioned in your article you’re not so sure that she’s human — well, I'm not sure, either."

So while we may know more about how her incredible style happens, the jury's still out when it comes to knowing whether Annie Clark is real. Check out more of St. Vincent's looks here: