Rufus Wainwright: ‘A good caviar moment can really cover up a lot of anguish’
Simply sign up to the Style myFT Digest -- delivered directly to your inbox.
My style signifier is brooches. I’ve worn them for many years when they’ve been both in and out of fashion. I have a favourite brooch shop in London called Christopher St James in Covent Garden, which sells great theatrical jewellery – I always go there when I visit the city. 12 Cecil Court, Covent Garden, London WC2 (07768-548 371)
The last thing I bought and loved was a Kreation Organic Blue Boost smoothie. I was on Larchmont Boulevard in Los Angeles – one of the only pedestrian thoroughfares in the city – and I found this place that makes incredible smoothies in bottles that you can return to the store after. I have no idea what’s inside of it – it’s blue, that’s all I know. kreationjuice.com
And on my wishlist is a Kay Francis film anthology. She was a huge star at Warner Bros in the 1930s and I just recently saw her in a movie she starred in called Confession. She was famous for having a speech impediment, which gave her this interesting voice, and she also wore the most incredible clothes. I don’t know if there’s an anthology of her films but I would love to find one.
And the best souvenir I’ve brought home is a pair of dog overalls and matching hat that resemble the outfit of a steam train driver. I bought it in Tokyo as a present for my friend Jane Rose – Keith Richards’ manager – as we share a passion for dogs. I have a miniature Australian shepherd called Siegfried, named after the Wagner opera, though most people think of Siegfried & Roy.
I’ve recently rediscovered Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel album. She is one of the iconic legends of song in America. The title track was written by my aunt, Anna McGarrigle, and then Linda ended up singing a bunch of my mother’s [Kate McGarrigle] songs. She was our protector growing up – it was because of her that my mother’s career flourished and we were able to make a living. Linda was from another era where some singers just sang songs, interpreting other people’s work rather than writing their own. That doesn’t really exist any more and I think it’s a bit of a loss.
In my fridge you’ll always find Mini Babybel cheeses – they probably shouldn’t be there, they’re like a posh Velveeta. When I have my Babybel, it’s me thinking I’m fancy when I’m not. Then I always have goat’s milk; I discovered it years ago when I went on a goat’s-milk fad to cleanse the body – it was all I would drink for a couple of weeks. I ended up loving it, so now I’m a converted goat’s-milk drinker. And then maple syrup – I always have to have plenty around just to prove I’m Canadian. I put it in my tea and coffee and occasionally, if I’m having a bad day, I’ll take a couple of swigs right from the bottle instead of having a glass of wine.
The best books I’ve read in the past year are the Rabbit series by John Updike – I’m on book three of four. It’s an epic tale of America that takes place in Pennsylvania in the mid- to late 20th century. It has a similar vibe to the recent TV show Mare of Easttown: real gothic American decay with confusing class struggle, race relations and a bleak but at times incredibly funny American landscape.
The grooming staple I’m never without is a beard trimmer. I am officially a bearded human now, probably for the rest of the game, so my big, old-school trimmer is a necessity. The funny thing is that you can go from looking like a handsome swashbuckler to rather scary in the space of a week, so the trimmer is really important.
My style icon is actor Gary Cooper. I recently saw some pictures of him when he was very young and he was just so attractive. He wore tight cowboy outfits with lots of braiding and patterns – it was really beautiful. There’s something very androgynous about him. He’s not that typical Hollywood alpha male but a sort of mythical, enchanted figure.
The best gift I’ve given recently is a home-gym machine, Tonal, to my husband. It has the workout on a screen and a soundtrack that prods you along – he’s enjoyed it immensely. We keep it downstairs in our guest room now that we don’t really have visitors to stay. I have no idea what functions it has but I certainly reap the rewards. From $2,995, tonal.com
And the best gift I’ve received recently is a turntable. My husband gave it to me for Christmas and it has totally shifted our listening pleasure. What’s great about vinyl records is that you really listen and pay more attention to them as you have to turn them over, so it makes it more of an experience. It’s also fun going to record shops and digging through old albums – it gets you out of the house and stops you buying everything online. I grew up with a huge record collection but my sister Martha got it after my mother passed away, so I’m building my own.
The tech I couldn’t do without are the regular Apple EarPods – I think I’ve bought about 20 pairs. In shops they always try to sell me the next level up, like wireless or noise cancelling, but I always lose my earphones so I’m happiest when I get those good old-fashioned ones with the cord.
I have a collection of Delft vases and plates. I perform a lot in Holland and always dash out for Delft when I’m there. I like how incongruous it is and although it’s not as refined as china from China, it has this folksy, slightly baroque quality to it.
An indulgence I would never forgo is caviar. I love it and I hope it sticks around – there are certain types that won’t be with us for too much longer because of the environment, which is pretty devastating. But I will admit that a good caviar moment can really cover up a lot of anguish. I like eating it the traditional Russian way on blinis with little bits of egg, some red onion and a dab of melted butter.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was an antique kimono. For a long time last year I was doing concerts in my living room called the Robe Recitals, where I’d film myself singing a song every morning. I only had about three kimonos so I was starting to feel a little naff. Thankfully a friend of mine, Wendy Asher, gave me one of her gorgeous antique ones, which is purple with lilies on it. I’m a big robe wearer in the morning. It’s kind of ritualistic for me to have something to lounge about in before I put on my armour.
The last music I downloaded was Georgian folk songs. The country is Orthodox Christian so the music is very dramatic and mystical but there’s also a brutality to it. I’m working on a project involving Georgian folk music and have been immersing myself in that world, trying to come up with songs that relate to it.
My grooming guru is Sean James who is a fabulous Australian hairdresser in LA – he works a lot with Jamie Lee Curtis and Renée Zellweger. He has great hair products and is just a really good man who hustles, which I like. Sean James, at Matthew Preece Salon, matthewpreece.com
My favourite room in my house is my bedroom. It’s beautiful and bright with a gorgeous view – if you look out the window you can see [Jazz Age icon] Louise Brooks’ old house across the canyon which is exciting because I’m fanatical about her. I have a little piano in my bedroom with my writing desk so it makes me feel a bit like Edith Wharton. I would work in bed if I could but my husband won’t let me – he’s German and thinks it’s sacrilege.
The work of art that changed everything was Nina Simone singing “Cotton Eyed Joe”. I remember coming home from boarding school one summer, it was raining and very balmy, and I was having an awakening in terms of who I was and what I wanted to do. I listened to this song and my path was revealed: being a songwriter and trying to create work that has this intense drama, feeling and sentiment.
The place I can’t wait to go back to is Uruguay. I had the opportunity to go there after my opera was performed in Buenos Aires – a lot of people from the city go on holiday in Uruguay, so for Argentines it’s a bit like the Hamptons. A friend of mine took me to his father’s incredible ranch filled with palm trees. We went horseback riding under the moonlight, which was very romantic and of another time – I’ve never felt more glamorous.
The podcast I’m listening to is my own, called Road Trip Elegies. It’s conversations I had with my therapist during a 10-hour drive from Montreal to New York, journeying through my childhood and my parents’ life. I really enjoy working with my therapist and I regret the fact that we haven’t recorded some of our sessions, so I felt like this discussion in the car was a good way to frame that concept. I think I’m less inhibited when I’m driving, probably because I’m concentrating more on the road.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is John Singer Sargent – I’ve been a fan of his for most of my life. I saw a retrospective of his work many years ago at the Royal Academy in London and it rocked my world to see all the paintings in one room. I wrote the song “Poses” after that exhibit.
An object I would never part with is my 18th-century drawing desk from France. My husband recently gave it to me – it’s this gorgeous little jewel box of a desk that I’ve been using to draw.
A recent “find” is Call My Agent on Netflix. The premise, writing and acting are great and I’ve loved its playfulness during this dark period. Also, growing up in Montreal means I speak French so it was nice to finally watch something in that language and to be immersed in European culture. I now live in LA and of course haven’t been able to travel lately so watching the show was like taking a little vacation to Paris every evening.
My favourite website is HuffPost, if I’m being brutally honest – I hate to say that but I’m on it every day. It’s an easy way to skim through the world in five minutes and get a sense of what’s going on. I’m a bit of a news junkie, although I do look forward to a period where I can get away from my phone and my computer.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a painter. It would have been a nice way to work and listen to music without having to create it first – I could sit around listening to what other people do musically and just get lost in that universe. I went to art school briefly when I was young and I’ve immersed myself once more in my drawing, it’s a special part of my artistic output, so maybe I can still become a painter.
Rufus Wainwright is touring the UK until October 20, rufuswainwright.com/tour