At the Brit Awards in 2007, Amy Winehouse – who would go on that night to win the British Female Solo Artist award and perform Rehab – pitched up on the red carpet wearing a yellow Preen mini dress, black bra brazenly on show and a heart-shaped handbag swinging off her arm (a tongue-in-cheek nod to the fact that it was Valentine’s Day). The hair was high, the tattoos many, the winged eyeliner present. It was, in short, a look that was pure Amy.
So much so that when the next morning pundits quipped ‘you can tell Amy doesn’t have a stylist’, Naomi Parry – who actually was her stylist – didn’t take it as a burn but a compliment. ‘She was on the up, people were really taking notice of her, but it hadn’t reached the point where it became intrusive. She was quite happy, still able to run around playing pool in Camden without being bothered,’ Naomi says now of that time. On the night she 'just felt amazing' in that outfit, so much so that she ended up buying half of that Preen collection.
That yellow dress is just one of the pieces on display in the Design Museum’s new exhibition, Amy: Beyond the Stage, a celebration of the singer’s life, work and style. For Parry, who was above all one of Winehouse’s closest friends and who took on the role of Special Advisor for the exhibition, working on the Design Museum project has been part of her grieving process. ‘I was so sick of the same old story being trotted out about Amy focussing on the more difficult parts of her life and not actually on what she achieved, and who she was and how inspirational she was. I was really desperate to change that narrative, or at least get some balance in it because I don’t think you can really talk about Amy honestly without talking about some of her struggles; they were definitely part of her and part of her music,’ says Parry now. While the 10-year anniversary of her death didn’t feel like a reason to celebrate to her, it was an opportune moment to ‘shift the focus and start remembering her in the way she should be remembered,’ says Parry.
Parry’s role as Winehouse’s stylist was born out of their friendship. You can see it in the ease, the comfort, the unmistakable ‘Amy-ness’ of the looks. She is quick to point out that ‘Amy was very much the architect of her image’. Case in point: the first time 19-year-old Parry met Winehouse one night in Soho, her future friend was backcombing her hair. They started working together 18 months later.
Unsurprisingly, Parry says now: ‘I love a lot of the outfits because of the stories behind them. Amy’s dresses were very simple. I know it seemed like a lot but that was because it was with her tattoos and makeup and hair. It was her that was wearing them. It was her big character that bought them to life. That’s why I stressed at the start of this exhibition that it needed to be immersive, it needed to bring out Amy’s character’.
Theirs was a successful collaborative relationship, not just because of the closeness but because of that precious knowledge that they only wanted the best for each other. ‘I think she trusted me essentially to go out and be her eyes, and also know that I wouldn’t try and force her down a route that she wasn’t comfortable with,’ says Parry, adding with a laugh: ‘Not that you could ever tell Amy what to do!’
Time is strange when you are grieving someone, it drags slowly and then goes by in a flash. When you lose someone close to you young, too young, it can simultaneously feel like they are still here and were never there at all. When that grief is also a public grief – and Winehouse’s life and death were subject to intense, often cruel, media scrutiny – it is even harder to remember the person as they were, how they still are to you. Amy: Beyond the Stage (she has also authored a book to coincide with the exhibition, Amy Winehouse: Beyond Black) is a poignant testament to Parry's intimate relationship with a woman adored by so many, her love and respect for a friend who was more like a sister.
So how does Parry remember her? ‘I just hear her voice and I hear her laugh and I hear the way that she says my name. She’s just comfortable, it’s really difficult to describe,’ she says. ‘I don’t really think about the times we worked together, I don’t really think about the Amy Winehouse that everybody sees in the media, I think about my little mate that used to make jerk chicken and rice and put too much red wine in the rice. Or just constantly trying to make you a sandwich, then chatting to you and asking you about boyfriends. Just my friend, my friend that I spent a lot of time with. I just like to think of her sitting on my sofa having a little chat’.