The leather jacket has long been an emblem of rock and now the Kills' singer Alison Mosshart has put her own stamp on it. She recently designed her own dream jacket for the French boutique label Surface to Air: a studded fringe topper that's the total package of everything she’s ever looked for in a leather jacket but never found (she should know -- she owns more than 40). Mosshart also created a graphic tee for the brand, with a stream-of-consciousness poem that she hastily scribbled down while working on a new song. Hive recently spoke with Mosshart about the Kills’ impending fifth album, her thoughts on designing clothes and the chances of the Dead Weather getting back in the studio.
What have you been working on lately?
Jamie [Hince] and I are working on a record. We’re in [the] process of trying to figure out what we want the record to be. There’s this unruly body of work that needs to be trimmed and more needs to be written. We write a million songs and gradually create some new sound and idea so it doesn’t sound like the [record] before it. Writing can be so many different things: taking photographs, making paintings, or writing poetry -- it all comes from the same place. It won’t come out until we feel great about it and who knows how long that could take. The last record didn’t take much time compared to the one before it, which took fucking forever.
How long have you been painting?
Forever. My mom is an art teacher and she’s been making me do it since I was a baby. I recently bought a house in Nashville that has a big studio, so I have space to make the most incredible mess. It’s fantastic. So I’ve been doing a lot of it because I can. It’s a lot easier to paint in the studio than it is on the tour bus.
What’s the tone of the paintings you’ve been working on?
Lots of faces, quite dark, sort of fucked up. They’re odd.
Will the world get to see these eventually?
I hope so -- I’d love to do a show. Until the time is right, until there’s a gallery that makes sense, it’s not something I’m pushing. I’m just painting, and I think one day all of that stuff will find its place. Something will make sense -- somebody will come to me or I’ll think what I want to show them or do with them.
When did you write the poem on the graphic tee that you designed?
I wrote it around the time I got asked to do that project. That’s stream-of-conscious -- even the spelling’s gone out the window. It’s all about sound and rhythm. That’s the kind of headspace I’m in because I’m writing music.
Will it be making its way into your tour wardrobe?
I’m sure it will. I love that shirt -- and it’s black.
I read Jamie was a fan of the leather jacket. Would you ever design your own stage clothes?
I don’t really have elaborate stage outfits. I break everything and rip everything and move around so much, so having some complicated thing I’m just going to tear apart isn’t ideal. I’m definitely more of a jeans, t-shirt, and leather jacket kind of gal. But, I made that jacket. If it’s cold enough in a venue I can wear it. I could do it for a song or two before fainting, so we’ll see. There are other things I’d like to make but they’d have to be with the right people. I’m not a pattern cutter. I don’t totally understand form and wouldn’t pretend to. I don’t even know how to use a sewing machine without blowing it up-- I’ve broken so many. I know this is not exactly my calling but if there’s a situation where I can draw pictures and show what I want, pick fabrics and all of the parts and pieces, bring in examples of how I want things to be -- that I could do all day long.
People would go crazy if you designed more items.
We’ll see if anyone buys the jacket. A couple of people have bought it and I get really excited. I designed my idea of what I’ve been looking for but never could find; maybe a lot of people out there have been looking for the same thing, which would be really cool. I hope people like it.
I think the general consensus is that everyone loves it, but the $1200 price tag is pretty steep. Do you know how Surface to Air arrived at that price?
Yeah, it’s the nicest leather on earth. Everything about it is beautiful. That’s how much a really brilliant leather jacket costs. I’m not interested in making 20,000 of something for $200 bucks and it becoming a uniform that I see everywhere. I don’t dress like that. I don’t buy stuff that I see everybody wearing; that turns me off. So I hate that’s so expensive -- and they aren’t making that many of them for that reason -- but that’s the way of the world. It really does cost that much to make. It’s super beautiful and it will last forever. I have a couple of leather jackets like that where I was like, “Oh my god, I need to take a loan out to buy this,” but they are my favorites and they’ll be with me forever and I’ll pass them down.
Have you ever felt turned off by the expense of fashion?
I think you have to decide what things are worth to you because once you buy them, and they’re that much money, you can’t get rid of them for much. I’m not obsessed with having tons of expensive clothes. I’m wearing a shirt that I’ve had since junior high. I’m sure it cost $3 at the time. That’s how I dress, then I’ll have a leather jacket like that. It doesn’t make me feel any better, it just makes me feel nervous that I’ll spill something or rip it. But other people really love it, that’s what they spend all their money on even if they don’t have a lot. I’d rather buy a guitar or paint; something I can make something with.
You’re so celebrated for your style. Have you ever felt like you were getting too much attention for it, or more attention for that than your music?
It’s never been an issue that I’ve struggled with. It’s always nice to be mentioned and be celebrated for anything that you’re doing. Sometimes it’s a little corny. Sometimes it makes no sense. I don’t agree with what most people say. I always find it really bizarre when I see a picture of myself standing somewhere and then a pair of shoes that are being sold as my shoes but they’re not. I don’t know what that’s about. I didn’t ask for it. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.
Music is my passion and the thing that’s most important to me -- not being widely accepted by the fashion world. That’s not what wakes me up in the morning. The creative aspect of [fashion], the art, is interesting and that’s where I relate to it. Once you get into the world of trends, I’m out. It doesn’t speak to me and I can’t follow it.
Do you consider your style to be an extension of the Kills’ aesthetic?
We like things to look good. We choose amps that look good. We choose guitars like that, clothes, photographs. Everything needs to be tantalizing, interesting, and inspiring. You need to surround yourself with beautiful things. So we’re not going to walk onstage wearing shorts and not give a shit. You want to watch a band and go away into a dream because they look fantastic, they sound fantastic, the lights are cool. It’s not just one part, it’s the entire thing -- that’s why we do our own artwork and try to be involved every step of the way. Every little detail is not lost on us. We pay attention to all of that.
Is another Dead Weather album in the cards?
Anything is in the cards. That happened out of thin air. We were just together at the same time in a room and decided to do it. We had five songs before we came to. There was no plan. That band is full of people who are incredibly busy. Getting us in the same room together, aside from watching SNL and eating some dinner, is pretty tricky. I’m sure it will happen some day, I just couldn’t tell you when.
Watch the Kills perform "Baby Says" for Hive's Live in NYC series from February 2012: