By Sara Radin
The world needs Charli XCX’s futuristic pop, but we also need her futuristic fashion. Debuting her latest album in September 2019, a self-titled LP called Charli, the singer has been sporting new-age feminine looks on her world tour to coincide with her electro-disco bops. Think bodycon corsets, shimmery metallics, saturated pinks, and sheer layers — it’s experimental, it’s cohesive, it’s next level Charli.
In the early 2010s, Charli donned punky outfits (teased hair, ripped black tights, and plaid skirts), aligning with an alt-pop sound (cue “Break The Rules” from her 2014 album Sucker) that separated her from artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, whose own aesthetics radiated bright, bubblegum sweetness. After all, Charli wasn't a record-label darling. She got her start on MySpace, playing warehouse raves at age 14 with a DIY style that blended contemporary pop hooks with nostalgic ’90s references. “I think it was at those shows that I picked up my performance style,” Charli told Rolling Stone in 2012. “Everyone at those shows was out of their mind on ketamine and tossing glitter around, so being only 14, I felt like I really had to prove myself."
Charli XCX performs at the 19th Annual Out100 Awards in November 2013 in New York City
Flash forward to Charli, which finds the singer shedding her punk persona in favor of something more subtly subversive. With three studio albums and four mixtapes under her belt, the 27-year-old musician is not leaving the glitter behind, but she has adjusted her style to match her matured sound. Charli’s stylist, Mindy Le Brock, has been instrumental in her aesthetic shift. Le Brock first worked with Charli on her 2015 “Famous” music video, but it wasn’t until 2019 that they started a consistent working relationship, beginning with the singer’s “2099” video. Le Brock was then tapped to collaborate with Charli on her looks ahead of her international tour.
“[Charli] has such a great sound and great collaborators, so it was really nice to bring a whole new fresh look to her stage presence,” Le Brock tells MTV News of Charli’s new “slick” and “contemporary” look. Contrasting the rebellious style she embraced earlier in her career, Charli’s current vibe draws inspiration from “sci-fi” and “anime,” Le Brock adds, which reflects the newfound confidence heard in her music.
While most artists wear the same outfits every night of their tour, Le Brock characterizes Charli’s new look as intentionally less costumey and regimented. Charli wanted her wardrobe to be flexible and functional, so she could mix and match pieces according to her mood while maintaining the ability to jump and move around on stage. “She wanted to do a lot of changes for this tour, but we definitely didn't want it to be tearaway costumes,” says Le Brock. The stylist compiled around 50 easy-to-layer, easy-to-strip pieces in complementary black and bright hues for the tour, some of which Le Brock designed herself. The team also incorporated pieces from such emerging designers as Marine Serre and Martine Ali.
Charli’s stylistic coming-of-age is marked by a hard-femme dichotomy. She’s paired ruched, sheer black tops with fire-print pants; leather harnesses and billowy sleeves; sports bras with puffer coats detailed with tulle and delicate embroidery. This bold sartorial direction underscores a deeper level of confidence and individuality that feels authentically Charli.
For fans and collaborators alike, that’s one of the best things about Charli at this point in her career: She really knows herself. “She's quite clear about the way she wants to move on stage and the way she wants her body presented on stage,” Le Brock says. The stylist explains that, for Charli, feeling good before an audience has meant recognizing the importance of little details, how they can bolster her performance — for example, the singer likes the way big sleeves look on her body when she swerves across a dance floor. Exaggerating her movements, her arms become wings.
Charli XCX performs in Washington D.C. in September 2019 on her Charli Live tour
Le Brock chose pieces that reflect the musician's "larger than life" stage presence. At the same time, she wanted to capture the nuances of Charli's personality, the silly and the sexy. "She doesn't take herself too seriously and is always having fun,” Le Brock said. “One show she even had her tampon string hanging out.” Pink hair and brightly colored clothing help tap into her playful side, while form-fitting cuts allow Charli to “celebrate her body.”
You’ll never guess what Charli will wear next, but you can always expect the singer to exude a laid-back approachability, as if she copped her look from the nearest thrift shop. During a recent performance in Milan, she wore an orange wrap top with massive sleeves, floral print biker shorts, thick-framed sunglasses, and clunky sneakers, slicking her hair back into a long ponytail with hair clips; for a show in Berlin, she paired a black Nike sports bra with embroidered assless chaps, a high pony, and some black sneakers. But it’s Charli’s cool-girl attitude that’s her greatest accessory, something that comes with defining one’s identity on your own terms. This resonates with her latest album, a project that, in Charli's words, delved into her "feelings about anxiety, isolation, and being an artist." She told MTV News, "The cool part about writing it basically every day back to back was that my mood would change constantly. I'd write different songs a day that helped shape it." Charli takes a similar approach to fashion.
Charli XCX performs in Milan in November 2019 on the Charli Live tour
Charli XCX performs in Berlin in November 2019 on the Charli Live tour
Dressing according to how she feels is new and empowering for the artist. “Once she sees the venue or [realizes] the mood that she's feeling for the night, then she chooses two or three looks that are interchangeable,” Le Brock says, admitting she can see slight variations in Charli’s vibe from performance to performance. “I definitely can tell that the moods are changing because she'll wear one type of thing one night and then it'll be a really different mood the next night.” Instead of feeling pressure to wear the same prescriptive costumes, dressing this way gives Charli the freedom to express herself authentically.
Like her contemporaries who push back against restrictive beauty standards — think Lizzo's body positivity and Rosalía's unibrow — Charli is not shy about showing off her body. Instead, she champions it as an expression of female power and autonomy, through corsets and harnesses and bold prints, and doing so her way.
Fashion, just as music, is a language that informs how we understand many artists’ unique perspectives. Accordingly, Charli is distinguishing herself from her punk roots by giving fans a fresh facade that still feels characteristically offbeat. And, with Mindy Le Brock’s help, the little quirks that define the Charli revolution get a lot of consideration.