Looking Again at Amy Winehouse, 10 Years After Her Death

LONDON — On the wall of a museum here hangs a handwritten page from Amy Winehouse’s teenage notebook, listing her “fame ambitions.” There are 14 goals, including “to be photographed by David LaChapelle” (the photographer who would later direct the music video for her song “Tears Dry on Their Own”) and “to do a movie where I look ugly.”

A decade after her death at 27, the exhibition “Amy: Beyond the Stage” at the Design Museum displays both intimate items — like the goal list — and objects that point to the singer’s influences in an attempt to add new dimensions to how we understand Winehouse’s short career and legacy, both of which are often overshadowed by her struggles with addiction.

Winehouse’s memory has been shaped, in part, by documentaries like 2015 “Amy” from 2015, which won an Oscar, and by artists who cite her as an influence — “I owe 90 percent of my career to her,” Adele said onstage in 2016.

Speaking in an interview at the museum, Janis Winehouse, the singer’s mother, said that her daughter was “difficult” growing up. “We had a relationship: I would say, ‘Amy don’t,’ and she would take it as, ‘Amy carry on,’ and that’s how it worked,” she said.

Winehouse’s stepfather, Richard Collins, added that the musician “was very strong, very charismatic, she was manipulative, she was loving, she was naughty, headstrong and she could sing — and it was obvious.”

The idea for an exhibition that could touch on many of these facets was brought to the Design Museum by Naomi Parry, Winehouse’s friend and stylist, in the summer of 2020. After 10 years, Parry hoped that people would be receptive to thinking about Winehouse’s story in a different way.

In the years immediately after her death, “people weren’t ready to talk about anything but the tragedy, which I understood,” Parry, who is an adviser to the exhibition, said in a recent interview. But more recently, she has “needed the narrative to shift slightly to a more positive focus on her life because it was a real struggle constantly seeing books and stories and negative things about my friend.”

There was also another motivation. Last month, there was an auction of a number of the singer’s belongings from her estate, which is administered by her father, Mitch Winehouse. . “It was kind of our last opportunity whilst we had things in our control to do this,” Parry said.

The exhibition charts Winehouse’s evolution and influences, from her early years growing up in the Southgate suburb of north London to the Black artists who inspired her, as well as the clothes and hair that made up her distinctive aesthetic.

Here’s a look at some of the items on display, and what they reveal about the singer.

Winehouse wore a yellow dress from the designer Preen in 2007 at the BRIT Awards, an annual ceremony celebrating British popular music. That year, “Back to Black” was nominated for album of the year, and Winehouse took home the award for best British female artist.

For Parry, the BRIT Awards marked a moment in which the singer’s signature vintage style — the beehive, short dresses and thick eyeliner — took shape.

Winehouse customized the outfit by wearing a black bra underneath. “When we did the fitting, she tried it on without a bra, and I was like, ‘It looks incredible,’” Parry said. Before the event, however, Winehouse tried the dress on again over her bra and decided she preferred it that way.

Parry said that Winehouse often personalized outfits: Before one performance, Parry had to cut off the bottom of a Dolce & Gabbana dress because Winehouse wanted it shorter. “It was always a conversation,” Parry said of the alterations. “But she would always win.”

This installation, created by Chiara Stephenson, a stage and costume designer, is inspired by Metropolis Studios, the London recording studio where parts of Winehouse’s 2006 album “Back to Black” were recorded and mixed. The constructed “booth” plays footage of Winehouse, her contemporaries and influences.

“It kind of felt like it was overnight,” Parry said of Winehouse’s fame after the album’s release. “Suddenly she had paparazzi camped directly outside her house. For anybody, whether they had mental health issues or not, that is a lot.”

This piece is from Chanel’s 2008 Métiers d’Art collection, designed by Karl Lagerfeld. On the runway, many of the models sported beehives and heavy eyeliner, inspired by Winehouse.

While Winehouse was confident in her abilities as a singer, Parry said, “I think it completely blew her mind when people, like Lagerfeld, knew who she was and were inspired by her.”

Winehouse’s influence on high-fashion houses continued after her death — in 2012 Jean Paul Gaultier unveiled a line paying even more direct homage to the singer — as did her effect on street style more broadly.

“In the wake of Amy’s death, there were women all over the streets of London, Paris, New York wearing beehives in all different forms,” said Priya Khanchandani, the show’s curator. “I think some people were doing it without necessarily realizing that it came from Amy.”

Fans and well-wishers wrote on these street signs outside Winehouse’s home in the aftermath of her death in July 2011. “The fans were in the square singing Amy’s songs and crying,” said Collins, Winehouse’s stepfather.

The council had planned to take the signs down and replace them, Collins said, but Winehouse’s manager persuaded officials to hand them over to the family.

Parry, who lived with Winehouse from January to May 2011, said of the public outpouring: “Looking back on it, it was such an amazing thing how many people felt like they experienced her to the point where they feel physical grief.”

These selected items come from the 2010 collaboration between the clothing brand Fred Perry and Winehouse.

Parry had conversations with Winehouse about starting a label together and thought that a collaboration with Fred Perry — a brand that Winehouse loved and that had strong connections to musical subcultures — would be a way for her to enter the fashion world.

Remembering Winehouse’s excitement at the prospect of working with the brand, Parry described it as “like a child that was about to go into their favorite sweet shop.”

Working on the collection was an escape for Winehouse, Parry said: “It was still doing something creative, but it wasn’t the pressure of music. It was something new and something she could get her teeth into.”

These are a selection of articles written about Winehouse, many of which address her substance use.

“The exhibition sets out to be celebratory of Amy and her legacy, but it would be impossible to do an exhibition about Amy and not talk about the struggles that she faced,” said Khanchandani, the show’s curator. At the time, the media often fetishized Winehouse’s troubles or didn’t “treat them with the gravity that they should have,” she said.

Stories included here describe Winehouse as “a tortured soul” and “the nation’s high priestess of hedonism.”

Khanchandani took care to properly frame this part of the exhibition, calling on experts who deal with addiction and body image to workshop the exhibit’s language. “I wanted to shift the discourse to approach these issues through a critical lens,” she said.

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