20 Odd Questions with Nick Rhodes

All press / news

December 24,2011

The Duran Duran musician on black eyeliner, where he spent his 21st birthday and what he's doing for his 50th

Since hitting the pop charts in 1981, songwriter and keyboardist Nick Rhodes has established himself not only as a gifted musician, but as a trendsetter of David Bowie and Boy George proportions. Known for his decades-long love affair with steroidal-shouldered jackets, tie-dye headdresses and black eyeliner, the brains behind Duran classics such as "Girls on Film" and "Rio" defined the 1980s bon vivant. He palled around with Andy Warhol, dated a coterie of model/actresses and logged in major hours at Studio 54. "My wildest nights usually ended up in New York nightclubs," Mr. Rhodes said. "You'd walk in to see giant soap powder boxes on the dance floor or people ironing behind glass windows. They had an atmosphere where you wanted it to be crazy and therefore it was."

The Birmingham, England, native, who founded Duran Duran with childhood friend John Taylor, has also earned a league of sartorial imitators, including Mark Ronson, producer of the Grammy Award-winning band's 13th album "All You Need Is Now," released earlier this year. The video for the latest single off the album, "Girl Panic!", was directed by Lady Gaga collaborator Jonas Åkerlund, and stars a pantheon of supermodels (Naomi, Eva, Cindy, Helena, Yasmin) who impersonate members of the band, dressed in Swarovski jewels, at the Savoy Hotel in London. "When we first started out, there was no such thing as stylists," recalled Mr. Rhodes, who has collaborated with the likes of Grace Jones, Herbie Hancock and Sting. "We did everything ourselves. It was much funkier that way."

These days, when not writing lyrics, the 49-year-old is preparing for a milestone birthday—but don't expect a disco-revival bash. "I'll be hiding behind a tree somewhere," he joked. We caught up with the self-described "fashion magpie" from his flat in London's Chelsea neighborhood.

Today I'm wearing a black Armani suit. I don't do casual. I never wear jeans. Tomorrow I might put on a waistcoat, tie and smart pair of trousers with black lace-up shoes to go food shopping. I'm a little like Diana Vreeland in that respect.

I find that the older you get, the more helpful eyeliner is. I like Fluidline in Blacktrack.

My ultimate style icon is Grace Jones. She's never been afraid of the avant garde and looks chic in everything she wears even when it's next to nothing. It's harder with men. Count Dracula is the one that comes to mind. I've always had a penchant for goth elegance.

The one grooming product I rely on is Sumotech by Bumble and Bumble. It's a little black tub of hair paste and it's very popular with everyone backstage.

Women's fashion is more interesting than men's. Funny enough, I'm better at choosing something for my girlfriend than for myself. Marc Jacobs is incredibly clever. I've seen many of his shows and have never been let down.

Britain's best-kept secret is Antony Price. I've worked with him for over 20 years. He's got the taste of Tom Ford, the ability of Saint Laurent and the edginess of the British Invasion. His clothing is beyond any couture I've ever seen—it belongs in the Victoria & Albert Museum.

I've always focused on tailoring. Ozwald Boateng makes the sharpest suit in town and Costume National has beautiful black jackets. Helmut Lang made unbelievable menswear through the '90s. I miss his clothes the most.

The most stylish country in the world is Italy. The food! The Caravaggio paintings! Dolce & Gabbana! I'm not good at resting, but my favorite hotels are the Bulgari in Milan and the Qvisisana in Capri—which is the epitome of effortless chic.

The best New York nightclubs in the '90s were Palladium and Limelight but my personal favorite was Area because it was smaller and there was a different theme every time you went. I had my 21st birthday at Studio 54, which was interesting. These days I don't go out so much to clubs and bars.

When I go out now it's invariably to hotels. I love the Blue Bar at the Berkeley in Knightsbridge, which David Collins designed, and there isn't a better bar in the world than the Boom Boom Room at the Standard Hotel in New York.

I don't wear watches but I've got quite a collection of cufflinks. My favorites are gold gargoyles that reveal a red tongue when you open their mouths. They were a gift from somebody who knew my taste very well.

Last Halloween, I hosted a party with André Balazs and dressed up as a vampire zombie. The trouble is, if I put on a top hat, white makeup and a little blood by my eyes, everyone thinks I've just been up a little late.

My daughter Tatjana likes to nick things from my closet, particularly hats. She must have the same size head as me. Simon [Le Bon]'s daughters are always plundering their mother's wardrobe, especially that early Alaïa. They're very good at that.

We're spoiled for restaurants in London. I love the Wolseley, and Locanda Locatelli is extraordinary. In New York, I like the Dutch. It has an unusual menu and the staff is really lovely. That isn't always the case in New York City.

My least favorite trend is grunge. That look of slightly unwashed layers of T-shirts is not appealing to me. I hedge towards things that shine.

I go into an absolute panic if my hairdresser Sandy Hullett is not available. She has worked with Alexander McQueen and Steven Meisel. She's fabulous.

I like to encourage new talent. Some of the young British designers like Christopher Kane and Gareth Pugh have shown creative ability from the days of Vivienne Westwood and McQueen. Their clothes are sharp and modern. Bigger designers are often more sanitized.

The ultimate rock star accessory is a nice pair of shades. Cutler & Gross are consistently very good. I have a pair from Chrome Hearts that make you look like a bug. I don't mind that look.

With musicians today, I prefer people who stand out. Brandon Flowers from The Killers has great style. He's not afraid of feathers. I always love a man who is not afraid of feathers.

—Edited from an interview by Nicole Berrie

CourtesyWall Street Journal