April 14, 2024


Specialists in fashion

Perfume Genius Talks Camp, American Masculinity, and Marlon Brando’s Tank Tops

While Vuong’s words serve as a neat complement to Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, Hadreas is perhaps underestimating his own skills as a lyricist, and his ability to capture those moments just as effectively. For those who have followed the rise of Perfume Genius over the past decade, it‘s been a journey of increasing returns. His first two albums, 2010’s Learning and 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It, consisted of intimate, confessional bedroom pop where, despite the starkly literal lyrics, Hadreas himself remained mostly behind the scenes. (He laughs when I remind him of the fact that Learning’s cover is literally his own face scratched out and covered with paper towels.) But with the release of the thunderous lead single “Queen” and its accompanying video in 2014 for his third album, Too Bright, Hadreas the performer emerged in full technicolor, standing front and center as the defiant face of his, now decade-long, musical project.

His aesthetic ambitions have grown even bolder with each subsequent release. The visuals for 2017’s No Shape, shot by Inez & Vinoodh and styled by Mel Ottenberg, saw Hadreas cavorting in leather trousers against backdrops of dusty pink flora and soft-focus landscapes—a head-spinning mash-up of ’60s gay hustlers, James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus, and the bucolic paintings of Watteau—yet somehow a perfect reflection of the record’s exuberant, decadent spirit. “I think of it as world-building, really,” Hadreas explains. “I had clear ideas for this record of how I wanted it to be, how I wanted it to look, how I wanted it to be seen and heard and everything. I consider myself very lucky to be able to work with all of these visionaries, though.”

View the full album on Spotify here:

Hadreas’s evolving sartorial interests have proved to be equally agenda-setting in their own, quiet way. Pop music may have a rich history of gender-bending fashion, but the approach Hadreas has taken when experimenting with style from record to record has been more nuanced—a lick of red lipstick here, a glittering silver mesh tank top there. He’s rarely spotted on the front row at fashion week, but this more authentic, intentional queering of masculine style codes have established him as a singular figure in the world of pop when it comes to fashion. Its influence can be felt, however subtly, in the style choices made by a new generation of culturally literate queer musicians like King Princess and Troye Sivan.

Photo: Camille Vivier
Photo: Camille Vivier

Where Hadreas feels most comfortable, however, is speaking about the impact of film on his work, which is more palpable than ever with Set My Heart On Fire Immediately. Where his references previously were easier to pinpoint, this time Hadreas pulled from a very different selection of cinematic flotsam and jetsam. The forceful choreography was inspired by the exhilarating final scene of Claire Denis’s Beau Travail, in which the film’s main character dances wildly to DeBarge’s “Rhythm of the Night” in a Djibouti nightclub; the video for single “Describe” pays homage to the carefully-arranged tableaux of Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio; the muddied tank top he wears on the cover of the record, meanwhile, is lifted straight from Marlon Brando’s wardrobe in A Streetcar Named Desire, a look that is now a paradigm of American masculinity. “I’ve always been really into that look since I was a kid,” Hadreas explains. “Since I was little, it’s represented something to me, and I also love how it’s been made gay.”

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