New Amy Winehouse Exhibit Honors an Artistic Icon, and a Remarkable Person The Grammy Museum’s retrospective offers an affectionate look at a bold, yet accessible artist
LOS ANGELES, CA- Close your eyes and think of Amy Winehouse. What do you conjure first? The beehive? The winged eyeliner? The fitted dresses? The tattoos? Or just that remarkable voice, gone far too soon?
The Grammy Museum honors everything about the unmistakable impact she made in her 27 years with the launch of “Beyond Black — The Style of Amy Winehouse,” a retrospective packed with an iconic singer’s most iconic fashion, as well as hand-written lyrics sheets, journal entries, home video and selections from her record collection.
To celebrate the exhibit’s public opening on Jan. 20, the museum gathered two of the British singer’s close friends — Naomi Parry, also Winehouse’s stylist, and Catriona Gourlay, Winehouse’s flatmate and co-worker in their Camden neighborhood shops — for a members-only event before the launch, featuring a sit-down with music journalist Eve Barlow.
What resulted was an intimate conversation that did discuss her signature style, but also painted a moving picture of the Amy Winehouse who didn’t go by her whole name, as we the listeners would refer to her.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her out of the context of just being my friend. I can’t even say her full name,” said Gourlay, who has never spoken publicly about Winehouse until this conversation. “That person is another person. That’s not my friend Amy.”
Gourlay and Parry shared stories about that Amy, who was — just as you suspected — almost frustratingly cool; even between their two cats, hers was the “slinky, cool one everyone liked.” She was someone who didn’t get starstruck but did light up when she met Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan and Quentin Tarantino. She kept The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Donny Hathaway on heavy rotation, watched Sin City and Planet Terror on repeat and took real delight in being on The Simpsons.
“You never heard her sing on records they way she used to sometimes at home,” Gourlay said. “Honestly, the most incredible — just singing in the bath or writing something upstairs. Her voice would travel downstairs and you’d be like, ‘Oh, she sounds amazing.’ I wouldn’t tell her, because she’d be like, ‘Ugh, you’re embarrassing.’”
She was talkative and “searingly intelligent, witty and quick,” they said, able to go off upstairs for a relatively short time and, when she returned, ask for thoughts on a little song she’d just written — “Love Is A Losing Game.”
She was a procrastinator, always wanting to listen to music when she should’ve been getting ready to go on stage, Parry said, though she could go from seemingly far from put-together to stage-ready in what felt like five minutes.
The exhibit furthers that glimpse into her life, showcasing some of Winehouse’s wardrobe favorites alongside recognizable looks from across her career, like the Dolce & Gabbana dress she wore while performing at the 2008 Grammys via satellite from London or the bold, yellow Preen dress she wore at the 2007 BRIT Awards. All of it reflected her modern twist on ’50s pinup style, which, like her music, also blended “old school R&B, jazz lounge cool and hip-hop swagger with a touch of rockabilly,” as the exhibition materials described it.
Other notable items included the halter dress she wore during her final performance in Belgrade; the five Grammys she earned for Back to Black; pieces from the line she created with her favorite designer, Fred Perry; a lyric sheet for the unrecorded song “Dolly’s Diner” and custom-made dresses Naomi Parry designed for the 2011 tour, never worn.
Particularly memorable was a handwritten list of “Fame Ambitions,” which included a real range of goals, such as “Meet Liz Taylor and Paul Newman,” “Be photographed by David LaChapelle,” “Do a movie where I look ugly,” “Collaborate with Missy Elliott and Timbaland,” “Make a movie with Steve Buscemi in it” and “Have people look up to me.”
The conversation with Gourlay and Parry lent importance to other pieces, perhaps less famous but more emotionally resonant.
“We had a massive bust-up one night,” Gourlay recalled. “It was over something so stupid. I got her a pack of playing cards; I didn’t have a huge amount of money at the time. She said something like, ‘You know I’m not into that stuff.’ She could see I was upset and went upstairs. I thought, ‘This is going to be a ruckus for the evening now.’ She came down a while later, and her way of saying sorry — because that wouldn’t have happened — was that she’d put together this collage for me out of playing cards. She wrote something like a telegraph. ‘Attention: Catriona Gourlay -STOP- You’re the best -STOP-’ and all this stuff. For me, that’s so typical of her and her way.”
Parry, who worked on so many of the exhibit’s pieces, narrowed it down to the yellow Preen dress worn at the BRIT Awards because it was one of her first jobs with the singer, “before it went mental” and their friend became a superstar.
“That was also the moment she was like, ‘This is me now. This is Back to Black and this is how I dress now,” Parry said. Although the obsession around Winehouse was still around the corner, the pressure was, in a way, greater — Parry was just 19 years old.
“I felt like I had to prove myself. She’d had a previous stylist and a look previous to what I was creating with her. I wanted her to feel happy, and I wanted something I could be proud of but also fit with who she was and where she was going with this new style of music she’d created for herself. When I got what her look was, it became a bit easier then. It only really dawned on me the other day how young I was when I did that. It was quite crazy.”
For an artist who became a trendsetter for fans and a muse for fashion designers, Winehouse’s look was also wonderfully accessible. That famous eyeliner was Rimmel; you could pick it up at CVS.
“You could do it, too, if you dared,” said Barlow, who recalled seeing Winehouse’s influence reflected in high-street style in London.
“And people did. And they still do,” Parry said. “I think we were in Brazil, and there was a girl in the audience who was sat on this guy’s shoulders. She was dressed exactly like Amy, and Amy said to me, ‘That girl looks more like me than I do.’”
While Winehouse donned plenty of couture, too, fame didn’t change her shopping habits much, and she didn’t think twice about wearing a dress she’d worn in public before. As they were sorting through jewelry to display, Gourlay said someone asked her, “Are those earrings as cheap as they look?” and she and Parry replied, “Yep, oh yeah.”
“It’s surprising any of (Amy’s jewelry) is able to be exhibited,” Parry joked. “It should’ve disintegrated a long time ago.”
The exhibit came together in five weeks over the holidays, with contributions from Parry and Gourlay, who lent items from their personal collections, and Amy’s father Mitch Winehouse, who hand-picked a wealth of items from the family archive, including the lyric sheets and journal entries.
“Beyond Black — The Style of Amy Winehouse” will run at the Grammy Museum until April 13, after which it will travel to museums in Chile, London and Ireland before many of its items return to the States for an auction in November 2021. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Amy Winehouse Foundation, which works to prevent drug and alcohol abuse among young people.