MAY 10, 2012
Singer Sophie Auster’s Onstage Style
If Tom Waits and Billie Holiday were to have a style child, singer-songwriter Sophie Auster would be it. She loves a good, tough boot—think Waits’s iconic Lloyd Johnson–designed pair in Down By Law—especially when balanced with a shot of femininity like a beaded headpiece recalling Holiday’s habit of wearing a gardenia behind her ear. “I used to get on stage dressed as a rock-’n’-roll kid, but my music’s not that,” says Auster, 24, as she flicks through a few white tailored shirts hanging in her closet (Stella McCartney, Chanel, Equipment) and contemplates what to wear for her performance on this particular night at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall.
Creating the perfect mix for her onstage style is where Auster’s actual parents come in. Her mother is the always elegant writer Siri Hustvedt and her father is author Paul Auster. Together, this pair may be even cooler than the dreamt up duo of Holiday and Waits. Her mom in particular, has influenced her performance look. As a child, Auster remembers her standing out as a “gloriously tall, fair-skinned blonde in a sun hat” with a style she calls “sophisticated with an androgynous spin: high collars, suit jackets.” When Auster was nineteen, Hustvedt took her shopping for a few “forever” pieces in place of her grungy wardrobe, which explains the Bottega Veneta riding boots and fitted black dresses now in her closet. “She was always good about being delicate where she interjected,” says Auster of her mother’s gentle touch in nudging along her daughter’s aesthetic. Nevertheless, “as I’ve gotten older, I’ve slightly morphed into her,” Auster admits.
On this Tuesday night, big things are happening for the young talent. A few important music people may stop by her Rockwood gig. She wants to channel old glamour but with a little masculine edge. “Ultra-feminine is just not my thing,” says Auster. So she pulls a vintage Chanel red long-sleeved dress from the closet along with a gold-studded leather jacket, a gauzy white linen look, and a jumpsuit. She pauses. Auster tries on the strapless black jumpsuit with a Marc Jacobs green-gold leather jacket. She likes it. The jacket is a little Sgt. Pepper with ruffled epaulets. She slips on a pair of black eyelet-lace Manolo Blahnik heels. She likes this too. There’s something a little moody about her whole look. “Dark and sultry,” is how she puts it.
Perhaps fittingly, a drawing by Tim Burton sits nearby on a shelf. It’s an Edward Scissorhands man with two green animal-shaped topiaries done for Auster when she was nine and her father sat on the Cannes Film Festival jury alongside the director. “He’s so inventive,” says Auster, aware that they share a little of the same rebelliousness. She’s now in the bathroom applying Chanel Coco Shine lipstick in Rebelle red. It’s a hit of classic sophistication alongside the outfit’s nod to rock ’n’ roll. Auster’s found that elusive balance. And off to the show she goes.