Life Skills

“I’ve Given A Lot Of My Clothes Away”

  • Mar 16, 2024
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“I’ve Given A Lot Of My Clothes Away”

The award-winning composer, pianist, songwriter and face of Givenchy, on cashmere, charity shops, sneakers and secret hangouts…

While Benjamin Clementine speaks softly and treads quietly, his distinctive vocals, poetic lyrics and graceful style create more than enough noise to earn critical acclaim – and the attention of the world’s best film directors and top fashion houses, who are lining up to dress him.

Clementine’s story begins with a challenging upbringing in North London, where he lived with his strict Roman-Catholic grandmother. At age 11, his family acquired a piano, but his father forbid him to play it because he wanted him to concentrate on other subjects.

Leaving home at 16 without support, he ended up in Camden, and at 19, he moved himself to Paris. Clementine arrived with no money and nowhere to stay, relying on his musical talent to survive by playing in bars and busking on the Mètro. Embraced by the Parisian music scene, he was discovered by an agent, who found him a manager. This led him to a business mogul who helped him set up a record label before he eventually signed with Virgin EMI.

He released his first EP, Cornerstone, in 2013. Two years later, he won the Mercury Prize for Best Album, ‘At Least for Now’. This was followed by ‘I Tell A Fly’ in 2017, and in 2022, he released his long-awaited third album, ‘And I Have Been’.

Moving from stage to screen, Clementine was the composer for the film Beauty and made an arresting appearance as Herald of the Change in Denis Villeneuve’s stunning remake of Dune opposite Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin and Timothée Chalamet. Expect to see more of him: he’s joined an equally stellar cast for upcoming projects, including Julian Schnabel’s screen adaptation of In the Hand of Dante, and Blitz, a World War II drama directed by Steve McQueen.

It’s an illustrious CV, and now he can add Givenchy muse to the list, with Clemintine becoming the face of the brand’s spirited new fragrance, Gentleman Society Eau de Parfum Extrême: a blend of dark iced coffee, peppermint, vanilla and three noted types of vetiver.

To celebrate the news, we caught up with Benjamin Clementine, fresh from his UK tour to ask him about everything from his go-to grooming products to his favourite spots in London and Paris…

You’ve been touring the UK and Europe and have a busy summer with more dates ahead. How have you found the return to live gigs?

It’s been great. People were warm and kind, and I received great reviews and a great reception. I was happy to finally play to so many people after such a long time. Right now, I’m composing for a film and releasing the second part of my last album. I’m always working.

There’s been a lot of anticipation surrounding the release of Dune: Part Two. You made your cinematic debut in Dune: Part One – was it a daunting experience joining such a major Hollywood set?

It felt like I’d been acting for a while; it was just my first film. This made me think that maybe there’s somewhere to go with this new craft and new experience. The very fact that Denis Villeneuve is kind and warm and a good person kind of helps me think that maybe there’s something for me to do in that sphere, in that world.

You also work as a composer for the film. Hans Zimmer has spoken about the new sound and world-building he created for Dune. Does being involved in a project and seeing how other composers work influence your process?

Yes. Hans Zimmer’s great. I had the privilege to work with Sam Schwartz [Gorfaine/Schwartz] who worked with Ennio Morricone [the legendary composer for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Cinema Paradiso, The Untouchables, Once Upon a Time in America].

It’s great to be around people who’ve been doing this for decades. And also how they go about composing their music, their process, and how they do it. I’m learning. This year and next year will probably be the year of just rooting out every bit of information I possibly can out of this new world that I’ve encountered.

Playing the Herald of the Change in Dune (2021)

You’ve lived in Paris, Los Angeles and Edmonton, North London, where you grew up. If you were inviting someone on a tour of your old neighbourhood, what would be the highlights?

Well, I haven’t been there for more than 10 years, but I remember everything, and I’m sure nothing has really changed, I would probably take them to Pymmes Park, which was our park in Edmonton. We played a lot of tennis during the summer, and football. I’m not sure if the cinema is still up there, I’d take them to watch something. Not Dune – something I’m not in!

I think I am like 90% of people from Britain who didn’t really go out when they were growing up. We didn’t really go anywhere. We just lived around where we’re from. The only time we actually left was because we were on a school trip to the Peak District, Lake District or Cornwall. That’s when we actually travelled.

For me, London was only Edmonton or Enfield. The only time I ever went to the centre of town was when it was my sister’s birthday, I was about 13. We went to Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus. I know England more than I know London.

Where are your favourite spots in London now?

It was only after I went to Paris, after going to Camden, and only when I had made some money, I obviously wanted to live in the best part of London. For me, that’s Kensington. I now know Portobello Road, Portobello Market, High Street Ken, Holland Park and the areas around where I live now.

Where should we hang out in Paris?

There are a lot of good places to hang out in Paris. There’s a side of Pigalle that is cooler than the tourist part, like Moulin Rouge and that whole thing, and the red light district. And then there’s another side, where there’s music, all music. It’s like Denmark Street in London – all music shops. Behind those music shops, there’s a lot of bars to go where you can listen to proper music, rock’n’roll, jazz, soul, classical music.

A few friends of mine own very important buildings there that, for example, the song Carmen was actually written there. It’s not a brothel anymore, but it used to be. So it’s got this history surrounding it as well. Paris, as you know, has a lot of history.

There’s also a place, if you go further down, to Arts et Métiers. I lived in a lot of places, that’s one of the places I lived. I was in Place de la République and the next place is called Arts et Métiers, where there’s like an Asian part of Paris. It’s Asian and Moroccan, North African. They’ve got these nice restaurants and this blend of different foods from these particular areas, mostly Chinese, Vietnamese, and Moroccan.

But then on the other side of République is Bastille. Right before Bastille, there’s a beautiful market – you can tell that I’m invested in food.

Benjamin Clementine is the face of the new Givenchy fragrance, Gentleman Society Eau de Parfum Extrême

Scent plays an incredibly important part of memory. Between London and Paris, which city triggers memories for you?

For me, I remember the smell of London by materials, whereas for Paris, it’s more intangible. London, for me, has always been very conservative. Looking back, I can’t remember a horrible smell in London. I suppose because we get a lot of rain and everything gets washed out, so Edmonton gets cleaner air.

Whereas in Paris, there are so many different smells. It’s balanced – there’s an affluent smell, and from the Mètros of Paris, that guttery smell. But for me, that’s how I get inspired.

If you had to put words or music to Givenchy Gentleman Society Eau de Parfum Extrême, how would this fragrance sound to you?

It takes a while to create my music. I do, however, know that I will definitely break the rules just like Gentleman Society Extrême does. Genre-wise, that would be a mixture of Arabic, European sounds. When I say European, I mean expressionism, classical music. I’m looking at Debussy, for example. Mixed with some Arabic music and a blend of Blues.

A mix of influences, and the time signature will be 6/8.

As the face of Gentleman Society Extrême, what does it mean to you?

The motto of Gentleman Society has always been about being unafraid to bend the rules whenever. I like the fact that there’s a further exploration, the desire or quest for deeper expressions. So it is of no surprise that Extrême goes to the lengths of experimenting with notes of Ethiopian coffee and peppermint and even organic cedar from the Himalayas.

Aside from fragrance, what other grooming products do you rely on?

I get dry skin, I use cocoa butter and a Givenchy moisturising creme. To be honest, right now, everything I use is Givenchy. I’m impressed with their products beyond perfume. I’ve put it everywhere, it’s literally everywhere in my house. I use their body lotion as well and I think I’m looking quite decent.

We know you prefer to go barefoot on stage. Off stage, what shoes do you choose?

There’s only one sneaker I’ve worn, the Givenchy sneaker. What are they called again? City? Sport? I don’t know what they call them but they’re one of the most comfortable sneakers I’ve ever worn in my life.

I can remember when I was young, me and my brother, we went to get sneakers. My father threw them in the bin. We bought sneakers and some jeans, and he put them in the bin, because he didn’t like us wearing street clothes. To him, it seemed like we were dressed in a very bad way. So we always wore suits, you see. Even going to the corner shop to get milk, we had to wear suits. Crazy. But in terms of shoes, if I’m not wearing something for “adults” then I’m wearing Givenchy boots or one of the pairs of sneakers I have.

You’ve spoken about how as a child a lot of your clothes came from charity shops. There used to be more of a stigma about ‘second-hand’. Now it’s called ‘pre-loved’ or ‘vintage’ and it’s seen as sustainable, which it is. Do you still like to browse charity shops for inspiration?

I am so proud to have had the opportunity and inclination to work in charity shops growing up. I made a lot of friends doing that. There were a lot of charity shops in Edmonton, and, it was nice doing that. I went to charity shops in Paris as well. But right now, I just don’t have the time. I don’t have the time to go to shops anymore in general.

I’ve given a lot of my clothes away, in Paris especially, when I was there. And also in America, actually. There’s Goodwill, and those stores where you give your clothes away. That’s why I wear the same thing over and over again, same kind of style, but it’s just new. I hardly keep anything.

When you were at school, you’ve talked about how there was a ‘Mufti’ day and you still wore your uniform, even though you didn’t have to. How would you describe your current ‘uniform’?

I always wear a simple coat with trousers. If I like a piece I buy a lot of them, so I have like 10 pairs of the same trousers. I just like simplicity. I learned that from Paris. Because, obviously when you’re not in a position to afford new clothes, you’re going to wear the same thing.

Also, the whole thing about going to school wearing the same clothes – maybe that’s something innate. No one told me to do that. I just chose to wear the same clothes, because why not? I’ve always had this thing, I’ve just never paid attention to it – I can express myself any way I want.

We think your style is simple but immaculate. Is there anything about the fit, construction or material of an item that draws you to it?

Cashmere. I like my clothes soft but fitting, and quite heavy. I want to feel that I’m carrying a substance. Clothes that don’t take attention or try to grab attention, just elegantly poised and there for the support.

When you walk past somebody and they smell like they’ve put on a whole house of perfume, it’s too much for me. Whereas with Givenchy, this fragrance, they’ve made it like it’s part of my skin.

Givenchy Gentleman Society Eau de Parfum Extrême, £85 for 60ml and £109 for 100ml, is available at Givenchybeauty.com, at nationwide from 27th March from Harrods, John Lewis, Boots, The Perfume Shop, Sephora and LookFantastic.


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