US Vogue called you “England’s most eccentric dresser”. Do you think that’s an accurate description? 

I am not guilty! 

Early in your career you hosted and were seen at many club nights – do you think that there is a symbiotic relationship between fashion and club culture?

I think from the 50s onwards clubs have inspired the music and fashion scenes, culture and everything beyond, including the art world. Think Bowie, teddy boys, swinging 60s, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Gaga and Grace Jones. They inspired so many people. I guess what I was doing in the 2000s certainly inspired a while generation. Clubs are the incubators of culture and what we all talk about. I remember the Nu-Rave scene and three years later my brother was wearing what we had worn in the clubs. I wore a telephone that belonged to my granny, and a lobster and a bacon dress. A week after there was Lady Gaga, probably unaware where the inspiration came from! 

Your TED talk in 2019 was entitled “My Life as a Work Of Art”. Why did you make your life a Work of Art?

I made a conscious decision to live my life as an artwork as you would any other creative industry or existence. There is no separation and I don’t have a private life. It’s fascinating – and it brings me to so many amazing and terrible moments -but all of them are worth living. Think of it as looking in a mirror creating a reflection of how you want to be that day. Instead of painting or creating a sculpture you are that sculpture: your body is the canvas. 

Your biggest project to date has been designing  all the costumes for the English National Opera’s production of Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus. How did you approach that work?

It’s one of the big projects I’ve done. I was given the music of Harrison Birtwistle and I went to sleep and I woke up to write my ideas down. So I dreamt most of it and there were a few references that I took from people I knew like Daphne Guinness and Joseph Corré. It became a merge of ideas and I went up to Harrison when he attended the first meeting of the production to explain what everything was about. The director of the show Daniel Kramer and I sat down for two years and worked the story out because it’s possibly one of the most complex operas ever made. Three worlds are happening simultaneously on one stage. I spoke to Harrison and said I hoped I had done him justice as everything came from a dream and he said whatever I did would be amazing and I was on the right track because the opera was inspired by dreams. We used over 450,000 hand-placed crystals from Swarovski on the show’s costumes. I don’t think there has been anything like it and I don’t think there will be anything like it again. 

“I guess what I was doing in the 2000s certainly inspired a whole generation”

DANIEL LISMORE: Colin Douglas Gray • ilovecolingray.com

What did you do during the lockdown?

During the first part of lockdown I created from archives of work that I’ve been meaning to use for years. I found thousands of disregarded garments and jewelry and turned them into new things. Then I started creating new sculpture work – a series that I plan to release in 2022. I’ve also been writing my life story which I want to turn into a series for either Netflix or Amazon. It’s based on my reality but not about me. It’s about the people that have surrounded me and the worlds that I have been through: fashion, arts, high society, traveling the world, subcultures I have encountered and moments the greatest scriptwriters wouldn’t think of. 

The latter half of lockdown I turned my attention to helping LGBTQIA+ people across the world and then [social networking app] Clubhouse came along and sped everything up. We formed groups that have been helping people all over the world. Later I started figuring out how I could help the environmental situation and have been putting together minds to try and figure out the problems and how to solve them via sustainable fashion. 

Do you have any heroes?

Most of my heroes have been my friends I’ve had the privilege of knowing – people like Vivienne Westwood, Stephen Fry, Peter Tatchell, Pamela Anderson, Julian Assange, Naomi Campbell, who are all social justice warriors. Activists inspire me. I think we need to listen to Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg. They are the voices of the future. 

“The world is in danger. Hatred and bigotry are conquering and oppressing so many around the world”

You’re spoken out on many issues, including climate change, and more recently trans rights. Why are these causes so important to you?

They should be important to everybody and if you’re reading this please go and do your research. Trans rights are human rights. The world is in danger. Hatred and bigotry are conquering and oppressing so many around the world. When our communities are oppressed and human rights are taken, things just get worse and when climate change catastrophes start to happen – which they already have – our communities will be left behind. In 10 years if the planet’s temperature goes up by four degrees everywhere under Paris will be uninhabitable. This comes from NASA. Believe in it. 

If you could sum up, in one line, your philosophy on life, what would it be?

Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. But by being yourself have compassion and love for humanity and every species on the planet. We need more love in the world. 

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