Florence Welch during a live performance at Sydney Entertainment Centre, Australia, in May
There is much that is immediately arresting about Florence Welch, the 26-year-old frontwoman of the English band Florence + the Machine. Her physical presence alone is overpowering. She stands 5-foot-8 and towers in heels, her cheekbones cut enviable angles, and her porcelain skin nearly glows against a mane of loose crimson curls. And that’s before she sings. Welch easily slides from a coo to an almost operatic style of belting, switching vocal force from her throat to deep in her chest and back within one line. This is not a chanteuse who shies away from drama or the sheer power of her voice; the choice of title for the band’s 2009 debut album, Lungs, was appropriate.
Yes, Florence + the Machine is a proper band, the “machine” being her longtime friend and collaborator, Isabella Summers. Lungs and its 13 songs served as a bold invitation into their creative world, something at once hermetic and eager to draw you in. This was the album that gave the world the megahit “Dog Days Are Over,” the thrillingly crescendo-filled baroque slab that vaulted the group from London artist favorites to bona fide pop phenomenon. Here, finally, was a frontwoman who was a sort of Gen Y answer to Stevie Nicks, complete with the same kind of witchy-boho style and vocal sweep, but technologically updated and woozy from romance rather than benzos.
It’s only now, with the release of the 2011 follow-up, Ceremonials, that this country seems to have caught on. This fall, Florence + the Machine undertakes its first proper headlining arena tour of the United States, arriving in South Florida on Wednesday, September 26, at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise. Fans can expect a rousing opening set by indie rock quintet The Maccabees, and from the woman of the hour, a range of fantasy-steeped stage-wear to go with her vocals. Welch seems more than up to the massive venue task. For a clue to what she might do with such a yawning space, take a look at any of her lauded awards-show performances. Many of these, like her much-discussed turn at the 2010 MTV VMAs, showed an artist with big productions already in mind. There were dramatic costume changes and scads of background dancers performing Busby Berkeley-style choreography.
In fact, style-watchers have long flocked to Welch for the sharp and particular sense of aesthetic she’s displayed from the beginning of her public arc. “She’s become this amazing fashion icon, and she’s embraced the fashion industry,” says Aldene Johnson, Welch’s personal stylist since 2009. “She loves clothes. She’s such an amazing person to dress; she’s got this incredible body.”
Welch’s sartorial sense is not unlike her musical one. Nothing about either is modest, both tending toward the theatrical. Each is strangely timeless—her style is vintage but hard to pin to a specific decade, while her singing recalls old torch song legends, yet is resoundingly raw and fresh.
Johnson, also a contributing fashion editor to the UK edition of Vice magazine, first met Welch on the cover shoot for Lungs. Welch’s art director, Tabitha Denholm, had created a concept built around a pair of lungs worn visibly on Welch’s chest, and Johnson was charged with finding a look that complemented both this artistic piece and Welch’s style. “I came across this Emma Cook chain dress that was in a kind of 1920s style, and she put it on and it just looked amazing. Florence loved it,” Johnson recalls. The relationship grew organically since then, and in the ensuing years, Welch’s style has, Johnson says, gravitated even more toward that Old Hollywood sophistication.
As she’s progressed through her 20s—and through the successive stages of stardom—her style has evolved into something decidedly more glamorous. “She has different looks for different things. If we start with her stage look, it’s uniquely hers. It’s really romantic and quite dramatic at the same time. She went from Lungs, which was very pre-Raphaelite and ethereal, to now with Ceremonials, which is more Deco and Golden Age of Hollywood,” Johnson says. “She’s like a Deco priestess.”
Big-name designers such as Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald, Valentino, Marni, and Louis Vuitton might all appear in her backstage closet, as well as lesser-known brands like New York-based Suno and custom pieces created by costume designers. All lips are sealed about what she’ll don while on tour; but no matter who she’s wearing, fans can be assured that Welch will find a way to make the garments truly hers. And musically, Ceremonials is even more brash and orchestral than Lungs, full of soulful, sweeping choruses that often reach almost gospel-like intensity. The swelling, heaving songs cry out for a splashy production and even splashier fashions. “She looks great in a lot of things that a lot of people probably couldn’t pull off, but she can, just because of the way she carries herself,” says Johnson. “She’s got quite an amazing presence.” Florence + the Machine with The Maccabees, 8 PM, Wednesday, September 26, at the BankAtlantic Center, One Panther Pkwy., Sunrise; ticketmaster.com