Simon Doonan

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Simon Doonan made a name for himself with his outrageous window displays for Barneys. His ability to paint a vivid picture translates well from fashion to music, as he share some of his favorite songs. The fashion legend is now the creative ambassador at large of Barneys and his latest book is called “The Asylum”.

For more:

Hear more from Simon Doonan in this interview with DNA’s Frances Anderton:

Track List:

1. Sarah Vaughan - Broken Hearted Melody
2. The Who - Substitute
3. Jimi Hendrix - The Wind Cries Mary
4. David Bowie - Sound and Vision
5. Canned Heat - Let's Work Together


Eric J Lawrence: Hi, I'm Eric J. Lawrence and I'm here with fashion legend Simon Doonan. He's written a number of books and is also the creative ambassador at large of Barney's but today were here to talk about some songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Simon, thank you so much for joining us.

Simon Doonan: Thank you for having me.

EL: So what's the first track you have for us?

SD: Well, the first track is Sarah Vaughan singing "Broken Hearted Melody". I was born in sort of grim, post-war England and into what of sort of fairly squalid and frightening circumstances and I recall hearing this song drifting out of the radio while my mother pushed the vacuum cleaner around smoking a cigarette and thinking there IS glamour elsewhere, there is somewhere on the horizon, you know, where there's some shimmering night club and in that night club is a beautiful black women in a tight cocktail dress with dangly earrings and she's sharing her gift.

EL: What is it about Sarah Vaughan in particular that struck you?

SD: The way Sarah Vaughan sings, and the way she sings this particular song, she's singing about a broken heart but there's this fabulous kind of throw away insolence to it. And her technique is just incredible and it still sends goose bumps up my arms and legs listening to it.

Song: Sarah Vaughan -- "Broken Hearted Melody"

EL: That was Sarah Vaughan with "Broken Hearted Melody" as selected by our guest Simon Doonan. What's the next track you got for us?

SD: The next track is The Who. It's the song "Substitute", which came out in 1966. It was the year that post-war England kind of, for me, it ended with this mod explosion of creativity. I think Pete Townsend wrote this song and it's so wonderfully written, a beautifully clever song that is about skepticism which, I guess, skepticism is a big part of my personality so I have my optimism, you know, from Sarah Vaughan and then I have this skepticism because the song is all about duplicity. You know, it's all about things not being quite as they appear.

Song: The Who -- "Substitute"

EL: That was "Substitute" by The Who. What's the next track you got for us?

SD: Well, one of the great things about being old -- I'm 61 -- is you've seen incredible performers, if you went to music concerts. So I've seen an amazing array of people and I did actually see Jimi Hendrix play at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 a few months before he died and, you know, I think this was my introduction to sort of mystery and paranormal and psychedelia.

I was aware of it before than but I wasn't a full on hippie because it was hard to be that in Reading because the town was still very mod and everybody was into soul music and ska music -- and they still are probably.

But Jimi Hendrix was so sort of transcendental and hypnotic and mesmerizing and mysterious so I've picked "The Wind Cries Mary" which is a strange song and the lyrics defy any kind of straight forward explanation and the way he sings it, the way he plays it, is very magical and strange and great.

Song: "The Wind Cries Mary" -- Jimi Hendrix  

EL: That was "The Wind Cries Mary" from Jimi Hendrix, as selected by our guest Simon Doonan. What's the next track you got for us?

SD: The next track is Bowie, "Sound and Vision". I have vivid memories of being in a club in London called The Blitz and it was sort of the punk club that then became the new romantic club where everybody was everybody was running around dressed like pirates, it was completely mad.

And this song, apparently it's about cocaine addiction, but I didn't know that at the time. I thought it was about getting dressed up and wearing electric blue glam rock boots, you know. So me and my friends who were sort of all outsiders, marginal freaks, creative kids who had sort of found their way to London from these crap towns around the U.K., we would gather at The Blitz and I remember us all being in a group singing this at the top of our lungs.

EL: Thinking about London at the time, I mean this is sort of post Carnaby Street sort of vibe I guess. What was sort of the fashion sense at the time during the ‘70s?

SD: Well, London was very dismal during the ‘70s, but the fashion wasn't. It went very specifically from hippie to glam rock, which was so huge in London, than after glam rock there was a sort of retro period where everybody walked around with long cigarette holders and brilliantined hair and where it was very sort of Gatsby in a posy retro vintage kind of way. Then then after that came punk which just detonated everything and it was scary and it was crazy and right now there's an exhibit on in New York, which has a lot of punk clothing in it, and they have my old bondage outfit, my plaid bondage pants with the strap between the legs, and I was actually arrested while wearing it.

EL: Would you care to elaborate a little bit about the arrest in the bondage outfit?

SD: Well, in the late ‘70s I moved to Los Angeles. I got this job offer and I moved there. I was about 25 years old and the music scene in L.A. at the time was incredible. You could go to The Whiskey or The Roxy any night and see The Psychedelic Furs, The Specials, all the great bands at the time.

When I arrived in L.A. I of course bought a car and I used to get a bit tanked up and drive it around and one night I got - justifiably - arrested and pulled out of the car and these cops made me walk the line in my plaid bondage pants with the strap between the legs. I looked around and both of them were crying with laughter. They couldn't believe that anybody would be wearing this outfit and then have to walk the line so it was very slapstick, it was very sort of Jacques Tati actually.

Song: "Sound and Vision" -- David Bowie  

EL: That was "Sound and Vision" from David Bowie as selected by our guest Simon Doonan. Well, what's the last track you got for us?

SD: Well, the last track was very hard because, as you can tell, I'm very into music and all types of music but where I went, I went back to the counter culture because in many ways I'm a counter culture person even though I never really took on all the hippie accoutrements because in my town you really couldn't because you'd get beaten up.

But I'm a feminist, I eat brown rice, I'm quite crunchy beneath it all, so those counter culture ideals I still very much subscribe to them. The idea of being unconventional, the idea of being creative, and there's this one song that I will often play and it's Canned Heat "Let's Work Together". When I look around at the world today and there's so much chaos, they just need to listen to this song. The solution is easy. It's about cooperation and being groovy and being mellow and being chill.

EL: You were known for doing some of your window dressings, I think at Barney's.

SD: I inveigled my way into the world of window display in my early 20’s and I sort of stayed there for like four decades. Window display is like romper room. It's completely mad and when punk came along my displays became very punk. I started doing things with coffins and stuffed rats and, you know, everyday is Halloween. Doing irreverent unconventional things it was very inspiring to me -- so my career parallels my music tastes to a certain degree.

Song: "Let's Work Together" -- Canned Heat

EL: Well, Simon I want to thank you so much for joining us here at

SD: Oh my god this was a dream come true. This was a real treat.