The writer, DJ and style icon talks taste with Charlie Porter
From the city’s Blitz Kids club scene to her sell-out show at The Glory in East London, Princess Julia will reveal all at her Pin Drop talk later this month at Soho House 76 Dean Street.
It’s just gone five on a Wednesday afternoon in Shoreditch, and Princess Julia has popped round for a cuppa. She’s in a typical daywear look: black knee-length fluid dress, fishnet tights and cream kitten-heel boots. Her lip colour is purple, her nail polish is nude with black stripes. She’s joined by her housemate’s dog Barney, who also responds to the names Bubbles and Brexit.
‘I’m not worried about whether things are good taste or bad taste,’ she says. ‘I tend to agree with the Diana Vreeland comment – it’s no taste that I’m against.’ It is this conviction that has defined Princess Julia’s life as a celebrant of and a participant in all that is radical. Julia has been a lynchpin of London club land since the late 1970s. She DJs. She writes. She performs monologues. She always looks extraordinary. She embodies the pleasure and satisfaction that can be derived from alternative ways of being.
‘When I was growing up, there were a lot of restrictions, especially as a young girl, a young woman,’ she says. ‘Restrictions on how you could behave, what you were expected to be like in your life, and what kind of life you would lead. Very quickly I decided to abandon all hope of anything like that. In a good way.’
Julia committed herself to clear-headed, decisive rebellion. ‘I set out to do exactly the opposite of whatever my parents told me, to not dress appropriately,’ she says. ‘It was my father who was most upset. My mother said, “If you’re happy, I’m happy too.” But then she’d also be like, “You’re not going out in those rubber stockings are you?” Yeah, actually, I am.’
It was in these formative years that Julia’s notions of style were first formed. ‘I don’t know what made me decide that my taste was the best taste for me. But it must have been the grounding of what was permissive or what you were allowed to be – something in myself drove me to be exactly the opposite.’
Julia has experienced a succession of counterculture movements that have each questioned taste, from punk and the new romantics to today’s east London drag scene. Challenging traditional concepts can be a deeply creative force, as seen in the work of director John Waters. ‘I am a disciple,’ says Julia. ‘His films are a whole cacophony of ideas. Once I discovered that John Waters was in our world, I gravitated towards that and all those fabulous characters. His work is life affirming.’
“I believe in the deepness of being shallow. The seriousness of having fun.”
But this does not mean Julia’s ideas are fixed or prescribed. ‘Rules are there to be broken,’ she says, ‘even ones about taste. If you make your own rules about something, you can backtrack and start again, or decide something you once had a predisposition towards is actually quite naff.’ What matters is a lively, inquisitive mind. ‘It’s about questioning,’ she says, ‘asserting yourself and going forward with conviction.’
Recently, Julia has been troubled by the way bad taste has been used as a negative attack. ‘We’ve regressed in some weird way in this decade we’re in,’ she says. ‘Look at the debacle with Madonna and her tits-and-bum outfit.’ She is referring to the Givenchy dress Madonna wore to this year’s Met Gala. ‘What a woman. She’s just having fun. I was amazed by the reaction of her fans and admirers, saying that the outfit was bad taste. It made me think that everyone has forgotten about the importance of this. We don’t want to live in a place where people are not free to express themselves in whatever way they like, whether it’s good or bad taste.’
We’ve been chatting for a while, and it’s almost time for Julia to go. ‘I believe in the deepness of being shallow. The seriousness of having fun. There’s nothing wrong with being superficial if you feel like it. I don’t know why everything has to be so serious all the time. People get so upset about it.’ She pauses. ‘But beware the shallowness of being deep. That’s one to ponder isn’t it?’
And with that, she puts Barney/Bubbles/Brexit on his lead, and heads off into the East London early evening.
This interview was originally published by Soho House in September 2016 to mark the event Princess Julia: Live at Pin Drop on Wednesday 21st September at Soho House Dean Street