With her highly anticipated third album slated to drop “while the sun is out”, 33-year-old artist Tahliah Debrett Barnett (aka FKA twigs) is set to soundtrack 2021’s summer of love. But that’s not all the British musician has to celebrate right now—she is, quite literally, soaring. “I’ve been kind to myself and allowed this time for rest and recalibration,” twigs tells Vogue, mid-flight at 30,000ft.
This week, the musician blazes back onto billboards as the new face of Burberry’s Olympia campaign (alongside Kendall Jenner and Shygirl), a coup which comes with added personal significance.
“When I was 18, I had a boyfriend that lived on a Pimlico estate [in London] and sometimes at night we would walk around Knightsbridge and look in the designer shop windows. Burberry was on the corner—all lit up and shiny,” she adds. “I was at Croydon College at the time, and felt quite directionless and overwhelmed by London. Burberry is the only specific shop I remember gazing into at midnight on those walks.” How does it feel to see the campaign debut today? “In some parallel universe, my 18-year-old self might be looking at me in a crystal ball saying, ‘G’wan girl’.”
It’s not just her own indomitable strength she is rousing. Away from the spotlight, twigs is pursuing projects that expand her extensive community work. Most recently, she’s joined forces with Sistah Space, an organisation close to her own heart that supports women of Black heritage who are in danger of domestic violence. “It’s still early days in our relationship, but I am hoping to work with them a lot more in the future to help create safe spaces where Black women who are in danger can go,” she adds.
Here, in an exclusive conversation with Vogue, FKA twigs discusses everything from self-care to the joy her dog Solo brings, and how Burberry’s Riccardo Tisci persuaded her to step out of the sweatpants.
Hi twigs, how are you?
“I’m really good, but massively overheating—I’m on a plane and it’s so hot. Everyone is sleeping, but I’m wide awake and am chatting with the air stewardess.”
You haven’t done a lot of brand campaigns, what made you want to work with Burberry?
“When I was 18, I had a boyfriend who lived on a Pimlico estate [in London] and sometimes at night we would walk around Knightsbridge and look in the designer shop windows. Burberry was on the corner—all lit up and shiny. My boyfriend, who was an extremely ambitious track athlete from Barbados, would project that one day we would be able to wear these clothes and belong in these spaces. At the time, I was on the £30-a-week Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) scheme, so it seemed pretty out of reach.
“These ambitious statements of his actually used to aggravate me a little because I was at Croydon College at the time, and felt quite directionless and overwhelmed by London. Burberry is the only specific shop I remember gazing into at midnight on those walks. So, years later, to be asked to be the face of Burberry feels so surreal and somehow quite serendipitous. I don’t think that the moral of the story is that if you project positively, work really hard and play nice then the universe hears you and delivers, but I do think that in some parallel universe, my 18-year-old self might be looking at me in a crystal ball saying, ‘G’wan girl’.”
How does it feel to see the Olympia campaign today?
“I feel proud. Burberry has such heritage—it’s a very stoic brand that’s extremely iconic. But to be honest, I guess being from Gloucester, I remember that the fittest boys would drive around town in flashy cars with Burberry caps on. All the boys I fancied growing up wore something Burberry, for sure.”
How did you meet Burberry creative chief Riccardo Tisci?
“I think we first met at one of [fashion photographers] Mert [Alas] and Marcus [Piggott]’s iconic Ibiza summer parties, but I was shy and had really bad acne, so I don’t think I was very forthcoming.”
Is there a specific creative belief that you both share?
“Riccardo is a visionary. He has always pushed diversity and inclusion in his work before it was required or celebrated. Riccardo allowed girls like me to see themselves in new environments and spaces. That’s why working with him for Burberry at this point in my career felt right because he is a real one. He pushes boundaries and is a rule-breaker, which I can relate to in my work, too.
“I also adore [photographers] Inez and Vinoodh [who shot the Olympia campaign]. I’ve spent the whole year in tracky bums so I was so excited to fly to New York to shoot with them and feel like I was creating something special with a team that really cares about the details as much as I do. Inez makes me feel like a goddess, her energy on set is unreal. Kabuki Magic did my makeup and Jimmy Paul did my hair for the campaign, which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was excited to get all the goss from their notorious club kid days. I’ll never get bored of Kabuki’s amazing stories!”
If you and Riccardo were to spend an ideal day together, where would it be and what would you do?
“We actually did it a few weekends ago—we just sat and ate pizza in the park and had a giggle. I bought a speaker and we listened to Madonna’s Bedtime Stories  and looked at books. It was so fun.”
Which British icon has had the greatest influence on your personal style?
“I love Poly Styrene from [1970s British punk band] X-Ray Spex. She influenced me so much when I was younger and her attitude inspired me to be myself and express myself however I liked. She was really bold in her aesthetic choices and she opened the door for me to be that way as well.”
How important has your physical practice been to your emotional wellbeing over the past year?
“Very important. It’s been the toughest year for me to stay focused on my physicality. I’ve actually had weeks of not moving, which I’ve never had in my life really [laughs], but I’ve been kind to myself and allowed this time for rest and recalibration. I’ve been training intensely for decades now, so it’s all in the bank.”
Is there a specific dance/movement practice that is currently informing your work?
“I’ve found it hard to train during the pandemic for obvious reasons, so I have been concentrating on mobility and body conditioning in the hope that, now things are picking up again, I will have remained strong and flexible.”
Can you reveal when your new album, which you recorded in lockdown, will be released? What can we expect to see and hear with this work?
“I haven’t set a date, but I’d definitely like to get it out while the sun is out. I’m keeping it a surprise, but I love it.”
Which artists are you currently excited to collaborate with?
“I love dancer/choreographer Juliano Nunes. His work is out of this world—particularly his partner work. It’s completely mesmerising the way that he makes two bodies work as one so effortlessly.”
Do you have plans to perform again soon?
“Not really, any plans to perform feel ambitious right now. I’m just waiting to see what happens.”
What one person, thing or moment has brought you joy today?
“Ugh, my dog [Solo] is so iconic, I can’t even deal with how much joy the lil’ stink brings me. He is just hilarious and full of light, and reminds me to keep it simple.”
What was the last book you read?
“A Visit from the Goon Squad [Knopf, 2020] by Jennifer Egan—it was great actually, I couldn’t put it down.”
Your community work has spotlit the grassroots sex-worker-led organisation SWARM—what other initiatives, which matter to you personally, can Vogue readers also help support?
“I’ve been in touch with Sistah Space, a domestic violence organisation based in Hackney [east London] that specifically works with women from Black heritage. It’s still early days in our relationship, but I am hoping to work with them a lot more to help create safe spaces where Black women who are in danger can go.
“Women of Black heritage have different needs when trying to leave their abuser, from obvious things like food and products that are more familiar to them, to more complicated things like the culture and ideologies inherent to the Black community. Safe spaces for Black domestic violence survivors in the UK are virtually non-existent and the work that Sistah Space does to support the community is amazing.”
This article was originally published on British Vogue.