Occupational hazards for the modern-day celebrity include no-holds-barred public access to their evolving image – duly documented by the paparazzi, for better or for worse. One highly flashbulbed specimen – back in the spotlight with a new album, following a four-year parental hiatus – is Lily Allen, who finally appears to have hit her stride in the wardrobe department.
For her wedding to Sam Cooper in 2011, she was a picture of demure domestic bliss in a long-sleeved lace bridal gown designed to accommodate her expanding bump (first daughter Ethel). But Allen’s edgy comeback look – expertly honed by stylist Richard Sloan, who has been on board since last August – is anything but yummy mummy. The singer looks particularly fierce on the cover of her chart-topping album Sheezus: all emerald-green claws and spiky fingerless leather gloves, her raven locks styled into a glossy high ponytail and blunt fringe gleaming with blue highlights. Just as the controversial video for single Hard Out Here parodies sexism in the music industry, so the singer subverts the style of a sexy R&B star for an empowered new look that is all her own.
The eclectic dresser has also been rocking a carousel of high-impact looks on the party circuit of late, ranging from a spiky Fendi fur she wore to the brand’s recent Bond Street store opening to her ensemble for the Brit Awards after-party, where she offset a bubblegum-pink vintage Dior skirt and two neon bras by Stella McCartney with her dip-dyed canary-yellow ponytail. After bemoaning the lack of “free clothes and handbags” during her time spent shackled to the stove, Allen is back with a vengeance; with a new svelte figure and sharp ‘Cher’ ’do, the singer has visibly upped the ante in the grooming stakes.
Allen has always loved dressing up. So vast was the singer’s hoard of vintage clothes, in 2011 she opened a (since-shuttered) vintage boutique in London with sister Sarah Owen to offload some.. But her newly recharged sartorial zeal radiates a fresh sense of sophistication. A major turning point was entering the hallowed Chanel clan in 2007, when she landed a front-row ticket to one of the fashion house’s catwalk shows. Suddenly, she was rubbing shoulders with the Kaiser, Karl Lagerfeld, who cast her as the face of Chanel’s Coco Cocoon handbag range, styling her as an up-to-date Audrey Hepburn complete with beehive, oversized tiara and shades. (She scrubbed up pretty well for a pop star hitherto known for trainers, hoodies, gold jewellery and ’50s prom-dress ensembles).
On the A-list
Despite making it into fashion’s luxe league, Allen – whose personality famously swings between gobby gall and candid vulnerability – will never go totally ‘classic’. A vocal opponent of all things ‘beige’, she remains willing in her sartorial choices to leave herself open to scrutiny. As someone who always likes to assert her difference, her sense of humour and street cred will always be part of the act.
One could see it as a defence mechanism; like her music, she always telegraphs a rebel-at-heart vibe despite her sweet tones. It’s a position, she admits, that doesn’t always play in her favour. “I just like to have fun with what I’m wearing. If my record company are going to spend ‘x’ amount of money on hair and make-up, why not have a laugh and a giggle with it?” said the singer during a panel discussion at the recent Vogue Festival in London. “Saying that, I went to the Baftas this year in a Vivienne Westwood couture gown with this pink [hair accessory] and got in the car after the Baftas was over and Googled myself, and everyone said how ridiculous I looked and I ripped it straight out...”
But facing flak has always been part of the process for Allen who, after years of public angst-ing, appears to have her priorities in place. “I am enjoying the attention. And having my hair and make-up done, and feeling glamorous. I’m not covered in baby sick any more,” she says in the June edition of Glamour magazine.
This polished image signals a new sense of confidence for the singer who grew up watching her mother, film producer Alison Owen, “in this world of glitz and glamour, surrounded by people who had lots of money, dripping in diamonds and jewels.” She recently told The Daily Telegraph: “It always felt like we were acting and we weren’t really part of it. Mum would get dressed up and go to the Baftas or a film premiere, and I felt like I wanted to make that a reality; that I was part of that world and had a right to be there, rather than feeling like we were acting at it.” Given that she was recently one of the A-List invitees to the Met Gala Ball – clad, of course, in Chanel, as she Instagrammed her backstage antics with Cara Delevingne, Kanye West et al – she may well have made it.
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.