When Bebe Rexha was growing up, she had one major inspiration: Debbie Harry. “My mom used to play her music when I was younger, and I remember just loving it,” says Rexha. “Then I started reading about her and seeing images of her style, and it was just a total 360 inspiration.”
Years later, Rexha’s own singing career took off, and now with two Grammy nominations under her belt and buzzy collaborations with everyone from G-Eazy to Florida Georgia Line, she wanted to pay homage to her music idol and style icon. So for InStyle’s May Style Crush chat, we connected the two blond bombshells, so they could finally sit down and talk shop.
After confessing her lifelong admiration for Harry (“I’m freaking out,” gushed Rexha), she quizzed the Blondie lead singer on everything from her iconic platinum hair to her punk performance looks to whether or not she kept that “Blondie” sweater [below]. “You’ve always been able to push boundaries, whether it’s with your hair, makeup, clothing, or music,” says Rexha. “It inspires me to just keep trying new things and never get stuck in one particular box.”
Read on for their full chat below.
BEBE REXHA: Debbie, I’m freaking out. I’m such a fan. You embody punk, rock and roll, and glamour all in one, which is something I’ve always tried to achieve.
DEBBIE HARRY: You’re very sweet. Over the years I’ve had a lot of help with my look — especially from designer Stephen Sprouse in the early days. He was very punk himself. I was never afraid of wearing, you know, garbage or ripped-up stuff. But he really taught me about the best lines for me. The surefire shots were always thigh-high boots with short skirts, long coats, and a beret. He wanted me to look like Faye Dunaway.
BR: Love that. It’s that perfect mix of badass and high fashion.
DH: In general, I always try to dress for comfort, though. I don’t like to be too distracted by my clothing because I still want it to complement me and make my body look its best. You know, the normal things.
BR: Well, right now I’m in a onesie because I’ve just been working on my album. So I definitely get where you’re coming from with comfort. [laughs] Does your look evolve with every record you make?
DH: Usually I go along with the theme of an album. We bring on different painters for album covers, so for the Panic of Girls album, we had a Dutch artist whose work was full of fantasy, and my look came from that. In the early days I was more limited by budget than anything else, though. I once did an album cover where I cut open a pillowcase and wrapped it [around myself] with red gaffer tape. It looked really cool, but the label turned it down. [laughs]
BR: When I was starting out, nobody really understood my vibe, either. I had dark hair, and I put out a song called “I’m Gonna Show You Crazy,” about mental health. It blew up with over 50 million streams, but my label was like, “Your look is…too dark.” So I just did what I wanted, and eventually I found myself. It’s a journey.
DH: Yeah, it’s a progression of self-discovery and self-worth. When you’re involved in art and commerce, you have to be clever. You have to be true to yourself. But you also have to make other people understand you, and sometimes that’s a compromise.
BR: I like wearing black, and sometimes I force myself to be this girl who is more colorful, which doesn’t always feel true to who I am. Did you ever feel that way when you were dressed in the skirts and boots?
DH: I always felt very comfortable in short skirts and thigh-high boots. It just worked for me. But when I’m working with a stylist, I try to be open-minded because sometimes you get a really good surprise that leads you in a new direction.
BR: That’s true. I think the way you can really connect to people is to wear what you love. The other day I put on this shirt that’s literally a black garbage bag with the word “Balenciaga” painted on the back. My dad saw it and was like, “Are you serious?” But I just felt so cool in it. [laughs]
DH: Balenciaga is one of the best. I love representing what a designer is thinking. They have these big references in their mind, and it’s like a whirlpool that washes around and something amazing pops out for us to wear. I was recently at the Coach show, and they dressed me in a beautiful look that had Jean-Michel Basquiat drawings on it. [below] That was really exciting for me to wear.
BR: Do you have a favorite look to perform in? I love a vintage Vivienne Westwood corset and faux-leather pants.
DH: I’ve seen photos of you in that, and it does look great. But, honestly, I can’t really say that there’s one thing I prefer.
BR: How did you keep your blond hair from not falling out when you first bleached it? Because my hair used to be so long.
DH: I didn’t keep it from falling out, actually! One thing I’ve learned is to keep a little bit of your dark roots. You can’t always maintain that when you’re on the road, but if you don’t let the color touch your scalp, it gives your hair more strength. It’s probably going to break no matter what, though. [laughs]
BR: Right! [Hairstylist] Tracey Cunningham saved my hair with Olaplex because I was wearing wigs at one point. I’m going to do what you said and let it grow out a bit. Dark roots look cool with dark eyebrows. So, who has been your biggest style inspiration over the years?
DH: I really liked a lot of the soul singers and the R&B girl groups that were very festive with their hot little dresses. I also loved the Brit-pop girls in their fitted pencil skirts and Janis Joplin, who was this combination of country girl and sort of city slicker slash hooker.
BR: Do you still have the black sweater that says “Blondie” on it in red script? I love that look.
DH: I do. You know, a lot of the pieces that I’ve been known for are things that I’ve actually made myself.
BR: I also loved your royal blue leotard and leopard leotard.
DH: I treasure them all now, so I’ve created quite an archive.
BR: What do you think makes something iconic?
DH: Oh, I don’t know. We all have these things that we gravitate toward — it’s a matter of chemistry. And I think, ultimately, that’s iconography. It’s something that’s magnetic.
BR: When I see something, like one of your amazing photo shoots, it really does something to me. You’ll forever be my icon.
DH: Thanks, Bebe. One last thing: When I read a bio about you, it said your real name, Bleta, means “bumblebee” in Albanian. And my name, Deborah, means “honeybee” in Hebrew. So, guess what? We’re both bees.
BR: Are you serious? I always knew we were soul sisters. [laughs]
For more stories like this, pick up the May issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download now.
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