My Style: Gussie Larkin’s Nostalgic Fashion Strikes The Right Notes

By Emma Gleason
From performing on stage with Earth Tongue and Mermaiden’s to her off-duty style, Gussie Larkin finds joy in getting dressed. Photo / Steven Acres

From vintage treasures to finally embracing Crocs, Gussie Larkin gets lyrical about clothes.

Music and fashion have a long history together, and artists are often hyper-attuned to what they look like. It’s always interesting talking to them about style — some profess not to care, while others acknowledge the important role clothes play in crafting a creative vision and public image. It’s not easy to meld image-making with authenticity, but Gussie Larkin balances through her genuine love for clothes. “What I wear on stage is a big part of the live show,” says Gussie. She plans them in advance and has a different style for each of the two bands. Both have earned acclaim; Mermaidens were nominated for Taite Music Awards and Aotearoa Music Awards; Earth Tongue will tour Europe soon, and the duo’s album Great Haunting is released on June 14).

Given that intentionality and appreciation of style, it’s not surprising to learn that the Wellingtonian originally aspired to be a fashion designer before changing lanes and that appreciation of style and decades past has Gussie’s fashion is gorgeous too, with vintage treasures and nostalgic references alongside an appreciation for colour and theatrics. She also just really likes getting dressed, and finding special pieces, both of which she discusses with Viva for our My Style series.

Describe your personal style.

Retro-driven, turbo-charged colour insanity.

Gussie Larkin loves high-saturation colour. Photo / Steven Acres
Gussie Larkin loves high-saturation colour. Photo / Steven Acres

What influences your fashion sense?

Sixties air hostesses, 80s rollerskaters, Barbarella, French New Wave, the rock ‘n’ roll babes of the 70s … the list goes on!

What’s your favourite item of clothing?

My yellow “Kill Bill” jacket, which I bought on holiday in Oslo, Norway, last year. I bought it at a great little vintage shop, but I had to fight my mum for it first. She found two yellow jackets, both slightly different and both very cool. She wanted both for herself, but I wouldn’t allow that. We settled the argument eventually, and I’ve been treasuring this jacket since. It’s got really heavy metal zips, a super 1970s rounded collar, and stripes down the arms which means I get called Kill Bill by strangers whenever I wear it.

One of the most attention-grabbing items in her wardrobe, Gussie Larkin has dubbed this her "Kill Bill jacket".
One of the most attention-grabbing items in her wardrobe, Gussie Larkin has dubbed this her "Kill Bill jacket".

How do you put a look together? Do you think it through the night before, or even weeks in advance? Or do you let your mood in the morning guide you?

Dreaming up outfits has always put me to sleep. That and thinking about what I’m going to have for breakfast (usually porridge). If I have a show coming up, I do think about it in advance, but I have a few go-tos that I know will always work. I do rely on my mood, but the weather plays a big part as well. I get cold easily!

How do you dress for going on stage, and any professional appearances?

What I wear on stage is a big part of the live show, particularly for Earth Tongue. I’ve become known for my ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll ensembles, and I like how those looks interact with the music. I’ve been told I dress like members of Abba on stage, and I’m not mad about that. I do always need to be comfortable as well because I’m bending over and jumping around a lot. People will be watching me for up to an hour so I’m conscious to avoid any wardrobe malfunctions!

Gussie Larkin says on-stage outfits are an important part of the show. Photo / Doug Peters
Gussie Larkin says on-stage outfits are an important part of the show. Photo / Doug Peters

How do you dress when you’re on tour?

I was always against Crocs ... But I caved and bought some for the last Europe tour we did. I started with a strict rule – Crocs were only allowed on planes and in the van – but I’m sorry to say that Crocs are a staple of my tour wardrobe these days.

What was your relationship with fashion growing up?

I wanted to be a fashion designer when I grew up! I would create my own fashion label and draw comprehensive collections. I remember one of the labels I created was called “Luge” – I was probably like 9 and had a logo and everything! When I was a teenager I made lots of my own clothes, and took a cheese grater to many pairs of jeans – which I then painstakingly studded by hand. Clothes have always been an obsession.

What’s one of your earliest fashion memories?

Designing and then getting my mum to make my dress for the school disco, aged 7. It was a cleverly designed halter neck number with a literal hula hoop stitched into the hem, to give it a sort of trumpet shape. A fluffy feather boa was stitched around the hem, kinda like a marabou robe. My mum even made a documentary about it for her university assignment – it was called Gussie Goes to the School Disco. Iconic if you ask me.

How has your relationship to fashion changed since your teenage years?

Less goth elements, that’s for sure. I lived in Doc Martens, brothel creeper shoes and sometimes fishnet stockings. I’ve definitely gone more wholesome since then, although I still live in low-cut Docs.

Jumpsuits are on high rotation for Gussie Larkin. Photo / Ezra Simons
Jumpsuits are on high rotation for Gussie Larkin. Photo / Ezra Simons

What item in your wardrobe have you worn to death?

A red coat that I bought in Amsterdam. It’s the PERFECT ‘60s shape, but it’s a bit too worn these days. I’ve been keeping it in the hope that I find someone who can make a replica from the pattern.

What item should you wear more but don’t?

Every pair of heels I own.

Where do you love to shop?

Lately I’ve been loving Central Flea Markets in Balmoral. It’s a good old-fashioned market where people just set up and sell their stuff. I’ve had some great finds there. My guilty secret is buying from American vintage sellers on Instagram – I say guilty because it’s not cheap! But I’ve found some amazing items. Some of my favourite sellers are @Spacedoutmama, @Archetypevintage, @Laretrogirl and @Retrogradercade.

Who are your favourite designers, and why?

I don’t often buy new clothes, but I do love a New York designer named Tyler McGillivary. I have two fancy dresses – one that is basically see-through and covered in laser-cut flowers, and the other is a figure-hugging number which I often wear on stage for Mermaidens shows.

This vibrant dress by Tyler McGillivary is a favourite of Gussie Larkin’s. Photo / Steven Acres
This vibrant dress by Tyler McGillivary is a favourite of Gussie Larkin’s. Photo / Steven Acres

What items are on your wish list right now?

I do keep a wish list actually, but the things that are on it are really boring at the moment. I guess that’s why I haven’t got around to buying them. They are: Running shoes, trackpants, hoodie.

What do you find challenging or frustrating about shopping, clothes or fashion?

Like I said, I’ve been looking for trackpants that I like for so long. I know they’re kind of supposed to be ugly, but can I please just have a flattering comfy pant that isn’t synthetic and isn’t activewear? Any leads, please hit me up.

Who inspires you?

My mum! She is my style icon. We have similar taste, so of course I was always stealing her clothes growing up. She’s an excellent op shopper and often dressed me in interesting retro clothes when I was a kid. She still has an amazing collection of retro and can upstage me any day. We’re good shopping companions – so long as we don’t fight over yellow jackets!

More personal style

True style comes from within, as these stylish souls prove.

Toni Street’s journey through fashion. From Canterbury jerseys to frothy frocks.

Chloe Swarbrick is fashioning change. The Green Party leader and MP for Auckland Central talks sneaker subtlety, unpacking threads of representation and wearing values on your sleeve.

Elevator selfies from Team Viva. How our editors actually dress to get things done.

CEO style: How some of NZ’s most fashionable executives dress for work. This is how they maximise fashion to communicate their identity and values.

Share this article: