The Preatures’ new album, Girlhood, explores just that. Written from the perspective of their elusive and much-followed frontwoman, Isabella ‘Izzi’ Manfredi, it speaks of the confusions and contradictions of being a modern woman. Well, at least according to the press release, anyway. But what is it to be a ‘modern woman’ in 2017?
Thankfully, even the often-Chanel-clad Manfredi doesn’t have it all worked out yet. “There are a lot of things that go on for women at all sorts of levels... the last thing that women want is for someone else to be telling them what it ‘means’ to be a woman.”
“What makes me a modern woman? A lot of the record is about the fact that I’m a hypocrite – I have certain values that I would like to uphold but fall short most of the time. I still have an inner misogynist, I still have an inner sexist – and that’s the thing that I need to confront.”
It’s interesting to hear a woman in the music industry speak of her inner misogyny, considering the endless headlines and rallying cries of how hard it is out there for girls in music.
“When you start to bring ideas of sexism and gender bias into it, we make a lot of assumptions about behaviour and meaning, when a lot of the time it’s just because the music industry sucks,” she laughs.
“At the heart of making something – the spirit is genderless. The creative spirit, the musical spirit, doesn’t have a gender.”
It’s an inspiring idea – but possibly one that is a little harder to prove in practice. When I ask about how that idea could work alongside media’s gendered focus on herself, a frontwoman (as opposed to a frontman), she sighs. “ This is the tricky thing,” she tells me.
“There can be jealousy, and there can be times in the band where the boys feel like they’re being completely ignored – and you don’t know whether that’s because I’m a woman and everyone’s focusing on me, or whether that’s just because I’m the frontperson.”
It calls to mind, for me at least, another famous Aussie female rocker. There’s a bit of The Divinyls on this record – especially on songs like ‘The First Night’. It’s an interesting parallel, as we’re sitting here, talking about womanhood.
Chrissy’s struggle with the public perception of her famous school uniform - and the inevitable connection with sex – was well documented. Regardless of what it actually meant to her, it meant something else to a lot of men.
“I can relate to her not wanting that kind of symbolism she dipped into with the school uniform. It’s fucking with authority... you just do things as a performer, you don’t really think about them. And then other people take meaning from it.”
“None of us want to be misunderstood... you don’t have complete control over how people perceive what you’ve made. And often you don’t really understand it yourself.”
Gendered or genderless, the reductive idea on the presser that this entire album is about the pitfalls and pinpricks of being a ‘girl’ doesn’t really give it the credit it deserves.
The lesser-explored depths are possibly more important than that – from the universal pain of the coming-of-age experience, through to a unique collaboration with Aboriginal elder Aunty Jacinta Tobin, in her Indigenous Sydney Dharug language.
“Writing with [Jacinta] was the easiest part... It was a completely different experience and a completely unexpected result for me. It was a huge gift to receive [native] language in the way that I did.”
By now Manfredi is breathless – she’s been lugging her suitcase all the way up Liverpool Street while speaking to me on the phone. It’s not quite what you’d expect if you follow her journey on Instagram.
Life, as seems to be the way on social media these days, appears like a glamorous party for Manfredi, punctuated by her ongoing Chanel collaboration. Kitted out in the French house’s latest runway looks on stage seems so organic.
“It’s been very, very natural – and that’s the best part about it. They support me as an artist, I love the history of the house, I love that Gabrielle was such a patron of the arts...”
“I love the theatre of the [runway] shows, the sense of drama and spectacle,” she enthuses. “As a performer, it’s a real privilege to be at those shows.”
So this is Manfredi: sitting on a park bench, tired after schlepping a suitcase up Liverpool Street, and talking nonchalantly about the rarefied air of a Chanel runway.
Perhaps life is really just about these moments of contradiction. And maybe that’s exactly what being ‘a modern woman in 2017’ is all about.
For national tour dates visit thepreatures.com
This article was originally published in Fashion Journal 171.