WHAT GOT YOU INTO FASHION?
My imagination. When I was too young to go clubbing, I would lie in bed and imagine what I’d wear when I was old enough to go.
WE HEARD YOU WENT TO THE BRIT SCHOOL. WHAT WAS IT LIKE?
On my first day I felt like I was walking into the real life version of Save The Last Dance.
Every corner you turned there was something brilliant to look at, whether it was the dance students practising, older boys listening to music in between classes and getting their hair braided, theatre students exhibiting themselves as still life art. It blew my mind creatively. Learning about theatre practitioners like Antonin Artaud and Peter Brook aged 16 was extraordinary to me.
My best friends are the friends that I made there.
DID LIVING IN SHOREDITCH AT THE START OF YOUR CAREER CHANGE YOUR STYLE?
Definitely. It was yet another time in my life where I felt stimulated every corner I turned. I learnt a lot about myself. I shopped and partied hard and met some great people whilst doing it - and some horrific ones too, but that helps you learn what not to do.
WHICH DESIGNERS DO YOU ADMIRE AND WHY?
Terry De Havilland. He calls himself “the rock and roll cobbler.” He is in fact the most amazing visionary, that the world has when it comes to creating shoes.
YOU'VE WORKED WITH FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE, DAISY LOWE AND KATE NASH. WHAT'S BEEN THE HIGH POINT OF YOUR STYLING CAREER?
I don’t have time to do styling anymore and haven’t worked as a stylist on a shoot for a couple of years. But I would say of all of the above, that enthusiastically dragging a suitcase full of vintage wonder around Harrow, (Kate’s hometown) and finding fun spots to picture Kate Nash on Polaroid was brilliant, because we are close friends and we were so excited.
HOW DID YOU MOVE INTO RADIO?
I started to feel like I was banging my head against a brick wall. Working in fashion I was exasperated and couldn’t afford to eat. I thought about how I could combine my training in theatre with my experience in fashion and presenting seemed to work as an amalgamation in my head.
But the magic of radio seemed so much more appealing than just trying to be a TV presenter, so I’d spend hours online researching funding into a short radio course that I wanted to do at the Point Blank College in Hoxton.
I got a bursary, did the course and knocked on every door I could with ideas and a demo, until somebody gave me a tiny opportunity. I also think it’s important to listen carefully and try and learn from everyone around you.
YOU CURRENTLY PRESENT YOUR OWN BBC RADIO 1XTRA SHOW. WHAT DID IT FEEL LIKE WHEN YOU DID GET YOUR OWN SHOW?
Unbelievable, baffling and elating.
WHAT GOT YOU TALKING ABOUT FASHION ON THE RADIO?
I will always adore the theatrical element of fashion and that is something that can be communicated via audio in my opinion. It became natural for me to discuss it and chat to others about it on the radio. It rouses opinion and interests people that don’t even consider themselves as ‘into fashion’. I think this is because fashion is essentially hilarious.
WHAT'S BEEN THE MOST IMPRESSIVE OUTFIT TO GRACE THE RADIO 1XTRA STUDIO?
On the first day of my show in January, I wore a 2011-blazoned afro comb in my hair that was designed by Fred Butler. I loved that.
WHAT ARTISTS DO YOU THINK HAVE EXCEPTIONAL STYLE AND WHY?
At the moment Florence - that machine of hers is leaving me open-mouthed in awe. I love that she performs as though in a painting. I have always loved the evolving visual references of Erykah Badu.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH HENRY HOLLAND AND ALEXA CHUNG ON CHANNEL 4'S FROCK ME?
I have done two series of Frock Me and both were quite a different experience.
The first was in 2008 and was my first TV job. I was pretty much terrified of Alexa and Henry, I thought they were both super fun but at the same time in comparison to me, super famous.
The second in 2010, I was more comfortable with myself in the role but didn’t get to see Alexa or Henry because they filmed in New York and I was stuck here. Though they had me cracking up quite a bit when I watched the show, so it was great to work with them all the same.
It’s nice to bump into them out and about, which sometimes happens.
BETWEEN STYLING AND TALKING FASHION ON THE RADIO, HOW DID YOU FIND THE TIME TO CLIMB MOUNT KENYA?
I don’t know except for the fact that at the start of the year I said that if the only thing I do this year is climb Mount Kenya, then that’s a big enough achievement for me. Rather than becoming too obsessed with anything else that is usually a bit meaningless in the scheme of life.
It was the first time I’d done anything for charity. Working with Trekstock was an education and worth finding the time for.
HOW HAS YOUR STYLE DEVELOPED OVER THE COURSE OF YOUR CAREER?
No idea. I’m still extremely messy, have no signature style and cringe at some of my style choices. I guess things have got a bit less tight and braless.
WHERE DO YOU HANG OUT NOW?
Up the road from the ’ditch, in Stoke Newington and Clapton. Literally all my best friends live within a 5 minute dot-to-dot style radius of one another in Hackney. We love it that way. We go for walks along the canal and drink endless red wine in local pubs, chatting rubbish.
WHO IS YOUR IDOL?
I have SO many and find new ones all the time. My idols are some of the women I’ve been lucky enough to meet professionally, but mainly my core group of female friends - each wise, giving and wonderful in their own way.
Listen to Gemma Cairney on Radio 1xtra
Written by Marina Kolobova