There aren’t too many rock stars for whom dressing in brown is a trademark. Yet Stephin Merritt’s unvarying sartorial commitment to the colour has been inspiring. In 2008, French footwear label Bluedy introduced “the Stephin”: a line of pointy, mid-top, slim-toed leather and nubuck shoes, in four shades of brown from kobicha to taupe.
Much to Merritt’s annoyance, they didn’t even send him a pair.
“I wear the whole spectrum from white to sepia,” he tells me quietly, seated in the lobby of his hotel in London. “Brown is good for argyle …” He pulls up a khaki trouser leg to reveal his patterned socks.
“I like brown. As with preppy clothing, you can get dressed in the dark with no problem.”
Over the years, Merritt has earned a reputation for being a hard interview. His public Q&A events are regularly punctuated with discomfiting Pinteresque pauses. When pressed for an encore, he and his band once performed John Cage’s ‘4’33’’’. Strike the right topic, though, and he’s positively cuddly. Merritt lights up at the chance to explain the superiority of Act One of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods compared to Act Two, or describe the qualities of the cittern, his most recent exotic instrument purchase from a music shop in Bristol.
Just don’t ask him if he’s enjoying his current tour and expect him to sugar-coat the answer.
“I don’t like performing …” he says, the night after a two-performance stint at the Barbican Centre, “So … no.”
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