Kiwi musicians and sisters Valentine & Clementine Nixon of Purple Pilgrims on their cult-chic style

17 January 2020
By Fashion Quarterly

From their expansive, dreamlike sound to their cult-chic ensembles and endless hair, sisters Valentine and Clementine Nixon of the band Purple Pilgrims have become style favourites. With their sophomore album Perfumed Earth out now, and a tour on the horizon, we delve into their captivating world.

Your music is often described as “enchantress pop” – what are the influences behind your sound?
We make the music that we want to hear. We’re always collecting field recordings and building up textures through layering sound, so our influences can be quite abstract in that sense. Our family has very deep roots in folk music, and some vocal tones and techniques have definitely filtered through into the music we make. It’s comforting to feel like we’re carrying on that tradition in some small way. We really like the idea of creating another world, our own realm that we can invite the listener into. We’d like people to feel like they’re escaping reality when they listen to our music. We’re not particularly interested in realism; we’re always drawn to the surrealist.

Tell us a bit about your upcoming album.
We recorded it at home in a tiny, sun-filled studio that we set up in our garden. We love the freedom of recording at home, the luxury of time to create the sound we want. Our physical environment played a big role in the album, exploring themes of isolation, both physical and otherwise. We were, as always, inspired by mythology, allegory and ancient forms of storytelling; reconciling age-old themes with a modern perspective. Having access to modern instrumentation and technology, we wanted to articulate the natural environment through synthesised textures.

How would you describe your relationship?
We’ve always been close, somewhat out of necessity! We were home-schooled together in a tiny fishing village in Hong Kong near the border of mainland China, so, during the day at least, we spent a lot of time together and had to get along. It sounds impossible, but when it comes to creative pursuits, we are yet to disagree. That’s not to say we haven’t had a few vicious arguments while under the pressures of touring, we just get over it a lot quicker than most bands do.

Growing up between Hong Kong and New Zealand, how did these two places inform your music and wardrobes?
When we were children, Chinese opera was as available to us as the mainstream pop music of the time, and we think eastern scales and that tradition of storytelling have found their way into our music. During our teenage years, pre-earthquake Christchurch had a thriving underground art and music scene, and we immersed ourselves in that too. We discovered a love of noise music, performance art and general sonic experimentation then. In terms of our wardrobes, when we were growing up, vintage clothing wasn’t popular in Hong Kong’s predominantly consumer-driven society, so for a number of years we almost exclusively wore “dead stock” from the city’s abandoned clothing-manufacturing industry – a seemingly endless stream of beautiful textiles from the ’60s and ’70s. That period in time has heavily impacted the way we dress.

What do you think inspires your aesthetic?
Dreaming of bygone eras that we never experienced and therefore can only romanticise is probably part of it. We’ve always been drawn to countercultures. The idea of escaping into a world within a world is something we find endlessly fascinating. Our song themes and lyricism often reference classical imagery. For that reason, we find ourselves drawn to wearing clothes with a romantic slant.

You were recently painted together by Auckland-based artist Liz Maw. What was that experience like?
It’s a privilege that we’re still processing! Liz is one of our all-time favourite artists; we’re in complete awe of the detail in her work. She captured our sisterly bond so beautifully – the eggs symbolise our creativity, and the dresses we’re wearing relate to our family background (being part Scottish Traveller, Romani and Sámi). They’re inspired by traditional Roma and Sámi garments.

 Liz Maw’s painting of Clementine and Valentine, 2018. Oil on board, 2340mm x 1250mm. Courtesy of the artist and Ivan Anthony Gallery, Auckland.

Words: Emma Gleason
Photos: Olivia Renouf

This article originally appeared in Fashion Quarterly Issue 3, 2019.


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