“See My Claude?” says Anne Murray, on a first-name basis with a dark brown Montana coat. “I throw it there just to . . . ,” she continues in mock- cavalier tones that suffice to finish the sentence and suggest another chapter in the career of Canada’s biggest star.
Flung casually on their separate chairs, Murray and her coat are in the Toronto offices of Balmur Ltd., her management company, and for a conversation about hair, clothes and makeup, she is poised at her most charming which is to say her most sassy.
The night before, she had been to Ottawa to be honored as a Companion of the Order of Canada. “It was a real fun time,” to which Murray had worn a real simple silver column of a gown with matching, big- shouldered jacket accessorized by sapphires and diamonds. Iona Monahan, who was also in Ottawa, named to the Order of Canada as one of the country’s most authoritative fashion journalists, declares that there was no one there more fashionably attired than Murray. “She looked good, and she looked right.” Perhaps not since 1968, when a reporter in Springhill, N.S., paused in a review of a hometown performance to notice her “glamorous, shiny hostess gown in the Mandarin style,” has Murray’s attire enjoyed such favorable regard. Over the years, as she proceeded down her prize-strewn path, first, in bare feet, now sometimes in Maud Frizon pumps, Murray has frequently, in her choice of costume, left people wondering, “Where did she get that?” Today, the question is more real than rhetorical. And Murray provides at least part of the answer when she speaks of “the big shop.” “It started in Boston, but that was nothing like the dent I put in the card here in Toronto. Oh my goodness, I went crazy. They were real glad to see me in Hazelton Lanes, I’ll tell you.” Lest she seem like an entirely material girl, Murray adopts a hayseed’s accent to outline this recent splurge, but the pleasure she now takes in clothes is not pretence. Nor does it really have much to do with the actual articles of dress. It is an attitude. “I mean, I don’t dwell on clothes, you know. I’d prefer to put on a T-shirt and shorts, but I love to look nice, and when I go out, I do. . . . I’m not nearly so self- conscious as I used to be.” Not by a long shot. Asked for an inventory of what she has on, Murray is quick to her feet. She stands back-first while her fingers turn down the waistband of her black, crinkled leather trousers, to reveal the label. These were designed by Pablo and made in France. The purple sweater, featuring the emphatic shoulders that are a symbol of what her manager, Leonard Rambeau, likes to call “a more contemporary look,” is by Judit of Toronto. Her black leather athletic shoes are Reeboks, of which she also has pairs in grey, white, blue and pink.
While she’s obviously grown bolder in practising the art of self- presentation, Murray is shy of taking full credit for what she wears. “I don’t know enough about clothes to be put in charge of them. Not for one second do I know enough about them to be put in charge. That’s why I have Lee, and he helps me buys these things and put them all together.” Lee is Lee Kinoshita-Bevington, who a year ago replaced Juul Haalmeyer as designer of Murray’s stage outfits and personal shopping aide. Although Murray knows who Claude Montana is, she does not particularly care. “I just know that that’s the most wonderful coat I’ve ever seen.” Thus, it is Kinoshita- Bevington who can tell you that the coral suede, oversized, suspendered trousers that Murray wore to the taping of Tears Are Not Enough (the Canadians- for-Ethiopia single) is by New York designer Alicia Herrera; that the plaid, likewise suspendered, outfit that she wore on her most recent television special was from Hyper Hyper, an emporium devoted to young London designers; that in her cupboards there are several Anne Klein garments and lots by Saint Laurent.
In fact, questioned about what is is like to wear Saint Laurent, Murray offers a perfunctory, “Wonderful,” and rushes into a discussion of her Bogner stretch cords and how well they fit, “because I don’t have any hips, and I got a bum.” Murray’s basic indifference to the heights of fashion is something she says she came by honestly, inherited from her father, “the kind of person who kept things for years and years and years.” Of a snazzier stripe is her mother; and, as a child, Murray drove her crazy with her refusal to dress in dresses. Murray still has nightmares about being made ready for school, and her memories of her first dance and the red velvet frock it required are of awkwardness and discomfort.
Since then, the tables have somewhat turned. Murray, who wears heels – “when I have to” – regards it as something of a triumph to have in the last couple of years sold her mother on the joys of flat footwear. And there is something like vindication in her voice when she tells of a conversation in Ottawa the night before. “I talked to an orthopedic surgeon – he was being honored too – and he looked at my feet, and he said, ‘Now, those are sensible shoes.’ And I said, ‘All my shoes are sensible.’ And he said, ‘You know, that most times if you take a woman’s foot out of her shoe, her foot is twice as wide as her shoe, and that’s not natural.’ And I said, ‘Boy, I agree with that.’ ” Despite her taste for naturalism, Murray, when asked to cite a woman whose style she admires, names Raquel Welch, paying tribute to her physique and panache. Pinching her fingers together, she enthuses about an awards program at which Welch showed up “with her hair that long all over.” Having foregone the car-pool-mama, semi-bouffant bob that in the late seventies succeeded a curly perm, Murray is wearing her hair short at the sides and swept sleekly, almost sassily, back. In a flash, though, she would follow Welch’s cropped example. “I’d love to have my hair that short, are you kidding?” Why not? “Leonard would not allow it, I mean, it just doesn’t look as good.” A man with pronounced notions of what looks good and what doesn’t, Leonard Rambeau, Balmur’s president, laughs and responds to this by saying, “Anne’s idea of real short is for going to the beaches at Pugwash. I think under the lights, it’s a different thing.” Ever conscious of image, he nonetheless allows that a different do might be appropriate in connection with Murray’s next album, to be recorded in the summer and to mark a new musical direction. Typical of Rambeau’s deliberateness is his refusal to divulge any details of what Murray will be wearing on the stage of the O’Keefe Centre when she appears there in early May. He would prefer to let that be a surprise.
In the past, Murray’s informal, candid, irreverent nature has sometimes been impinged upon by apparent attempts to groom her for the middle-of- the- road marketplace. But, just as nervy as nice, Murray says that her current fondness for leather and dramatic shoulder lines does not derive from any effort to please an audience but is all of of her own volition. Kinoshita-Bevington agrees, points to a new confidence, and says, “What she wears in her private life is coming more and more on stage. She’s very relaxed in how she wears the clothes.” Just how relaxed is perhaps best illustrated by Murray’s reaction to the newly fashionable short skirts. Kinoshita-Bevington points out that already in her wardrobe are garments cut anywhere from two to six inches above the knee. Says Murray, “Hopefully, now he’s going to get into more short things,” adding that past designers have been mistaken in thinking that she would not go for such revelation. “I mean, I have good legs.
There’s no reason why I shouldn’t show them.”