Mimi Xu: ‘I don’t queue for nightclubs, but I’ll queue for food’
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Style news every morning.
My personal style signifier is wearing 50 per cent menswear and 50 per cent really feminine things, such as a very tight Alexander McQueen leather pencil skirt, which is like a second skin. I have friends who are fashion designers and who understand my aesthetic – like Francesco Risso, the creative director of Marni. I walk in Marni’s shows and he knows never to put a dress on me. I love the architect look.
The last thing I bought and loved was an artwork by Cornelia Parker, one of her Red Spot pieces, which I bought at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I fell in love with it and then realised it was hers.
No party is complete without good music and a good sound system. I’ve been to parties, big events, where they were playing music on a phone. There’s no point throwing a party if you have a bad sound system. You need to feel the vibration of the bass to dance. For me, the English brand ATC is the best on the market.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is some green rocks from the Greek village of Lindos, on Rhodes. We went this summer to celebrate the birthday of a friend, whose dad is David Gilmour from Pink Floyd. He bought an incredible 15th-century house there in the ’60s. Apparently Marianne Faithfull stayed there, and The Rolling Stones. It has seen a lot; so many musicians have passed by, they’ve definitely left an imprint. I picked up a bunch of rocks from the beach as a souvenir, and they’re now in my bathroom.
My drink of choice is tequila, lime and soda – and lots of it.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is IM Pei by Pei and Aileen Reid. I recently visited The Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, both his buildings. My father [Albert Yaying Xu] designed the acoustics in these spaces. Pei’s museums have a sense of warmth; the way he used wood and stone, they just make you feel happiness and light – you are probably not as focused on the art though, that’s the only problem.
The last music I downloaded explains my scattered brain. One song is called “Whoop!” by R Can & Sonic Noise. I heard it at a party; it’s a kind of techno dancehall track. It’s so good, so spontaneous. And then I downloaded a piece of music by Tan Dun, who wrote the score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I’ve just been to a concert of his at the Philharmonie Luxembourg where he did “The Firebird” by Stravinsky and then his own composition, incorporating iPhones. He got everyone in the audience to download a track of birdsong and conducted all of us playing it on our phones, then went into his symphonic piece. It was just beautiful.
I have a collection of portable lights – different types, different sizes… I’m really nerdy. I use them in my performance art with my music partner Gillian Maguire. We’re called Awkward Moments. And, to be more sexy, I also have a huge number of chunky shoes. Miu Miu is doing great ones at the moment. And I like a very low-key brand from Singapore called Charles & Keith. I don’t do skinny heels. “Life On Venus” (Trey Mirror remix) by Awkward Moments is out now
In my fridge you’ll always find lots of green vegetables, Greek yoghurt, gluten-free beers, plenty of chocolate. I love food, and my partner, Jan Kennedy, is an incredible cook – I think he’s a wannabe chef – and fills me with fantastic but quite unhealthy food.
The thing I couldn’t do without is headphones – there’s always a pair in my bag. Because I lose them a lot, I tend not to invest in them. But my partner gave me a pair by Sennheiser that I keep at home. They’re so accurate; they’re like proper studio speakers. They rarely lie to me. Sennheiser HD 660S, £429
An indulgence I would never forgo is being constantly stimulated. I always need to be awake and learning and entertained. I think that’s quite self-indulgent.
I don’t believe in style icons. I believe that we all should find our own style rather than follow trends or influencers. I look up to musicians, because I feel music has always led fashion and not the other way around. Growing up, I was taken by Madonna’s early look and hip-hop. I was into streetwear, but I wasn’t a B-boy.
I’ve recently discovered Santiago de Compostela, in north-west Spain, the place of pilgrimage for Catholics. It’s an incredible little town. It obviously has this medieval sense of spirituality, but also the most amazing seafood. We went to the Taberna O Gato Negro, which feels like it hasn’t changed for the past 50 or 60 years. We queued up for an hour to get in there. I don’t queue for nightclubs, but I’ll queue for food.
The beauty staples I’m never without are Augustinus Bader’s The Cream, which I trialled with them. It’s extremely expensive. So my other go-to is Weleda Skin Food. I have a needle phobia, so I think it’s going to be a facelift at 70 or nothing. But something that works really well for me is using a jade face roller. And drinking a lot of water.
An object I would never part with is my four-terabyte LaCie external hard drive, which I treasure. It’s got my life on it. So much music, so many films. It’s a big loss when it crashes. I back it up now. But is it all going to exist in 100 years, I wonder?
My favourite building is the Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima, Japan, by Tadao Ando. He uses concrete, so you might think it would be cold, but it’s not because he uses all natural light. When you go into the Monet room – where there are five big Water Lilies paintings – you have to take off your shoes. It’s a religious experience. I love modernist Asian architecture because there is a sense of warmth in the work.
My wellbeing guru is Wim Hof, the iceman. I don’t do many beauty-treatment things: I cut my own hair because I can’t be bothered to go to the hairdresser; I don’t get my nails done. But I love doing Wim Hof’s breathwork. It’s really powerful, and he cracks me up. I was inspired by his 10-minute routines to make a breathwork soundtrack with my musical partner, because I can’t stand the music in his videos.
My favourite apps are Spotify, of course; Chords, for working out the key in my music; I also like BeReal, which is the opposite of what other social media apps are about – you can be on the toilet [when you’re prompted for a photo], you know? It’s quite funny. And then I use a BPM counter a lot, to find the speed of a song, and a thing called Interval Timer to exercise. I create my own exercise routine on a six-minute cycle, which I do five times to create a half-hour workout. And then a website I like is DuckDuckGo – an alternative to Google that doesn’t track you.
The work of art that changed everything for me was The Visitor by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. It’s a film spread across nine screens – each shows a musician in a different space or rooms, in the garden, in the bathtub, and they all play a song together. It’s a really powerful piece that has stuck with me.
Some of the best advice I ever received was from a choreographer called Lindsay Kemp, who worked with David Bowie and helped to create Ziggy Stardust. I did a performance with him a few years ago, and I’m a bit of a reluctant performer, but Lindsay said: “You need to put intention in every gesture – even if it’s just scratching your nose.” It really helped to improve my stage presence. There’s also a David Bowie quote I live by. He said: “Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”
When I need to feel inspired I dive into melancholia. This might sound very strange, but I go into a mildly depressed state – like “I’m not good enough” – and that stimulates ideas.
My party playlist right now includes “Final Credits” by Midland – a crowd-pleaser – and “Only You” by Steve Monite. If no one is dancing on these two tracks, then just give up.
A podcast I listen to is Russell Brand’s Under the Skin – I think it has a unique point of view and the guests he picks are really interesting.
The artists whose work I would collect if I could are Robert Gober – an American artist who does absurd sculptures, such as a leg coming out of a wall – and Tino Sehgal, who is a performance artist, so pretty uncollectable even if I could afford it because there’s never any documentation and he doesn’t allow his work to be filmed. When things become collectable, they become a commodity. Performance art struggles with this concept. And that’s why it stays so pure and interesting and stimulating. Sehgal does sell manifestos. A friend of mine’s parents bought one, and it basically tells you what to do to create a performance. It’s quite unusual. And also completely absurd.
A place that means a lot to me is Ibiza. For many years, my partner Jan Kennedy and I have been going to a little village called San José [Sant Josep de sa Talaia] – 10 minutes from the airport in the south of the island. We have a little pied-à-terre there and we’re friends with the butcher, the fishmonger, all the restaurant owners. Ibiza has gone through so many changes, good and bad, and this village has kind of stayed the same. There will always be a party side to my visits because I DJ there, my friends DJ there, but I don’t personally champion the clubbing in Ibiza any more. I feel like the music scene has become a bit generic. But the nature is amazing, and I’m obsessed with the food. I love Can Limo, a little low-key Peruvian place where you can eat great tacos, but also Jondal, a fancy beach restaurant on Cala Jondal. It’s quite a scene, the food is just incredible.
The best gift I’ve given recently is a bespoke astrology reading. It’s something I’ve given to several of my friends and they all thought it was amazing. I think having an unmaterialistic present is better than: “Here you go, I’ll buy you another bag.”
And the best gift I’ve received is a vintage Rolex Oyster Perpetual, from the ’70s, from an ex-boyfriend. It’s a men’s watch, but it’s just very me. It’s chunky, it’s contemporary, it’s minimalistic; it’s like a piece of jewellery that I wear all the time.
My favourite rooms in my house are my bathroom and my office. We moved into a new house last year, so it’s not finished – there are lots of things that are inconsistent and weird, but it’s getting there. I’m still living out of boxes, though, because I’m so busy that I haven’t time to unpack. But the bathroom is almost finished and I love hiding in there. It has a music system – it’s like a nightclub in my bathroom. It’s happening. Then, I have a music studio in Hackney, but at home there’s a little office space where I have an electronic piano. I go there to noodle, to play around with musical ideas, and it’s also where all my performance costumes are – it’s a mess. No one needs to look at it. But it’s like a little closet that I love being in. It’s cosy.