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"When you adopt X as your identity, you essentially become anonymous," she tells me over the phone from her native Toronto. "Sunglasses are just a representation of that. The eyes are one of the most vulnerable parts of the body — if not the most vulnerable — and by covering them up, it offers a means of protection, of defense."
If this sounds like a gimmick, well, it’s kind of supposed to. Because Allie X, as the singer freely admits, is a project, a character of sorts. Born Alexandra Ashley Hughes, the classically trained singer and pianist got her start performing on Canadian reality shows like Triple Sensation, something that — along with much of her past — she prefers not to discuss in interviews.
She moved to Los Angeles in 2013 after landing a publishing deal and, one year later, released her debut single "Catch." Katy Perry then famously tweeted the track out to her then-50-million-plus followers, launching Allie X into the limelight. Her first multimedia album, CollXtion I, followed in April 2015, and judging by the steady stream of new songs and videos she's been sharing via social media this summer, CollXtion II should be dropping any day now.
Allie X performs in a Renata Morales outfit. Photo: Mark Horton/WireImage
Despite the singer’s embrace of various online platforms, however, she’s always been careful to maintain an air of mystery. She's constantly engaging with fans on Twitter, but rarely speaks about anything besides her music and videos, while her Instagram is largely reserved for performance stills, fan art, and fashion-focused selfies, all captioned with an enigmatic mix of emoji and hashtags like #feelingX. In other words, she’s not quite ready to take off those shades — literally or metaphorically.
That’s a good thing, considering Allie’s built quite the eyewear collection over the past couple of years. As you might expect, the singer is frequently gifted pairs from brands like Thierry Lasry, Dita, and Ray-Ban. She also stocks up at Spectacle, her favorite optical shop back home in Toronto, and rounds out her collection with inexpensive flea-market finds. All in, Allie says, she owns between 20 and 25 pairs of shades, which she considers to be a fairly modest number. "I mean, I’m no Elton John!" she laughs.
Despite her theatrical stage presence and obvious love of fashion— she describes her personal style as "Harajuku-Mormon-Salem-Goth" and names Comme des Garçons, Vivienne Westwood, and Jacquemus as a few of her favorite labels — Allie is no diva. Unlike so many of her pop star peers, who painstakingly map out every outfit change for their tours months in advance, she puts her looks together as she travels, pulling from under-the-radar local designers at each city she visits.
Performing in a Helder Diego dress and Uncuffed leather harness. Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
For Montreal shows, she typically calls on Renata Morales, a multidisciplinary artist and designer who creates extravagant bodysuits completely covered in ruffled tulle or iridescent fringe ("It’s like I’m wearing a curtain of sparkles," she says). During recent stops in London, she wore a hat by local milliner Keely Hunter and pieces by young, relatively unknown designers like Desirée Slabik, Jane Allcock, and Polina Charalambous. And at Ontario’s WayHome festival last month, she took the stage in a dress from Toronto duo Helder Diego accented with a leather harness by Uncuffed, another local label.
It’s an ideal way to assemble a tour wardrobe for someone who prefers to travel light. "A lot of the looks I wear for live performances would take up whole suitcases on their own," she says. "Borrowing while I’m on the road makes things easier, and good clothes just seem to come my way at the right time. In the next year, though, I’m hoping to create some pieces that’ll just come with me everywhere."
She also has big plans for her merch — a smart move, considering the current popularity of fashionable tour tees and jackets. "Right now I have three T-shirts, and I think they’re all really cool," she says. "They’re designed by Jungle George, who does a lot of videos and photos and visuals for me, and is also in my band and writes some of my songs, too! But [for CollXtion II] I’d love to create some custom pieces with designers that I admire, and make them affordable for my fans."
Like Allie X-branded sunglasses, perhaps? "I’m working on it!" she laughs.
Listen to Allie X’s latest single, "All the Rage," below.