Meet The Clementines, Music's New Poetic Power Couple
Husband and wife musicians Florence and Benjamin Clementine don’t sit on the furniture in their half-lit, low-ceilinged living room. Instead, perhaps for warmth but more likely for a little more creative intimacy (and even reassurance), they sit on the floor, on a cream shagpile rug with their long legs intertwined, Benjamin gently strumming on an acoustic guitar and occasionally sipping sweet tea, while Flo runs thread through a needle, diligently darning a jacket.
It’s a scene of blissful domesticity, but one in which the viewer isn’t quite sure where reality ends and where artifice begins - is this re-enactment or is this aesthetic fantasy, and what lies in the middle where these two worlds collide? It is these sometimes-unsettling questions of identity (and 'self' within a couple who live and create together) that are at the heart of this, the latest thought-provoking instalment of Gucci’s ‘Performers’ film series.
“Can you ever know what they’re thinking, what they’re really thinking?” asks Benjamin half way through what the director describes as, “a kaleidoscopic tone poem,” a series of abstract and interlocking visual moments, or vignettes, that illustrate both the thrills and the fears held by The Clementines as they live, work, exist and blossom alone (and together) at home.
The sometimes-eerie, often starling short film was shot at the couple’s home in Topanga, itself a quiet bourgeoise Californian community that thrives away from the hubbub and hyperbole of Hollywood proper. It is here where the married couple live with their one-year old son Julian Jupiter, himself born on Christmas Day. One understands that this is a place of safe, self-expression and a location where the blurring of boundaries - art, life, work, dreams - is simply part of their everyday existence. When, for example, does a professional creative stop being purely a creative and start being a parent? Is there even a difference? Does it matter?
The film doesn’t necessarily seek to come to any grand conclusions about how one is supposed to live, or not live. Instead what drives the film a desire to simply ask questions and unpick the idea of what being a professional creative is at the seams, something both participants know more about that most.
Benjamin Clementine, now 30, was first discovered busking; between ‘performances’ he was sleeping rough on the streets of Paris and London. Born in Edmonton, North London, he was the youngest of five siblings, the Ghanaian household he grew up in being strictly religious. In 2015 his profile and professional life went stratospheric after he won the Mercury Music Prize for his debut album, ‘At Least For Now’. Two years later he released the politically charged, self-produced follow-up, ‘I Tell A Fly’, in which he wrestles and debates with everything from refugees and bullying to French nationalism.
Florence Clementine, 24 and known as Flo Morrissey on stage, is an English singer-songwriter from Notting Hill; born in London to a large family with eight siblings. The daughter of a former investment banker (her mother is Dame Helena Morrissey who has long fought to increase the representation of women in British boardrooms) and a financial journalist-turned Buddhist monk (her father), she began writing songs aged 14 and left school three years later to join the infamous BRIT School for Performing Arts. Her debut album, 'Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful' was released in 2015 and garnered huge critical acclaim, while her follow up - 'Gentlewoman, Ruby Man', a series of covers by the likes of James Blake and Frank Ocean - she managed to collaborate with American artist Matthew E White.
Now the lovers have turned into musical coconspirators with Benjamin and Florence producing and performing music together as The Clementines. It's hardly surprising considering their unique bond, yet rather than clash creatively their new sounds are complementary and codependent, drawing on a classical linage of duets that spans from Sonny and Cher to Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg to Johnny and June Clash. It is a partnership that is as poetic as it is pure, using their artistic powers to feed rather than fight one another.
What the Clementines have is a spirt - creative, inquisitive, humble rather than over confident - that chimes only too well with the proficiency and the eclectic passions of Gucci's masterful Alessandro Michele. This world, this film, this collaboration, this investigation is an artistry born from somewhere wild, somewhere unexplored. As Benjamin narrates: "‘We wanted to be somewhere, just not with humans I think.” For more on the film follow the link below, and for more insight into this extraordinary couple, their work and their home life, seek out and follow @theclementinesheart.
Discover Gucci's Performers here.