Isabella Manfredi lived in Italy for a year after high school.

The future frontwoman of Sydney pop-rockers the Preatures, whose father is Italian, would get dressed up and head down to Via Monte Napoleone, the shopping district of the fashion capital of Milan.

Manfredi would pretend she was an actor and the shop assistants would fuss over her, telling the raven-haired, green-eyed Australian she was a “la vera bellezza” (the true beauty).

“I was so poor,” the 29-year-old laughs from home in Sydney. “I was living on cornflakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No milk, just straight out of the pack.

“It started pretty innocently,” Manfredi says of her Milanese adventures, “but then it got a bit Muriel’s Wedding.

“It was all for the fantasy. They would dress me up in these amazing, beautiful clothes and give me coffee and food ... and I’d say ‘I’ll take that one and my stylist will be in touch’. I was 18.”

The tale lives on in Something New, the final track on the Preatures’ second album Girlhood.

Manfredi says the follow-up to brilliant 2014 debut Blue Planet Eyes is “97 per cent autobiographical: no song is 100 per cent autobiographical, but it’s me — it’s all me”.

Girlhood finds the Preatures’ singer “doing the books on myself”, weighing up the formative years before those picaresque escapades in Italy. They were difficult times, which followed the divorce of her parents, chef Stefano Manfredi and restaurateur Julie Manfredi Hughes, and high school years blighted by bullying.

She tried to find a place to belong among the notorious surf gangs of Sydney’s beaches. Cherry Ripe, one of several sumptuous ballads on Girlhood, was inspired by her efforts to be “one of the boys”.

“There was something dangerous and exciting about being one of the boys, a certain freedom and a certain status that came with that,” Manfredi says.

And some poor choices. “As a girl, and obviously as a young pubescent girl, there’s a great danger that comes with that ... why am I throwing myself at the mercy of the pack?” In Cherry Ripe, Manfredi looks back at that time from the stage, where people know her name but not that she “used to be different, baby, back in the day”.

Nearly a decade ago, she met bassist Thomas Champion and guitarist Jack Moffitt at the Australian Institute of Music in Sydney. With guitarist/vocalist Gideon Bensen and drummer Luke Davison, they formed the Preachers (soon changed to the Preatures) in 2010.

After running with the beach gangs, playing rock’n’roll with her band of brothers was a doddle.

“I love men, and I’ve always loved men, and boys,” says Manfredi, who is in a relationship with Moffitt. “I love their energy, their stoicism and sense of humour, and the way that they see life as one big opportunity to rattle the cage.”

The Preatures unveiled their debut Shaking Hands EP in 2012, which featured the head-turning Triple J hit Take a Card.

The following year Is This How You Feel? made them hot property, winning the $50,000 Vanda and Young Songwriting Competition and propelling the band around the world — they played Glastonbury, Coachella, South by Southwest and just about every other noteworthy festival.

Blue Planet Eyes climbed to No. 4 on the ARIA charts, but the band now feel it was rushed — recorded in six weeks and flung out in the whirlwind of early opportunities.

Manfredi admits to being burnt out by the time they finished touring their debut.

“Jack says ‘It’s not touring that ages you, it’s coming off tour’,” she says. “You’re ageless on tour and time doesn’t really exist like it does in the real world. When we finally stopped I had this moment of reckoning.”

The singer-guitarist feels that she’d again been co-opted into being one of the boys, behaving in a certain way not only to fit in on tour but also to not rock the boat.

“You hear a lot of stories of crew and people in the industry talking about divas and women who are, you know, ‘She’s a bitch’,” Manfredi says. “And you’ve got to wonder, are they really a bitch or do they just not put up with bulls... .”

Manfredi took a firmer hand on Girlhood, in part due to the departure of Bensen last year. She says the newly configured quartet allowed more space to express herself, mostly through ballads such as Cherry Ripe, Your Fan and Magick.

Recorded in the band’s Doldrums studio in inner-city Sydney, Girlhood was produced by Moffitt, who also takes a step up after co-producing Blue Planet Eyes alongside Spoon’s Jim Eno in Texas.

Alongside the rollicking title track, the Pretenders-esque Lip Balm and disco-rocker Nite Machine, Girlhood features the band’s most ambitious song yet.

Covered in an expansive pop sheen, current single Yanada sees Manfredi sing in the indigenous Darug language of Sydney. After nine months of searching for a collaborator, the singer — who is passionate about helping to preserve indigenous languages — collaborated with Darug songwoman Jacinta Tobin on Yanada, which means “moon”.

Another big collaboration will see Manfredi and Moffitt head west to join the reunited Divinyls at the Telstra Perth Fashion Festival on September 17, less than a week before their national tour hits town.

The Preatures duo were recruited by guitarist and friend Mark McEntee, who decided to reform the band to perform at the 30th anniversary show of his partner Melanie Greensmith’s label Wheels and Dollbaby . The gig will be the first time Divinyls have performed since singer Chrissy Amphlett’s death in 2013.

“It’s interesting that he’s chosen to do it in Perth for a very personal reason and that he was only going to do it if we did it with him,” Manfredi says.

“Chrissy is an icon. Nobody can do Chrissy but Chrissy,” she adds. “I’m not expecting to go in there with the favour of the audience. I just want to sing the songs because they’re great songs.”

Girlhood is released on August 11. The Preatures play Capitol on September 23, supported by Polish Club and Boat Show. Tickets from Oztix.