David Bowie
Kansai Yamamoto for David Bowie, April 1973 (image coutesy of the V&A)

In the age of visual communication, the fashion and music industries have become more intertwined than ever. Iconic musicians have been influential to fashion since the ’60s, when old-world Hollywood glamour stopped being the ultimate reference and a new generation of bold musicians were made fashion icons by the masses. As society shifted into a new world of freedom and individuality, music became the most vivid artistic symbol of this transition. By the beginning of the ’80s, with the launch of MTV and the rise of the music video, fashion became not only influenced by music icons but an integral part of what music is about.

One of the early icons of the MTV generation, Madonna has been a continuous source of inspiration since her musical inception over three decades ago. The queen of pop has done it all, from goth to punk, and from rock to glam – she is the ultimate style chameleon. More than a music icon, she is a role model, a symbol of independence. Visually, she has been able to utilize fashion in every possible way, playing every role from a thrift store club kid to the infamous and glamorous Voguing video vixen. Her long lasting friendship and collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier gave birth to the iconic cone bra designed for her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour. For his spring/summer 2013 collection, Jean Paul Gaultier revisited the “greatest hits” of the ’80s with his collection that was inspired by “all the pop stars of the Eighties who have influenced fashion.” A testament to the longevity of these looks and illustrating once again the immense influence of his collaboration with musicians such as Madonna. The show was also an homage to Grace Jones with her signature shoulder pads and square haircut, Boy George, Michael Jackson and the legendary David Bowie – in particular his face-painted, androgynous Ziggy Stardust personae.

David Bowie is notably the ultimate gender-bending fashion-icon-meets-musical-genius. The taboo-breaking style chameleon is certainly one musical reference no fashion designer in his or her right mind can forget. Hi hair and makeup alone is legendary. One of the first truly androgynous performers, he has inspired fashion like no other. From the post-punk new wave to the cover of Vogue Paris (Kate Moss as David Bowie, December 2011), the fashion god’s legacy is everywhere.  His persona as “Ziggy Stardust” has inspired countless fashion collections, editorial shoots and covers – and continues to inspire: Through 28 July this year, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London is host to the exhibition David Bowie Is.

For the exhibition, the V&A was given unprecedented access to the musician’s archive and features more than 300 objects that paint a fresh picture of the superstar’s epic career. They include handwritten lyrics, costumes, photography, film, set designs, and some of Bowie’s instruments will be on display, as well as lesser-known but equally game-changing images, such as a striped bodysuit for the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour, designed by Kansai Yamamoto and photographed by Masayoshi Sukita.

It is inevitable that fashion designers find inspiration in musicians. Think of the extravagant Klaus Nomi or Culture Club’s Boy George. Today’s most avant-garde brands, like Gareth Pugh, Givenchy or Alexander Herchcovitch, use these pioneers of the bizarre as oracles of chic. Musicians equally have often collaborated with designers to create their personae. In the late ’70s, iconic rocker Debbie Harry mesmerized the New York punk scene with her platinum locks as “Blondie”. She collaborated with pop art designer Stephen Sprouse to create her signature downtown punk/glam looks. Sprouse also worked closely with bands such as Duran Duran and Billy Idol in the 80’s before launching his own commercial clothing line, which was highly inspired by pop art and punk rock.

Lady Gaga by Warwick Saint

Contemporary music icons like Lady Gaga go above and beyond making exuberant fashion statements. They shape the zeitgeist. Following in the footsteps of ultimate female performer Madonna, instant fashion icon Gaga is living proof of the contemporary connection between fashion and music. Her collaboration with Nicola Formichetti, the fashion editor, creative director of Mugler and full-time member of the Haus of Gaga, has been epic. With the meat dress and countless other fashion oddities, Gaga brought daring back to the forefront after years of minimalist fashion and grey chic.

Fascination with her persona has more to do with her exaggerated theatrical presentation than with her music. Even though her outfits would be hard to replicate under any circumstances, fashion columnists have noticed her undeniable influence over the couture shows in Paris, whether at Gauthier Paris or Christian Lacroix, “the Gaga effect” has spared no one. Even her aversion to trousers has made an impact – look at all the leotards! Gaga is a liberating force; her style is about having fun and being over the top. This new taste for extravagance as well as her welcome embrace of maximalist fashion is palpable. Other style experts have credited Gaga with noticeably more sophisticated and dramatic looks at galas and banquets. Even Dior’s newly appointed creative director Raf Simons, whose work for Jil Sander was characteristically minimalist, is surfing the trends of a more exuberant take on dresses in his first collection for the French brand.

It didn’t take long for brands to recognize the marketing potential of these music icons. What better way to make your clothes look sexy than have them worn by the sultry Lana Del Rey? After the British retail brand Mulberry named a handbag after her, the singer was immediately snatched by H&M for an ad campaign. Designers regularly work with stylists to turn red carpets into memorable fashion moments. Remember J.Lo’s green Versace dress worn on the red carpet of the 2000 Grammy Awards? This was undoubtedly one of the biggest fashion coups of that decade, and the media would not stop talking about it for years. The dress actually has its own Wikipedia page now.

Since the ’60s, the elitist guidelines of Paris couture and diamond-studded Hollywood glamour have been moving towards an emphasis on creativity and individuality. More and more we look to musicians for their personalized take on fashion, for their independent spirits and their tendency to embody the nature of rebellion. This illustrates that fashion is about lifestyle, and it’s about identity. Hip-hop culture is a good example of this. In the ’90s, hip-hop style was all about the baggy pants, sneakers, bomber jackets and heavy gold jewelry. Brands didn’t take long to start profiting from these looks, starting with sportswear labels like Adidas endorsing Run-D.M.C., then Puff Daddy and Coolio walking for Tommy Hilfiger’s runway shows, and making it all the way to the Paris catwalks for Chanel. Karl Lagerfeld’s funky 1991 winter collection was all about gold chains and black leather jackets – a direct reference to the hip-hop scene.

Remember grunge? The influences of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love are still present today because it speaks to the inclinations and sensibilities of a whole new generation. Many designers have co-opted the grunge look into their collections, a testament to how lifestyle influences fashion. The grunge look, which was highly criticized when it first hit the Marc Jacob’s runway back in the ’90s, has made a major revival this season – notably in 3.1 Philip Lim’s collection.

Whether it’s Debbie Harry, David Bowie or Madonna, what we admire about these musicians is not only their music, but also their irreverence, their confidence, and their creativity. It’s about their style and charisma, and how these traits translate into looks that transcend the ages. They become iconographic, working their way into the seamless history of not only pop culture, but art as well, as the V&A sets out to prove this year with the legacy of David Bowie. As fashion and music become inseparable, one can only ask: Is it the musician who inspires the clothing or the clothing that inspires the musician?

– Article by Frederick Gille for The Untitled Magazine

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Where Art, Fashion & Culture Collide

Member Login

Forgot Password?

Join Us

Password Reset

Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.