Fashion icons of the music industry

Natalie Finnigan, Kiera Carr and Tom Leach collaborate on this multiple- writers piece exploring the respective unique fashion senses of some of the greatest icons of the music industry.

multiple writers
14th December 2020
Image: Pxhere

Natalie Finnigan, Kiera Carr and Tom Leach collaborate on this multiple- writers piece exploring the respective unique fashion sense of some of the greatest icons of the music industry.

David Bowie

Music and fashion are synonymous in performance, and musical icons have always known how to make a theatrical production. One specific artist who influenced fashion, theatrics and performance is David Bowie. The anniversary of his death in January marks the middle of London's 2020 fall and winter menswear shows - no one could be better celebrated by the event than the man who sold the world.

The new decade of 1970 saw The Man Who Sold the World released in the US, with Bowie reclining on a chaise longue in an androgynous 'man dress'. Designed by Michael Fish, the 'man dress' became Bowie's first distinguishable exploration of androgyny.

The album Hunky Dory shows Bowie imitating Marlene Dietrich, a German-American Hollywood actress renowned for her sense of fashion and performance: "I dress for the image". Aside from her fashion legacy, she was known for publicly defying gender norms, androgynous film roles and bisexuality: Bowie conglomerated all these facets of Dietrich in the album cover and its music.

Following this, Bowie's strive for androgyny transformed into sexually ambiguous kimonos and knitted unitards, representing both 1970s albums Ziggy and Aladdin Sane. The story of Ziggy Stardust clearly defies boundaries of human, alien, and sex in fashion and music.

The 90s saw Bowie collaborating with the upcoming Alexander McQueen with the Union Jack coat on the 1997 album Earthling. His 1997 British GQ photoshoot dressed him in Paul Smith suits and brown brogues, and a BBC poll in 2013 established him the best-dressed Brit in history, pushing Elizabeth I into second place.

Bowie's costumes of his iconic 1986 Goblin King performance in Labyrinth included the tightest black latex pants possible, a cropped tailcoat jacket, and shirts with puffy sleeves. Eyeshadow and eyeliner completed the look, and these have featured in punk style, further validating him as a fashion icon of multiple styles. Bowie's fashion influenced aspects of the New Romantic fashion trend, featuring men wearing makeup, tight pants, frilly shirts and mullets, which he donned as costume for his eccentric character in Labyrinth.

Bowie's androgynous fashion and defiance of social norms determined his status as the rebel of pop culture, transitioning into stylish fashion which continues to influence contemporary mainstream trends and catwalks. He used fashion as a narrative to articulate his identity, perform musical characters, and challenge gender norms.

Natalie Finnigan

Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury is surely one of the first people to come to mind when you think of bold fashion, and for good reason. He, along with the other members of Queen, embodied the flamboyant aesthetics and attitudes of the 70s and 80s with their experimental look and musical style alike.

The latter half of the 20th century brought us the birth of the “teenager” and with it a new sense of rebellious, innovative identity. This was influenced in no small part by the growth of drug culture (particularly in the younger generations), which valued enjoyment above propriety. By the 70s, unique fashion incorporating loud patterns and bright colours had made its way into more conventional spaces through cultural icons, and especially popular musicians such as the Beatles.

Freddie Mercury certainly was not the originator of subversive style, but it’s clear that he came to typify the subculture he became part of. His personal style effortlessly drew from the androgyny that many were still not ready to embrace, with numerous garments that had originally been designed for women featuring just as naturally as the more masculine items he chose – and even those were often styled in ways associated more with the gay clubs of the time than traditional male archetypes.

The sexual revolution of the era certainly provided a more accepting backdrop to Mercury’s very “out and proud” style, but queer culture and fashion was still a long way from entering the mainstream. In many ways, Mercury was at the forefront of the ongoing push for LGBTQ+ recognition as one of the first openly queer artists to gain recognition in the general public without having to hide his sexuality or make it more palatable.

An important thing to remember is that Freddie Mercury was not just a queer celebrity who dressed flamboyantly to demonstrate his queerness – there was layered meaning behind his avant-garde choices. Like David Bowie, he used fashion as part of his performance to add extra meaning to the narrative of his music, and changed his core style to mark distinct musical eras in his work. The music video for ‘I Want To Break Free’ is a great example – the message is relevant to everyone who feels stuck or confined to one role, but the choice to have Mercury wear a skirt and wig to play the housewife role was no accident: it highlights his relationship with gender and sexuality.

Keira Carr

Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno (Roxy Music)

To write about just one of Roxy Music's two icons would be painting only half of a picture. Though the pair of Bri/yans were only together for Roxy's first - and best - two albums, they represented the two extremes of glam rock's extravagance.

Eno, where Ferry glammed up otherwise commonplace outfits, led the avant-garde. He paired his space-age synthesiser treatments with similarly alien costumes: long multi-coloured hair, the antecedent to his signature bald(ing) head; feathers like some otherworldy peacock; women's blouses opened over a bare chest, paired with flamboyany flared trousers. Eno was the ostentatious antithesis to Ferry - always more experimental, the asexual court-wizard to Ferry's virile English duke.

Times change, however. People grow older. Eno split with the band and became the father of ambient music. His work remained experimental, but the glam of Roxy was left behind. Ferry too matured, directing the band's sound to a more pop-oriented style. His suits became increasingly sober. Leopard and leather were dropped for the tuxedos of his idol Humphrey Bogart ("White jacket, hmm, black tie wings too"), then the tuxedos were dropped for his current darkly coloured two pieces. Suave, yes, but grown up.

Brian Eno
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Bryan Ferry
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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