Essay: Fashion Heroes

by Alexander Fury on 2 December 2011

With Kate Moss fronting her second Vogue dragged-up as Ziggy Stardust, Alexander Fury examines the fashionable legacy of Mr. David Bowie.

With Kate Moss fronting her second Vogue dragged-up as Ziggy Stardust, Alexander Fury examines the fashionable legacy of Mr. David Bowie.

Image by Nick Knight

Perhaps the greatest musical legacy of the twentieth century is, ironically, the visual: it is a testament of our aesthetically-obsessed time, skipping from album cover to music video to Youtube, that the look of music almost takes precedence over the sound. Witness the Victoria and Albert museum who have devoted not one but two of their recent exhibits to profiling pop stars through their wardrobes - Kylie Minogue in 2007, and this year The House of Annie Lennox. It's negligible how much of the appeal in these exhibitions is fashion-focussed, as opposed to the vicarious, voyeuristic appeal of pawing through someone else's belongings, but they are certainly evidence of the now-inextricable marriage of sound and style. 

What's rare, however, is when the two marry as perfectly as in the work of David Bowie, a musician whose artistic legacy has influenced not only a generation (or three) of subsequent stars, but the last thirty years of pop culture as a whole.

Of course, fashion cannot be excluded from that equation. In actuality it's possibly the arena most frequently haunted by the Thin White ghosts of Bowie's Duke and Ziggy. As if to attest to his continuing appeal, for the second time in a decade Kate Moss has fronted an issue of Vogue attired as Mr Stardust, sporting a Balmain jumpsuit on the cover of Paris Vogue's December/January issue. The first instance, of course, was Nick Knight's back in May 2003. 'The first bit of cross gender-ism that I came across was David Bowie in Stevenage in 1973,' says Knight. 'If you look back at the early 1970s Top Of The Pops, you'll see in the bands that there is this slight mixture of the hard lad with very flamboyant twists.' The androgyny of Bowie is of course a major pull - there's nothing fashion loves more than girls who are boys who like boys to be girls. Or so I've heard. 

It wasn't just Moss' slender hips it fitted, but the fashion landscape of our times.

Hence the sight of Ms Moss shimmying across Knight's editorial clad in Bowie's original Freddie Buretti suiting seemed fitting. In fact, it wasn't just Moss' slender hips it fitted, but the fashion landscape of our times. After all, designers are continually pulling the seventies from the reference-box. Bowie's advantage, of course, is the many facets of his very many seventies images. For every Minimal purist tub-thumping his Thin White Duke tailoring, there's a hardcore maximalist splashing Kansai Yamamoto costume-inspired zig-zags across everything. 

Check the glittery threads of lurex winding their way through the winter collections, the wide-lapelled metallic leather suiting at Balmain and the glittering gold carapaces at Gareth Pugh that would make perfect outer-space attire for any Spiders from Mars. 'This season's collection was built upon the idea of the Ballets Russes meeting Ziggy Stardust,' says Dries Van Noten of his Autumn/Winter 2011 offering. He played his collection out against Bowie's Heroes remixed by 2ManyDJs, while Van Noten himself visually remixed the Ziggy jiggy in the clothes through 'vibrant colours and prints on asymmetric garments, raglans sleeves contradicting regular.' 

It all sounds a long way from the sharp-suited androgyny of the Thin White Duke, but conversely - or rather perversely - that was Mr Van Noten's inspiration for his winter men's line. 'I wanted something glamorous without being feminine,' he said. That's not to say that Station to Station hasn't been mined by womenswear: for Spring/Summer 2011 London's leading minimalist maestro Richard Nicoll pumped out a stellar collection of black, white and a somewhat-shocking spanked-skin salmon dedicated to 'David and Angie Bowie, hard and soft—with a touch of sleaze.' He's devoted a collection to Ange before, all quarterback shoulders, fringe and sparkle, but this one is the vision that looks set to stick.

Who is the modern equivalent of Bowie? I'd plump for Lady Gaga. Nowhere else has the marriage of music and fashion been so successfully fused. Witness the Lady thrashing herself into a dervish on the dark and frenzied winter 2011 Mugler catwalk, a fashion show orchestrated like a pop music spectacular. Plenty of material (pun intended) for a V&A retrospective...



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