FASHION AND MUSIC
Fashion and music have always gone hand-in-hand. From Michael Jackson’s pairing of black shoes and white socks, to Elvis’s white jumpsuit, to Björk’s swan dress (or Gaga’s offal one), what a musician wears matters. These days it’s not enough to just be a good singer. Any pop star worthy of superstar status has to be a style icon, or at least have some kind of discernable image that sets them apart from other good singers. But the relationship between fashion and music goes back a lot further than you’d expect.
Elvis Presley was one of the first singers with a unique look back in the 70s and his stage outfits are some of the most memorable of any performing artist. Elvis’s style is still regarded as being flamboyant and pioneering, even by today’s standards, with designer Tommy Hilfiger stating that The King was “self-consciously styling before rock style was understood.”
For a long time, it seemed to be male performers who embraced the importance of fashion in music. David Bowie still regularly tops the style icon polls today, despite being most known for his outrageous outfits of the 70s.
Debbie Harry was the platinum-haired sex siren of the 80s who every girl wanted to be, and the style icon everyone wanted to emulate. The rock chick look is one which has been adapted by the likes of Courtney Love, Skin and Shirley Manson during the grunge movement of the 90s, right through to present-day icons such as Beth Ditto, Gwen Stefani, Rihanna and Taylor Momsen.
Of course if there is one other woman to whom the 80s belonged, it was Madonna. Crowned the ultimate style icon of the 80s in a poll earlier this year, Madonna has long been regarded one of the most experimental fashion dressers in music and has enjoyed numerous style reinventions, as well as support of some of the biggest designers in the fashion industry.
The 90s saw an increased interest in the relationship between fashion and music, but this didn’t mean stylists always got it right. Matchy-matchy was often taken to extremes, in particular with B*Witched’s all-denim look, or fashion was used to over-emphasise personality, as with the Spice Girls’ individual outfits, designed to reflect the characters of the members.
So what of the noughties? This decade has seen a bigger emphasis on reinventions, with numerous popstars making comebacks or changing tack entirely. You need only Google-Image Christina Aguilera to see her various incarnations since early 2000. With popstars ten a penny, there is an overwhelming pressure to stand out from the crowd and many choose to convey individualism through aesthetics. In recent years there has been a trend towards a more extreme style of dressing, headed by the likes of Lady Gaga, Ebony Bones, M.I.A, Peaches and Natalia Kills. Even nine year old singer Willow Smith has a distinctive, dramatic look and her own stylist.
In a bid to keep their image ‘fresh’, pop stars are increasingly turning to emerging designers to stay ahead of the game. Beyonce was one of the first celebrities to wear David Koma and Rihanna has worn pieces by Bryce Aime.
The popularity of celebrity-designed clothing ranges has shown how the music and fashion industries have fused. Many musicians also have a ‘special relationship’ with a designer or fashion house, such as Lily Allen’s affiliation with Chanel and Madonna’s working relationship with Dolce and Gabbana.
The popularity of singers who are as much about theatrics as they are about music shows that people expect their idols to have the whole package. And that includes a unique style. It’s hard to imagine how fashion and music could possibly become any more entwined, but as long as fans expect.
- Kay Weston
Beth Ditto photo by Wireimage