Fashion Reverie looks back at British pop icon David Bowie after his untimely death on January 10. No other pop icon whose career spanned five decades has had such a pivotal effect on different music genres from Glam Rock and rock n’ roll to pop music, dance music, and new wave music than David Bowie. Bowie was also an arbiter of fashion and style and pushed the envelope on what is now defined as gender neutrality, causing the music industry and society at large to re-examine notions of masculinity and redefine masculine silhouettes in fashion.
Before Sylvester, Grace Jones, Michael Jackson, Adam Ant, Madonna, Boy George, Adam Lambert, and Lady Gaga, there was David Bowie. From his Glam Rock stage persona ‘Ziggy Stardust’ to Bowie’s embrace of a super thin silhouette to his inclusion of Versace monochromatic pastel suits in the late 1970s and early 80s, Bowie has consistently been of the cutting edge of fashion and style.
Born David Jones in Brixton, south London, Bowie’s early musical influences were Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Bowie musical acuity became evident while learning to play the recorder. Later he moved on to the saxophone, performing in teen rock n’ roll and skittle bands.
In the mid-60s David Jones changed his name to David Bowie so that he would not be confused with Davy Jones of Monkees’ fame. Singles and most of his albums in this period failed to chart well. Not until Bowie met his future wife Angie Barnett in 1969—who heavily influenced his introduction to the bohemian musical movement in the UK—and he delved into psychedelic rock buttressed by his on-stage androgyny, did his musical career start to get some traction.
All these influences culminated in his stage creation, ‘Ziggy Stardust.’ Ziggy Stardust was a combination of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop mixed in with Bowie’s unique take on androgyny and fashion. With Ziggy’s shock of red hair, glitter bodysuits and emaciated svelteness, Bowie ushered in a new era of pop music melded with an unusual blend of glam fashion, gender bending sentimentality, and sexual freedom. All this culminated in a cult symbol status that boosted album sales and sellout live performances.
By the late 70s, Bowie replaced Ziggy’s androgynous leanings with blond slicked back hair and pastel monochrome Armani suits and his musical stylings had fused R&B with dance music and early Punk influences. Though his physique remained dangerously thin, Bowie proved that there could be a masculine beauty in a slim silhouette, particularly when immaculately dressed.
Throughout the 80s and the 90s, Bowie continued to shift shape in musical taste, as well as fashion style. However, by the early 80s, many performance artists like Adam Ant, Boy George, Billy Idol, Prince, and even Michael Jackson were able to take advantage of grounds Bowie had made in melding masculine and feminine performance styles and skills to woe audiences.
In 2003 David Bowie fronted a campaign for Louis Vuitton. And in the last few years designers have been inspired by Bowie’s style and Bowie references have popped in the both men’s and women’s wear collection of Dries Van Noten, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Haider Ackermann.
“When I go out onto a stage, I try to make the performance as good and as interesting as possible, and I don’t just mean singing my songs and moving off. I think if you’re really going to entertain an audience then you have to look the part, too,” Bowie told Cameron Crowe in a 1976 Playboy article.
And entertain and mesmerize, he did!!
—William S. Gooch