Written by Abi Buchanan,
with accompanying illustrations by Helen Green.
Yesterday we lost a visionary, an inspiration to so many, a creative force in the best way possible and a musician who we were so lucky to have existed at the same time as. With a multi-faceted artistic career spanning over half a century, David Bowie is one of the few names we have that means something to those born in the nineties as much as those born in the sixties and one of the few musicians who has truly covered as much ground in fashion as in the music industry. The universality of his message has brought hope and a place to belong to people of all situations all over the world – as Caitlin Moran so beautifully put last night in The Times, ‘Difference and marginalisation were never his burden, but his muse. He breathed them in, and breathed them out.’
Last night a crowd of thousands gathered in Bowie’s birthplace of Brixton [London] to pay tribute his music – and here I hope to pay tribute to his style. I hope to review the best and boldest looks of the King of ‘anything goes’ and self-reinvention.
The Sixties saw Bowie [at this point, still David Jones] with a bowl-ish haircut and a suit which, as Billboard pointed out, would allow him to return to a degree in accounting as soon as he stepped off stage. It was in this era, incidentally, that he played a small-time gig in my home county of Suffolk as the most unrecognised lead singer of The Riot Squad. It’s tidy and, erm, clean-looking, but not the sort of transgressive, androgynous look we’ll get used to seeing in future. The Sixties saw Bowie release his self-titled debut album and then ‘Space Oddity’ in 1969 – things had begun to get otherworldly.
The Seventies: Ziggy Stardust
The Seventies heralded the birth [or arrival from some faraway planet] of Bowie’s most famous alter-ego: Ziggy Stardust. In 1970 and ‘72 respectively he released The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory, his most ‘personal’ album. And then came Ziggy. While he had begun to introduce the androgynous, gender-bending style we know and love him for at the end of the sixties, it was with the creation of Ziggy that Bowie took the boundaries at the edge of popular music and fashion and blew them out and up. Hair dyed red-brown, playing with colours, silhouette, pattern and symmetry, Bowie released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and a star was truly born – a star in mohair jumpsuits and, on one occasion, on stage in just a pair of pants. Ziggy Stardust was big, bold, sparkling and whirring – a true legend of pop culture recognisable even to those not lucky enough to experience the movement first-hand.
With the release of his next album Aladdin Sane came Bowie’s most recognisable lightning-bolt look featured on the album cover – one that has been replicated over and over in fashion and music, from Kate Moss’ 2003 Vogue UK cover to Lady Gaga’s take on Bowie’s new muse.
Another decade, another alter-ego: the Thin White Duke – born in the late ‘70s and taking the ‘80s by storm. The ‘80s saw Bowie collaborate with Queen on Under Pressure and release Let’s Dance, catapulting him farther into the stratosphere of commercial success. If Bowie had ever been of earth, he was now definitely somewhere else entirely. Suits and slacks were his new thing – somewhere between his sleek looks of the 60’s and the out-there charm of Ziggy Stardust. When feeling bold he donned a salmon two-piece.
In the early nineties Bowie retreated to the relative anonymity of Tin Machine, a relatively short-lived band set up that saw Bowie soon return to the success of his solo work. The band’s first album found some success, although its politicised message caused controversy. He worked on new solo material and returned to his previously held success and acclaim, which was reflected in his style.
As the world of music is left reeling from the loss of a talent so out-of-this-world it’s beyond description, fashion will also miss David Bowie – a fashion life well lived, in the conscious absence of any fear of going too far or being too different.