Goodbye Major Tom
David Bowie – the indisputably singular and mercurial artist who transcended music, art and fashion – passed away yesterday, just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his last album, “Blackstar.”
Looking back at his five decade-long career, his songs were as much dictated by his flair for theatricality, his constantly morphing persona and fashion, as they were by the music itself. His chameleonic career moved through the folk-rock “spaceman” years, when Bowie first experimented with the gender-bending, glam-rock look that would later become the artist’s most memorable persona, Ziggy Stardust. The Thin White Duke phase came next, ushering in a new-found fascination with soul music and striking tailored suits. The ‘80s saw his experimentation with the New Romantic style, debuting the cyber-clown suit for the “Ashes to Ashes” music video.
In memory of our eternal Spaceman, Because looks back through some of his most ground-breaking fashion moments that will go on to inspire generations of artists and creative souls to come.
Bowie’s most memorable style may be as Ziggy Stardust – the outlandish makeup, spangled outfits, the works. But young Bowie (at this time known as David Jones) began his style evolution during the hippy-dominated ‘60s as a mod, with a uniform of black suits, crisp white shirts and pencil-thin ties. Think of this as the well-tailored calm before the storm in terms of Bowie’s style evolution – without a sequin or catsuit in sight.
Bowie indulged in gender-bending dressing before it became à la mode in popular culture. During the early ‘70s, he ditched the suits and went in the completely opposite direction. Everything was long - from his hair to his dresses. The 1971 cover of “The Man Who Sold The World” caused a sensation as Bowie sported a long dress from Michael Fish, who owned a Marylebone boutique and specialised in dresses for men. He later reflected on this album cover in interviews, saying he was greatly influenced by art nouveau at the time. The hippy trend is recycled again and again on the runway today, as labels from Pucci to Giambattista Valli seem perpetually fascinated with flowing dresses and long locks.
Bowie’s most iconic look, as Ziggy Stardust, encapsulated his glam rock aesthetic during the mid ‘70s. Ziggy Stardust showed the world that Bowie’s reach stretched further than music: in his act, he incorporated performance art, mime, and experimental makeup and clothing. Ziggy Stardust became synonymous with sexual ambiguity - something that is becoming increasingly fashionable in the current industry, with male and female models more and more interchangeable in campaigns and shows. The look was an eclectic collection of Bowie’s influences: from Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” to Japanese theatre.
In 1973, Ziggy was killed off, merging into the new character Aladdin Sane (a pun on “a lad insane”), using the lightening bolt to visually represent his split personality. Pierre la Roche was in charge of the iconic makeup, and Brian Duffy shot that timeless photograph for the Aladdin Sane album cover. Contemporary Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto designed the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane costumes and was revolutionary in being the first Japanese designer to show in London.
After retiring Ziggy and Aladdin, Halloween Jack came to the fore as the lead character of Bowie’s 1974 concept album “Diamond Dogs.” This is when Bowie’s pirate persona came into being – who can forget that eye patch? Women’s blouses, scarves and bodysuits kept this look firmly in the glam-rock camp, but the pirate look gave it a harder edge. The guise was much more put-together and polished in comparison to the undiscriminating glitz of Ziggy.
The Thin White Duke
It was Bowie’s interest in soul music during the mid-‘70s that led him away from mod rock to create a new visual persona – the Thin White Duke. His heavy cocaine use at the time contributed to the emphasis on thinness during this phase (his trousers were 26-inches at the waist), in which he took to cabaret-style, tailored suits. One of his favourite outfits for stage was a powder blue Yves Saint Laurent suit.
The Berlin Years
The late ‘70s were perhaps the darkest, most self-destructive period of Bowie’s 49-year career. Increasingly tiring of the American pop music scene, the musician disappeared to Berlin and immersed himself in the avant-garde music and art world, collaborating with Brian Eno among others. Like the music of his three minimalist albums from this period, he stripped the glitter and theatrics of his Ziggy Stardust character, favouring pared down separates, simple leather jackets and a quiff.
The New Romantic
In terms of style, Berlin was a subdued time for Bowie. This didn’t last long though. In the ‘80s, he ditched the monochrome and was back in love with flamboyant outfits. This fantastical style was a reaction to the grit of punk, and was the meeting point between the flashiness of Ziggy Stardust and the tailoring of the Thin White Duke. Bowie commissioned costume designer Natasha Korniloff to create his unique space-clown costume for the music video for “Ashes to Ashes” in 1980, which was the most expensive video made to date.
Text by Jainnie Cho, Prudence Wade