Although it might seem otherwise, David Bowie was never interested in fashion. But does this matter when the time comes to analyze the work of someone considered to be one of the most influential figures from the cultural panorama of the late 20th century? Let’s take it step-by-step. Although Bowie once claimed that he didn’t care about what happened in the world of trends, it is clear that fashion was always interested in his styles and ways of dressing, and numerous designers from both the 20th and 21st centuries have spoken about the enormous influence that the singer had on their own work.
In 1974, Bowie explained that his music was three-dimensional: ‘a song can affect the public not only as a song, but as a lifestyle’. Music was just one link in that complex and sophisticated chain that, for him, represented the career path of a singer. In fact, when we speak of Bowie we must scroll sideways across the many disciplines and genres through which he traveled while always breaking the mold, from the design of his album covers to the design of his concert stages, while also passing through the filming of videos, and of course, everything related to what he wore. Following the maxim of McLuhan that ‘the medium is the message’, Bowie used fashion as a powerful means of conveying his ideology.
In the catalog that accompanies the David Bowie is exhibition, one of the show’s curators, Victoria Broackes, states that one of the most notable values of this artist was knowing how to surround himself with very talented collaborators and knowing how to get the very best out of them. His ability to predict and develop trends, along with that mastery in terms of selecting his ideological allies, those who would allow him to remain a thousand steps in front of the rest, were the keys to his relationship with Kansai Yamamoto, one of the leading names in the history of avant-garde fashion in the 20th century.
When in the 1970s Bowie decided to wear clothing that this Japanese designer had created for women, he was opening up a path that others would decide to explore only years later. His obsession with going beyond the established limits was one of the characteristics he shared with Yamamoto, who had once declared that he wanted to “continue being the one getting the most attention, regardless of my age”. Now at age 73, the work of this designer, not unlike that of the musician, has represented a constant journey towards the future, and it was in that common creative universe where pieces as iconic as the “Tokyo Pop” suit from 1973 were born, a vinyl jumpsuit with white stripes and legs shaped like a giant records, which Bowie would wear on the tour for his 1973 Aladdin Sane album, and which transformed him into a sort of galactic samurai.
Beyond the clear influence that Bowie had on the work of some of the most noteworthy contemporary designers (Riccardo Tisci, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Dries van Noten, Hedi Slimane, Phoebe Philo, etc.), fashion was not merely an accessory to his brilliant music career, nor a simple way to produce an image for the numerous characters he dressed up as. Fashion was a central part of the way he constructed his creative universe, and it permeated everything. His professional colleagues took decades to understand this… and then to imitate it.
Professor of the Postgraduate Course in Fashion Media and Journalism 3.0