Back in the 70’s the idea of a pop star came in the form of Ziggy Stardust… but even he had his Angie for a bit of costume fluffing. Then there was Bryan Ferry who had Anthony Price for advice on crotch enhancing jeans and suave suits. Eurovision brought us Abba, thought of as kitsch, their style took an organised dash of glam and disco into consideration directly aimed for the commercial tip of pop. As the decade of the 70’s closed disco stars such as Grace Jones, Donna Summer and Amanda Lear created a visual drama that crossed into the mainstream.
Kate Bush provided an avant-garde version of pop with her quirky videos and voice. Meanwhile our homegrown ‘punk’ girl stars such as Siouxsie Sioux, Polystyrene and The Slits brought the idea of a subversive DIY attitude to both dressing and music. Punk was sexy anti-fashion, questioning ideals of traditional beauty.
Johnny Rotten sneered down on us dressed in his Seditionaires designed bondage whilst Billy Idol became the prettiest boy of punk. Indeed the UK twist seemed startling when compared to the ‘no wave’ scene of NYC from which Debbie Harry emerged.
By the time the 80’s arrived Sioux had become a household name, punk stars were almost old hat as the New Romantic era brought out a dandified version of dressing… the backlash to punk. Gothic and futuristic beautification became all the rage for both boys and girls. Infact androgyny also seemed to be a preoccupation for our popster’s was Boy George a boy or a girl? Or Annie Lennox for that point! Hayzi Fantasysi, Kirsty McCall, Mari Wilson, Human Leagues infamous girls Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley burst into big time pop… Strawberry Switchblade cavorted along side Toto Cealo and Bucks Fizz, Dollar the mini Teresa Bazaar sashayed in with an array of cutesy looks with her equally dinky partner David Van Day. We enjoyed a pop scene like never before and perhaps never again! By the end of the 80’s there was a credible notion of ‘selling out’, re-packaged and suitably branded; consumerism in Thatcher’s Britain equalled opulence. Social semiotics of the day created brand envy, technology increased global communication and a new kind of music seeped into the mainstream in the form of bedroom technology and sample-tastic dance tracks. S-Express pulled together a credible version, independent dance labels patched together anthems for the ‘summer of love’ while Stock Aitkin and Waterman churned out pop HiNRG for our Kylie, Mel & Kim, Bananarama, drag star Divine and individualist Pete Burns.
All these 80’s popstars launched themselves with an array of style but if like me you were wondering when the role of ‘stylist’ to ‘popstar’ actually began, William Baker, Kylie Minogues stylist remembers how Judy Blame styled Neneh Cherry and Boy George and explains why the role of a stylist in the music industry is infact based on an ongoing relationship and friendship with the artist, ‘Despite confidence in performance or talent, everyone’s insecurities manifest themselves through clothing, their appearance and their bodies. As much as an artist may say that, ‘Its all about the music’, I have yet to meet a pop artist that isn’t interested in experimenting with their appearance and image.’
He goes on to add, ‘Image and music these days are so symbiotic, since MTV and the pop video, the cult of celebrity and gossip mags have increased the importance of this symbiosis a hundred fold. Just look at Lady Gaga... Super styled, super fashion, avant-garde? Yet she doesn’t quite sit with the lightweight pop that really could come from Britney, Christina, Cheryl, Madonna or Kylie. It is her look and image that makes her unique... even more so in the pop field where artists and their stylists all pilfer the same references and hanker after the same dresses and court the same designers.’
And perhaps that is one of the problems when it comes to the initial concept of a popstars image, newcomer Viktoria Modesta who has worked as both a stylist and makeup artist in the past has a very strong idea about her personal image, ‘A true artist's style is second nature. Style is your leopard spots and an authentic extension of your true persona, the scene and culture that you've evolved from. A real pop star shouldn’t need a stylist!’ And I can see her point.
In a lot of respects working with a music artist puts the stylist in a majorly creative role, the truth of the matter is as fame increases for the artist it’s very hard to cope with the day-to-day running of maintaining an image. Paloma Faith who’s image is very much her own invention says a stylist is vital, ‘Only for the sake of time! You can have a stylist who just picks out too much for you and then in the end you choose. That's what I have and he's brilliant at it!’
For some reason there used to be a stigma about admitting to a stylist such was the pressure to be seen as credible and indeed image is everything in today’s consumer society. The grooming of pop stars is nothing new and there is room in the charts for a variance of entertaining entertainers… How they arrived at personalising an image and becoming the style icons we know and love adds to the spin and mystery. Credibility is a preoccupation in the UK, but remember Madonna arrived in London in the early 80’s and went straight down Kensington Market for a makeover. In a sense Lady Gaga has done just the same with the magic touch of styling from Nicola Formachetti.
The influx of clued up 80’s magazines such as The Face, i-D and Blitz provided a street level perspective on style, music and art and provided a platform for the next generation. Traditional music mag Smash Hits continued to provide a bubblegum teen take on both credible and manufactured outfits until 2006. The music press such at NME, Melody Maker, Record Mirror and Sounds cut into the nitty gritty of music making. The 90’s further introduced Vice, Sleazenation and Dazed and Confused into the style equation, manuals that incorporated the cutting edge of pop culture. Brit-Pop, Grunge, Emo, Rave, Hip-hop and other the labelled genres epitomised ‘Cool Britannia’ melting pot of the 90’s before thus shifting the goalposts once again.
Re-invention is the name of the game and the stylists job has became an important factor in the carefully packaged image of our heroes. William Baker has put together the wardrobes of Geri Halliwell to Jamariqui says, ‘I love it as there is something very special about working long term with an artist as a stylist, a closeness and intimacy that is unique...I guess this comes from playing dress up dolly and making them look and feel great and sexy. Anyone loves the person that makes them feel sexy, but also it is incredibly creative and the ultimate in ‘pop art’, a walking breathing performing canvas for which there are infinite possibilities. And exploring those possibilities is a dream, endlessly challenging and exciting, especially when the ‘styling’ involves the whole visual frame around the artist which I think is not only important to maintain continuity and integrity but also to create a complete and finished picture which in terms becomes the product. Window dressing for a pop song… selling a tune. Of course, there is far more to Madonna than a conical bra, far more to kylie than a pair of gold hot pants... yet they have become symbols of an item of clothing such as Michael Jackson’s glove.’
Pam Hogg, fashion designer but also a singer in her own right has created clothes for Siouxsie Sioux and Alison Mosshart, she is very much associated with the rock ‘n’ roll elite but also sees her role on duel levels saying, ‘I have a like minded connection through music, so I think my ‘looks’ have a life to them that they [popstars] respond to. I have no one in mind when I design, I make everything on myself with just a desire to create and see where it leads. I quite often have no idea where it's going to take me and that's the joy of it.’ Infact Hogg’s designs have a knack of ending up in the most unexpected bodies far removed from the rock world including Rihanna, Lili Allen and Gaga, ‘It's amazing to have wonderful women desire and wear my clothes but since I don't create for any one person I'm glad I don’t have to make that kind of choice. I sometimes make slight adjustments; perhaps merge 2 or 3 designs to suit the wearer best. I recently personalized a lace and chiffon cape kitten suit for Kylie for her surprise guest appearance with the Scissor Sisters at Glastonbury. It was basically the first two pieces from my recent catwalk collection merged to create exactly the right look for her.’
The shift from the noughties wave of commercial style setters such as Alison Goldfrapp, Fischespooner and underground club stars to the fluro- raving- folk- popstars such as Florence & The Machine and mod-goth- retro rockers such as The Horrors have of course set a precedent of style for the 2010’s. Our latest pop icons sense the importance personal image more than ever, however they choose to acquire and maintain that image is a matter for debate…
Words- Princess Julia