In the wake of his death announced on 10 January 2016, Sophie Soar reflects on the Starman’s astronomical legacy and how his innovations in fashion sent shockwaves around the world.
At six in the morning on a dreary January Monday, emotions run rife as the weekly tasks ahead unfold, unveiling in front of bleary eyes and heavy heads. But nothing could quite set the week into a downward slump like the announcement of pop legend and style icon David Bowie’s death. Only three days after releasing his 25th studio album ‘Blackstar’, the unexpected radio broadcast pierced through commuters’ half-conscious haze. Every voice echoed ‘it’s the end of an era’, as the world realised that the most fearless and creative presence in recent history would no longer envision, amaze or provoke.
As Bowie rose to fame, his ambiguous sexuality and androgynous aesthetic stirred society: whether loved or hated, his influence was unavoidable. Older generations were ‘bemused’ whilst the youth culture believed he liberated and artistically overcame their limitations.
He was praised for his ‘capacity for reinvention’, such as his androgynous characterisation on stage, his role as a romanticised alien in ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ (1976) or the hauntingly gothic Goblin King in ‘Labyrinth’ (1986). He opened up possibilities for others to explore their sexuality and personality, at first incidentally through his stage personas and later with greater awareness, including his symbiotic physicality with Tilda Swinton.
Bowie said ‘I’m not a rock star’, admitting he struggled to perform onstage at the start of his career. From this evolved the stage personalities, resulting in iconography perhaps more famous than the man himself. From Brixton-born David Jones to the Thin White Duke, from his futuristic New Romantic dressing to the mysterious eye patch, there evolved many faces of Bowie. The most famous of all these would have to be Ziggy Stardust, whose iconography became emblematic of the early 70s and is still recognised and loved today.
In later years, Bowie removed himself from the prying public eye but continued to astound through his work. In ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, he sings ‘we will never be rid of these stars, but we hope they live forever’, capturing the lingering past that continues to be celebrated. The V&A honoured his career that spanned half a century in an exhibition called ‘David Bowie is’, presenting his continuously evolving and changing stage appearances.
He joked about his inability to prolong an interest too long, resigning his inconsistency to A.D.D., but really it seems the singer was able to put to bed his personas before any could lose their pizzazz. With continuous energy and innovation, new personalities and new style identities were born.
From skin-tight Lycra to flaming red hair, hippy dresses and ballooning trouser legs, the weirdest and wackiest adopted a place in Bowie’s sartorial archives. He lent his name to designers such as Freddie Burretti and Kansai Yamamoto; he was photographed by Brian Ward and Alex Chatelain; he inspired the modelling world, from Christine Walton’s lookalike shoot (Vogue Paris 1971) to Kate Moss’s tribute covers (Vogue UK 2003 and Vogue Paris 2012).
However the most prominent message from Bowie’s daring style taught and continues to teach thousands to be courageous in how they want to dress. Not once did his courage seem to falter, in spite of his apparent anxiety about the stage. He didn’t dress to impress but rather to embolden; akin to the power dressing we now associate with women wearing a fierce stiletto, emblazoned suits or shoulder pads to the office.
The wound is still raw but rather than linger upon what cannot be, one should remember what always will be: In both cases, the immortality of a legend. Always an advocate for moving forward, Bowie continually looked to the future rather than remain in the past, famously saying ‘I don’t know where I’m going, but I promise it won’t be boring’; and it never was or will be, as his work continues to influence and inspire, enabling other visionaries to further immortalise Bowie.
Rather than mourn the end of an era, we should alternatively celebrate his vibrant inspiration, his demonstration of the empowering capabilities of clothing and the real meaning he provided in dressing for yourself.
Bowie lives on:
Topshop make-up tutorial: Ziggy
Paul Smith for David Bowie:
Remake Remodel Cropped Tee sold at Afflecks Palace:
Tribute event at Sound Control: