Style or Icon?
Florence Sogga questions who actually sets the trends.
Helen of Troy may lay claim to owning the face that launched a thousand ships but modern day icons need to have the image that can sell a million records. “The way an artist dresses is paramount to how they’re perceived” says Natasha Lombe a Merchandising Assistant for John Lewis “to be a viable product you need to carve out a name for yourself and fashion plays a great part in this.” It’s no longer enough to be able to carry a tune, you have to prove you own your style to have real substance.
Fashion trends are no longer defined by a coterie of Parisian houses and it seems the perfectly honed images of singers such as Rihanna, can wield just as much influence over the high street. If video killed the radio star, it also thrust a style conscious few into orbit. But where does being fashionable end and being an icon begin? The relationship between designers and musicians has become that of artist and muse, with both taking it in turns to reprise each role. The affair is built on a libidinous need to take something as mundane as covering your modesty and turn it into a piece of art.
Iconic status is not easily achieved and it goes beyond the simple marketing of a brand or person. A true fashion icon is an alchemist. They shape and adapt the seasons to fit their style and not vice versa. “Fashion involves constantly reinventing the wheel and although trends continually repeat themselves, a true fashionista will always give it their own unique twist” says Lombe. History will never forget the image of Marilyn Monroe, curves holstered in ‘that’ white dress, skirt billowing astride a subway vent. A scene from the Hollywood classic ‘The Seven Year Itch’, Monroe epitomised the sheer glamour and sex appeal of the fifties. The combination of white blonde hair, blood red lips and figure enhancing tailoring formulated our fascination with the pneumatic blonde. There were a great many beautiful actresses during this era, but none that defined and owned the sex symbol image quite like Monroe.
Fast forward to 1990 and another blonde bombshell had taken the mantle. Madonna’s relationship with design supremo Jean Paul Gaultier pushed the boundaries of taste and decency. For her ‘Blonde Ambition’ world tour the singer called on the Frenchman to create a series of provocative outfits that would complement her overtly sexual image. The infamous cone bras, corsets and masculine tailoring earned Gaultier a place in fashion history and Madonna musical infamy. Although famous enough this defined her as someone willing to take risks. Her stage shows were pure unadulterated theatre. She pushed the idea of sexuality and sexual orientation into people’s faces and made them take notice. A stark contrast to the brightly coloured power suits and expansive shoulder pads that gleamed from the covers of latter day fashion magazines. Ladies who lunched favoured sequins, cowl necked sweaters and chunky gold jewellery. Appliqued batwing jumpers and heavy mohair knits epitomised the casual take on power dressing. Eighties fashion for the nouveau riche dictated clean-cut glamour- the polar opposite of Madonna’s unique look. A pioneer of this style, it favoured the use of layering and borrowed heavily from elements of Goth, punk and new romantic fashion. RaRa skirts were combined with heavy jackets and lace bodysuits. Necks were adorned with a veritable mish mash of pearls, beads and crucifixes’. The result, an eclectic mix that echoed a youth embittered with the saccharine sweet conformity of traditional pop culture.
Sound familiar? Cast your mind back to Badan Baden and the 2006 world cup and the two years that ensued. Sadly enough for the England football team, it was the WAGS and not the beautiful game that held the headlines. Posh and her posse teetered around with hair so big it rivalled the cast of dynasty and lashes-like nails-were long and acrylic. Alas just like the economic boom this look was unsustainable and in 2008 we all went Gaga for the avant garde yet again. Lady Gaga’s relationship with the late great Matthew Williamson harked back to Madonna and Gaultier. Her emergence on the pop scene saw the re-emergence of ‘underwear as outerwear’ on the British high street. Heavily patterned tights, black sheer lace dresses and body suits could be found in shop windows from Primark to Topshop and fetish inspired pieces became the mode of evening wear favoured by the young and the daring. The catwalk followed suit with designers such as Marc Jacobs and Roberto Cavalli including 50’s inspired corsetry in their 2010 collections. Heels rocketed and hemlines diminished further as artists like Jessie J typified the hip-hop element of eighties fashion. Over-sized chain print shirts were teamed with denim cut off hot pants and big gold earrings. None however stand out more so than the princess of ‘Roc’ Rhianna, who combines ridiculously expensive couture with ripped tights and stripper heels. “Bigger department stores are starting to take notice” says Lombe “they won’t stray from their conservative image but in the more traditional stores like Marks and Spencers there has been an increased focus on young fashion.”
Like the age old adage about the chicken and the egg solving this question seems improbable, however it can be noted that to surpass ‘just’ being considered fashionable you have to be more than a mere clothes horse. A true icon’s represent a period in history and they are just as inspired by fashion as the industry is by them.
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