Writer John Duku asks why musicians feel more inclined than most to be overly expressive in their fashion sense.
It takes the quirky to catch my eye: people who appear to have a story to tell, those who walk the line between attraction and curiosity. The construction of the individual can be an art, after all – a form of communication, the honing of a precise instrument. But are musicians more willing than most to make a mess of themselves in their search for self-expression?
Kanye West’s crusade to cement himself as the biggest radical in fashion and music grates against the marketable ‘black middle-class angst’ he embodied upon bursting onto the mainstream. Maybe ten years in the public eye does something to recording artists; while Ricky Martin retired his ‘neo-Latin lady-killer’ persona to affirm his homosexuality, Kanye West is now openly embracing the bizarre. Most notably a bejewelled, Maison Martin Margiela mask and leather kilt combination. Although admittedly, it was reported by the Telegraph that West attempted to ban photographs of the skirt.
Before Lady Gaga or even Grace Jones, David Bowie’s infamous ‘Ziggy Stardust’ persona of the early 1970’s was the product of an intersection between Japanese fashion, British eccentricity and then-marginalised bisexual subcultures.
The resultant ‘performance art’ played with sexual intrigue both on-stage and within the mainstream media to amplify the concept of Ziggy so it lasted beyond the makeup. This was more than a ‘sell’; this alter-ego wasn’t something he wore, it was what he became.
To embrace the bizarre is often to address taboo subjects – to amplify the muffled voices of those dismissed as the ‘other’ to create a spark. A number of Japanese and British fashion designers embody this ethic with their work; from Vivienne Westwood’s maverick punk aesthetic, to the distorted silhouettes of Rei Kawakubo’s ‘Hiroshima chic’, all the way back to the anthropological metaphors within Hussein Chalayan’s shape-shifting designs. In defining this creative energy, avant-garde designer Yohji Yamamoto suggests “you have to be angry…the real art is making people happy, but also asking questions about society”.
Do these themes of taboo and social awareness define the tempestuous relationship between high fashion and hip hop – a musical genre defined as ‘cool’ by its association with resistance and brash belligerence? 2 Chainz is the latest rapper to appropriate the overt flamboyance of Versace as his own territory, whilst A$AP Rocky is flanked by supermodels on billboards in promotion of DKNY’s Spring/Summer 2014 range. Perhaps it is the conviction and credibility of these musical personalities help provide scale to experimental ideas, on platforms beyond the reach of many design houses., but what can we learn from this?
What we put forward to represent us should – in some part – tell our story; be it sexual ambivalence, creative frustration, whatever. Where are you from? Where have you been? What are you questioning? There is difference between failing and being a failure – failing is the tax attached to daring to live. Hell; if I had a recording career to fall back on, I’d probably be living the avant-garde dream too.