WesStyle: Pop Musicians Cross Over Into Fashion World
Today we imagine the relationship between fashion and pop music to be entirely interdependent. Everywhere you look, pop stars go to unbelievable lengths to out-fashion each other by styling themselves within an inch of their lives. There was a day not too long ago when pop stars’ stylists would pin “sexy, flashy, powerful” on their mood boards for tours and videos. Now they’re more likely to compile inspiration boards that conjure up “Flower Child Cowgirl meets Victorian Steampunk Cyborg,” among related themes. This phenomenon really kicked off with Mugler. Gaga burst onto the scene sporting classic avant-garde Gareth Pugh, all extreme angles and metallic quilted club-armor when English designers were turning the fashion spotlight back on London. Her star was rising, and her look was giving her an edge in a plugged-in fanscape increasingly exposed to fashion and hungry for novelty.
Beyoncé quickly rose to the challenge by creating an alter ego that was a wholesale manifestation of the extreme fembot-at-war aesthetic that dominated fashion at that moment. She hired Thierry Mugler (a man whose 80s-90s career was defined by extremely sexy, hyper-feminine futurism) to design her tour wardrobe for “I am...Sasha Fierce.” Mugler, a brand being revitalized after a long hiatus, appointed pop fanatic stylist Nicola Formichetti as its creative director. He developed a liking to Gaga and began restyling her entire persona. Style was so intimately tied to Gaga’s ascent that Formichetti became as integral to the Gaga brand as the Lady herself. Popsicles like Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry capitalized on their hits by sheer style one-upmanship. Rainbow hairstyles and kitschy/phantasmagorical Manish Arora and Jeremy Scott ensembles overshadowed their ability (or lack thereof) to sing.
The ultimate manifestation of this fashion-pop music interdependence came in the form of Lana Del Rey. She surfaced as a literal embodiment of the creepy/nostalgic/darkly feminine/sexually-charged-Virgin-Suicides-prom-queen aesthetic championed for seasons on end by top fashion bloggers like Tavi (the Style Rookie) and high fashion brand Rodarte (when Lana debuted her hit “Video Games”). She was in a prime position to conquer. Insider fashion magazine Wonderland wasted no time making her a cover star, and Mulberry christened their latest bag the “Del Rey,” prompting sell-outs worldwide. Most recently, she has become the face of H&M, which has rolled out a collection saturated with imitation-mohair sweaters and other pastel woolens to cash in on the Lana fan base.
Today, pop’s usage of fashion to gain traction has become so blatantly ambitious that stars have become cartoon versions of themselves. People get bored. Fashion has moved beyond the over-the-top aesthetic of the 2007 and 2009-2010 period. Chill out, Gaga. You can embody Russian romanticism without vacuum-packing yourself into Ulyana Sergeenko couture for breakfast. To love fashion does not necessitate turning into a self-caricature. Fashion is real.
Azealia Banks, fashion’s latest pop superstar, evidently agrees. She has brought the Mermaid aesthetic into the mainstream (think Undine but Ghetto-fab) via her Instagram, was Alexander Wang’s guest to the Met Ball, performed at the Prada after-party (HUGE DEAL), has launched an immediately sold-out lipstick called Yung Rapunxel with MAC for New York Fashion’s Night Out, had a music video shot by Rankin, performed at one of Karl Lagerfeld’s house parties, is the Wang poster girl, and elicits fanatical devotion verging on the psychotic from her style fans (myself included). Banks has no pretensions about her. She arrived to perform at the Serpentine wearing a fluffy, cloud-like pailletted Moschino dress paired with bright orange jelly sandals and a huge smile. Jelly sandals. To the Serpentine.
She has destroyed the former model of the hyper-stylized, pop fashion perma-poseur. Her guileless confidence (bolstered—refreshingly—by an actual personality rather than an army of stylists) shines through in her style. Her stylistic expression is an extension of enormous talent; it’s slightly wrong, definitely a ’90s throwback, and infinitely appealing for both reasons. I am thankful that artists like Gaga, Minaj, and crew widened the definition of acceptability in the mainstream. They took “eccentric” and made it appealing to the masses, enriching the aesthetic street-scape in the process. However, pop-fashion fans have matured. The two-dimensional pop-fashionistas of old, with their perfectly selected accessories, airbrushed faces, and couture explosions are no longer appealing. Girls with more raw personality than persona have come to dominate; their aesthetic is honest and enthusiastic. Azealia Banks is Microsoft Paint to Gaga’s Photoshop 6000, and fashion fans worship her for it.