TEN VERY STYLISH LADIES IN MUSIC
I would like to take this moment to explain the omittance from this list of Cher, my favourite personal style icon, the woman I want to be and emulate in terms of clothing choices and how to conduct myself in my real life and on Twitter. I am apparently not a gay man or a drag queen, and while Cher is obviously very stylish, she presents a whole new level of stylish that can only be unleashed on special occasions. Such as Hallowe’en. Or a Vegas soiree.
And while always memorable, Cher does not have the same impact on the cultural landscape as the following chic ladies. These ladies have changed things, like how we dress. Each has a style that is all her own and each is a pioneering fashion original. None of that rip-off atrocity you see tramping up the red carpet at the Grammys these days.
There’s a moment in the Love is a Stranger video when Annie is sitting in the back of a car in a curly blonde wig, channelling classy escort. Suddenly, she whips the wig off to reveal orange, greased-back hair. She looks like a sinister ringmaster. Or the Joker. Dave Stewart thought she looked like Mick Jagger in Performance. Apparently it caused a huge hoo-ha in America as they all thought Annie was a tranny. Because while gender-bending had turned into a common occurrence in the ranks of musical stars, it had thus far been contained to effeminate men. Women were still supposed to be women. Pretty. Lennox was the first to female to really play around with gender. Look at Sweet Dreams and the suit that matches Dave Stewart’s and her orange buzz cut. The record company had apparently wanted her to wear a dress for that, too. Lennox obviously pays no heed to what record executives want. She does only what she wants. She said to someone once, somewhere on Google, about 10 pages in, “I can’t explain the actual process of why I would want to wear a sailor’s hat covered in leopard skin, other than at the time I thought it was really cool. I loved the tailoring at the time of the 1980s. Suits with padded shoulders and nipped-in waists. It looking fucking cutting edge. It was a reaction to the punk ethos of cutting and shredding.” Her reaction to punk was, in a beautiful-symmetry kind of way, more punk than punk.
My first memory of Björk is the Big Time Sensuality video. Though it could also be Human Behaviour. But Human Behaviour never spoke to me in the same way. Until this day I still resemble, at the best of times, something that has been dragged through a hedge in the rain. I share Björk’s hair. Big Time Sensuality was aspirational. I, too, wanted to wear cropped mohair and have my head covered in those corn-row-bun things she had. All in silver. Well, it looked silver. It could have been any colour as it’s a black and white video, but in my head it shall forever be silver. And then she went and topped it all off with a red carpet egg-laying sashay. Admittedly, there were a few outfits in between, but that was the moment that symbolised, rather literally, awkward duckling turning into beautiful swan. And hailed a new decade of crazy. There was a pink paper-pineapple thing, orange afros, an intergalactic space queen with hair coiled up that resembled alien tentacles in repose, and a performance at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics in Greece in a dress that unfurled from its coral reef-like folds to reveal 900 square metres of fabric that slowly flowed over all the athletes in the arena to become a “projection screen” for an image of the world map. How does such a tiny body hold up so much fabric? According to her, people need theatre. Always have. “In rituals for thousands and thousands of years, they’ve put on shaman costumes and have had out-of-body experiences. I think there’s a need for theatrical. It’s very organic, ancient and human.”
The Independent once asked Chrissie Hynde what her favourite piece of clothing was. It was one of those Q&A things that also asked about her favourite building, foodstuff, etc. She said it was the “skinny jeans I pick off the floor next to my bed every morning. I don’t know what I’d do without pockets”. Which, truth be told, isn’t that surprising – I don’t think a picture of her in anything other than something tight, or a pair of trousers, exists. They go with her mullet hair. She’s had hair ever since she moved to London and worked in Sex, and apparently contemplated marrying Sid Vicious so she wouldn’t be deported. Working in Sex made everyone an automatic style icon. How could it not? If people are too intimidated by a shop to enter it, it stands to reason that the people in it are achingly chic in a “if they side eye me, I might be physically sick” kind of way. Look at Jordan (the original one, who worked in Sex, not the blow-up doll who showjumps and shares the intimate details of her life with the readers of OK!). She may have had the hair earlier. The hair is Hynde. Joan Jett had similar hair but she never owned it in the same way. It didn’t have that sense of authority that says, yes, the mullet is a shit haircut but I, unlike you, can pull it off and I look pretty damn good. Hynde’s hair is authoritative. Like her. She just is. And she reminds me a bit of Bowie during his gender-bending androgyny days. The Aladdin Sane cover, just without the crazy make-up, shiny jumpsuit or orange hair. She dresses in black. Usually Stella McCartney. Hynde’s an animal rights activist, you see. Kind to creatures, great and small. Being an icon of style and kind to God’s furry creations is no easy feat to pull off.
There is one vision of Sade that stays in my head and, as it turns out, in the head of Vincent, too. No matter what, for us, she will always exist as some sort of desert queen, standing in the centre of a sandy landscape in something sheer and chiffon and slightly voluminous that billows behind her in the breeze. With scraped-back hair. The Croydon face-lift pioneer, before it was known as the Croydon face-lift. I realise that I may have mentioned antelopes running through the Serengeti before, but to me, Sade actually is that antelope. Where this vision comes from, I have no clue. There might be one video that looks a bit desert, but the billowing chiffon? She’s more of a tight, backless Alaïa girl. Or a pair of 501s with a black polo-neck jumper. And a gold hoop earring. With a face so beautiful it looks like she’s almost weeping, according to Vincent. Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa made flesh. It should probably be mentioned that before she became an all-singing powerhouse that could make grown men cry she studied fashion at Central Saint Martins. Which probably explains her ability to pull together what we shall term a signature look. Her appeal, though, really lies in her attitude. She just does what she wants when she wants. Which makes her, like, the coolest lady in existence ever.
There was an article in The New York Times, a few years back, in which Patti Smith declared a love of ball gowns. “…their cut, their architecture and the thought of the hands of so many seamstresses working on them”. There’s also mention of pink shantung capri trousers with a kelly green raincoat. The idea of her in anything of colour, or made of taffeta, is slightly unnerving. Though you can see her in a ball gown, in the Dream of Life documentary, and yes, she looks regal and chic, Smith will always remain a bit of an androgynous, trampy icon. She will always be the girl in a Mapplethorpe photograph, the girl on the cover of Horses, in a pair of black jeans, white shirt and skinny tie. “I’ve been wearing the same clothing, the same look and everything for 40 years. I like high fashion, it’s art. I could go to a thrift store when I was 17 and find a Balenciaga coat. But, you know, I don’t require high fashion; I can wear rags. But they have to be cool rags.” In her case, Ann Demeulemeester rags. Is there a cultural icon who has been more devoted to a single designer’s vision just because she, well, likes the clothes, rather than is drawn by the usual couple-of-million incentive and starring role in the obligatory campaign?
The original, realistic, edible Kimberly Jones, it has to be said, has an eye for colour like no other. Just look at Crush on You. Every single frame of that video is a total mono-colour vision, with Kimmy front stage and centre, resplendent in matching one-colour fur, wig and bikini exit that matches the stage set. She’s like a hip-hop chameleon. And can we just discuss for a moment her total devotion to high fashion. Other people wear logos on themselves in clothing form, whereas Kimberly wears them painted on her skin. Ever since David LaChapelle took that picture of her LV-logoed body, we have seen no better way for an individual to profess their love for a label. There was a headline somewhere, when Kim was released from prison back in 2006, that read “Lil’ Kim leaves prison, steps into a Rolls”. The lady has as style that is all of her own, from her zip-off weave to her custom-made, one-shoulder, crystal-embellished jumpsuit featuring exposed breast with matching nipple shield that so fascinated Diana Ross she cupped the breast on live TV. Did you really expect her to end incarceration with a trip on public transportation? My favourite look, though, the one that Nicki Minaj so shamelessly pillages but will never, even in her wildest dreams, own, is Candy Kim. Fully edible and anatomically correct, she’s a hot-ass Barbie in floral pastels and neon tights that match her neon-looking hair in a clash-type way. And let’s not forgot the chain-mail bikini bottom with its fringing that scrapes the floor as she grinds. The attention-grabbing tactics of the starlets of today have nothing on her. To quote the Queen Bee, “You deluded Kim wannabe, you just hate to admit it. I’m the blueprint, you ain’t nothing brand new.”
For me, Siouxsie Sioux will always resemble what I imagine she would have looked like in the video for Hong Kong Garden, if they had made a video. Siouxsie would be backlit by a sunset-signifying red glow. She would be standing in the middle of a structure made of wooden trellises. She would be dressed in a black and white silk kimono with red and purple accents that would open up to reveal a studded harness and latex chaps. Her eyes would be made up like Elizabeth Taylor’s in Cleopatra. Orchids would be planted all around and she would crawl across the set, her spiky hair casting a silhouette on the red wall, while singing of chicken chow mein and chop suey. The thing about this fictional vision is that it could be true and, if anyone could have pulled it off, she could. There was no evolution of a look, no learning curve of sartorial disasters, she just appeared out of nowhere, fully formed in a fetish jumpsuit with a leather jacket thrown over the top and hair that looked as though she had stuck her fingers in an electrical socket. There’s a review of a Banshees gig by Paul Morley in NME at the end of the 1970s that basically hails Siouxsie as the fashion equivalent of Helen of Troy. “[Siouxsie was] modelling her newest outfit, the one that will influence how all the girls dress over the next few months. About half the girls at Leeds had used Siouxsie as a basis for their appearance, hair to ankle”. She even spawned her own goth subculture called batcavers. Admittedly, they were named after the Soho club and were equally influenced by bands such as Bauhaus and The Cure, but the girl batcave look was pure Siouxsie. Well, what girl, no matter how devoted to a band, is going to model herself on, say, Robert Smith, when she could be a Banshee instead?
I used to have, a long time ago, a very clear vision of how Kate Bush looked and it was based on her song Babooshka. To my nine-year-old mind, she was dressed like a granny, hunched over a crate of apples or some popular Russian root vegetable, maybe a potato, with a crochet shawl over her shoulders and a floral scarf on her head. She looked like a Russian doll. But older. And then I saw the Babooshka video. Who was this vision in backlit gold cavorting with a cello, who resembled, to my mind then, She-Ra Princess of Power? But with a slightly deranged look in her eye. And a flair for modern dance that must in some way have been based on drama-class exercises that consisted of channelling a growing tree. There’s a sort of impish pixie thing about these moves that is highlighted by the jumpsuits and billowing capes. She looks rather ethereal, as though floating ever so slightly above the ground in the manner of a hovercraft. She looks like the love child of Stevie Nicks and Pan’s People. Which does make you wonder, seeing as the first test tube baby was born in 1978, whether Kate Bush is the result of some pioneering science experiment? One that resulted in the creation of a melodramatic gypsy ballerina? And if she is, why did these experiments ever end? Either way, her appearance perfectly translates her music. You see her and, even if you’ve never heard it, Wuthering Heights just starts up in your head.
My favourite Neneh moment would have to be the Inna City Mamma video. In which she is dressed in black. A cycling short and tight crop top with a broderie anglaise neckline, and what I call Argos jewellery but it’s been spray-painted black. And is matt. And by Judy Blame. The whole video, in fact, is matt. It’s modern. Though you could build a compelling case for her pregnant Top of the Pops appearance in 1988 – pre Spice Girls, pre that notorious Demi Vanity Fair cover – or the Manchild video, with the towel round the head and the turquoise jacket that’s the same colour as the backdrop, or the cover of Raw Like Sushi, with the high-waisted lycra, dollar-sign earrings and a weird blue glow around her. It kind of resembles what I imagine an aura looks like. Apparently, she wanted to name the follow-up Chic like Sashimi, which seems appropriate. Her warped take on 1980s power dressing is very chic. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s buffalo. But then, seeing how she was part of that whole scene and even wrote a song about it, how could it be anything else? It was about being hard, and she was the hardest. To quote Ray Petri, “Start with the face and the rest falls into place.” Which, in her case, resulted in the aforementioned power dressing. How else would you describe a look that consists entirely of skintight black Lycra, a bra top, ghetto jewels and an oversized jacket of some sort, maybe a lamé bomber, all finished off with a high-top? One word: power! Or as she put it herself, “I have always seen myself as a bit of a punk rocker, a bit of an anarchist. It’s like taking a well-designed, classic item and giving it a left hook – a really hard left hook!”
In my head (where you will have noticed I spend a lot of my time), Kim Gordon spends her days sauntering around her house, maybe fiddling with her bass, while dressed in some ruffled and embroidered number from Marc Jacobs. Or a floral muu-muu from Anna Sui. There’s a very good chance that this could actually be true, as not only is she best friends with both of them, she also starred in a Marc Jacobs campaign and the Sonic Youth video for Sugar Kane was centred around a Marc Jacobs show. So she must have, like, piles and piles of his stuff. And while, in my head, she resembles, in her floating-round-the-house days, a fabulously kooky and rich socialite lady with a taste for afternoon gin cocktails, in reality, she is far cooler, with a bit of an awkward, 1970s thing going on. A mid-thigh dress that’s a little boxy, or a narrow-cut straight trouser with some graphic T-shirt. A female version of the Lords of Dogtown. It’s what her 1990s clothing line X-Girl looked like. Which is what she looks like. The coolest girl at the party. The one who exists in Marc Jacobs’s head when he sits down to design. Every Marc Jacobs collection is a homage. Look at a history of his work and a history of her outfits. Every collection contains elements of Kim. She’s the girl, or woman rather, who every cool girl wants to be. From Sofia Coppola to Chloë Sevigny, who, incidentally, was the face of X-Girl and the face of Sugar Kane. But these girls, no matter how hard they try, will never be her. She’s the one who will wear a T-shirt that reads “Girls invented punk rock not England”, which someone threw at her on stage a few nights earlier. And when you see her wearing it on the street, you’ll believe it. She did invent punk rock.
By Natalie Dembinska