‘How many times does an angel fall?
How many people lie instead of talking tall?
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar, I’m not a gangstar/Something
happened on the day he died,Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried I’m a blackstar’
A fashion icon, music legend and passionate philanthropist of promoting ‘equal love’ between all sexes, David Bowie’s death on the 10th January left fans heartbroken and mourning the legacy that David Bowie left behind. David was the original Lady Gaga and Madonna, challenging social conventions through androgynous, gender fluid clothing that spawned alter ego Ziggy Stardust. When the ‘orange’ haired albaster Ziggy Stardust sauntered in with his edgy fashion creations that influenced the creation of unitards and punk-rock culture the world was taken a-back. How could a man reject his masculinity and take on multiple gender-fluid identities and deliberately pervert the laws of masculine dressing? But that is what made David’s Ziggy Stardust such a unique archetype of sexual identity; Ziggy Stardust was both feminine and masculine and explored how sexual experimentation can be used to inspire both men and women to reject societies radicalised notions of sexuality and live without pre-conceived labels.
Born in Brixton in 1947 David saw his environment as a backdrop for sexual experimentation, where his chavinistic swagger so synonmous with modern culture was interlinked with a new-found fascination for ‘dressing like a woman’ and by the 1970’s after years of failed singles and albums David Bowie found fame with ‘Space Oddity’.Featuring philosophical post-hippie lyrics on peace, love and morality, its acoustic folk rock occasionally fortified by harder rock, Davids personal style mirrored the soft lilting words used to implore his fans to accept his gentle transition into the flamboyant world of andrognous fashion. By the 1970’s and with his ‘hard’ rock album ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ cracking the US, Mercury records marketed his androgynous appearence to the American audience with mixed applause. Like Marmite Bowie’s proud exploration of difference was loved by critic John Mendelsohn who described Bowie as ‘ravishing, almost disconcertingly reminiscent of Lauren Bacall’ but met with distaste in public who questioned how androgyny could ever be considered the norm.
During Bowie’s ‘Man Who Sold The World’ tour he discovered two seminal American proto-punk artists who inspired his controversial transition into ‘Ziggy Stardust’. Ziggy was a music phenomenon; a flawless merger of Iggy Pop’s wild aesthetic and Lou Reed’s music, Ziggy was created to appear ‘as though he had landed on Mars’. In Bowie’s words Ziggy was the perfect ‘pop idol’ whose swagger and natural stage prescence was offset by his avante-garde stage costumes.Bowie developed a carnivelesque appreciation of music re-creating a ‘fantasy’ character that allowed him to escape the inhibitations of his masculinity and embrace the avante-garde. By normalizing gender-fluid identities Bowie changed the landscape of fashion forever and inspired Jean Gaultier, Kate Moss, Vogue, Body Map and Balmain to embrace androgny.
David Bowie’s style was firmly rooted in an androgynous longing for cultural stimulation; in a world devoid of positivity the erosion of a distinct culture was bemoaned by Bowie whose ‘wacky stage’ costumes were a direct retaliation against the conformist attitudes of British fashion culture. In turn many other celebrities would reject traditional outfits in favour of an outfit that overtly rejected gender boundaries or challenged general semblence of fashion. Lady Gaga of course was inspired by David Bowie with her angular androgynous features and love of avante garde costumes, the death of Stefani’s alter-ego ‘Lady Gaga’ clearly mirrored David’s rejection of his alter ego Ziggy Stardust in 1973, after a series of controversial acts that had got out of control. In David’s case he found it difficult to disconnect himself from his alter-ego seeing Ziggy not as an ‘exstension of his real self’ but as one. Ziggy and Bowie were connected in more ways than one and his psychedellic costumes and overtly theatrical stage make-up made his personal life just as colourful. Like Ziggy’s colourful persona, David lived the life of a rock-star, dabbling in severe cocaine use, attempting to overdose and rid himself of the illness that had become ‘Ziggy’.
With the death of Ziggy Stardust it was not long before Bowie transformed into another persona. ‘The Thin White Duke’ played ‘was based on Thomas Jerome Newton, the extraterrestrial being he portrayed in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and again merged the boundaries between sci-fi avante-garde and humanity. Unlike Ziggy Stardust the ‘plastic soul’ of The Thin White Duke saw Bowie adopt a more relaxed, tailored approach to fashion which mirrored the behaviour and style of other soul singers during the mid-1970’s. Soul singers including Bowie revitalized 1940’s gangster culture through razor sharp pinstripe suits that were both menacing and satorial. Yet Bowie’s gangster aesthetic was never wholly masculine and even on stage his suits were often paired with kitten heels defining his blossoming sexual and artistic experimentation in a society that heavily frowned on such overt ‘cross-dressing’.
Androgynous until the end Bowie continued to bend sexual boundaries until his last breath. Pictures from his 69th birthday saw his mid 1970’s (circa 1940) gangster aesthetic be paired with patent brogues and a winning smile that seemed to reject all masculine severities usually pictured in a tailored suit. But despite Bowie’s relatively normal last images it it is the iconic figure of the andrognous alien king Ziggy Stardust that remains ingrained in the eyes of his fans and the public. Ziggy embraced androgyny and inspired our generation to be true to ourselves and that is a trait that we could all hope to learn from.
Was David Bowie an androgynous fashion icon?