Style Counsel (part one)

Princess Julia reflects on the great style icons in pop music

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 12 Oct 2010
  • min read
Recent PRS for Music research* has uncovered the amazing fact that the way 40 per cent of the population dress is influenced by their taste in music. Armed with this tasty nugget, Princess Julia reflects on the great style icons in pop music – and their relationship with their stylists.

Being a pop icon is not an easy business in these celebrity-driven days. Today’s major movers are at the front of an army of image makers, making sure all the boxes are ticked in the style department. Performing, writing, touring, meeting and greeting and generally being seen entails a series of edgy looks to suit each occasion. Don’t even think of popping round the corner for a pint of milk without your make-up – you’ll be papped!

Back in the 1970s the idea of a pop star came in the form of Ziggy Stardust… but even he had his Angie for a bit of costume fluffing. Then there was Bryan Ferry, who had Anthony Price for advice on crotch enhancing jeans and suave suits. Eurovision brought us Abba, thought of then and now as the essence of kitsch; their style took an organised dash of glam and disco directly aimed for the commercial tip of pop. As the 70s closed, disco stars such as Grace Jones, Donna Summer and Amanda Lear created a visual drama that crossed into the mainstream. Kate Bush provided an avant-garde version of pop with her quirky videos and voice.

Meanwhile, our home-grown punk girl stars such as Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene and The Slits brought a subversive DIY attitude to both dressing and music. Punk was both sexy and anti-fashion, questioning ideals of traditional beauty. Johnny Rotten sneered down on us dressed in his Seditionaires-designed bondage whilst Billy Idol became the prettiest boy of punk. Indeed the UK twist seemed startling when compared to the NYC ‘no-wave’ scene from which Debbie Harry emerged.

By the time the 1980s arrived, Sioux had become a household name and punk stars were almost old hat, as the New Romantic era brought in the dandified look - the backlash against punk. Gothic beautification became all the rage for both boys and girls. In fact androgyny also seemed to be a preoccupation for popsters. Was Boy George a boy or a girl? Or Annie Lennox for that matter?! Adam Ant, Hayzi Fantasysi, Duran Duran, Strawberry Switchblade, Mari Wilson… dressing to impress became an integral part of the project.

The end of the 1980s saw a more corporately driven music industry, now acutely aware of the visual emphasis created by MTV, begin to mould the looks of its stars a little more. The proliferation of visual and aural styles which is a characteristic of the UK music scene began to take the shape we know today, and with it came the need for memorability and originality. Which is where the stylist comes in.

The role of the stylist is not a recent phenomenon. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood played a major part in shaping punk – recently voted the UK’s most iconic look. William Baker, Kylie Minogue’s stylist, remembers how Judy Blame styled Neneh Cherry and Boy George. For him the role of a stylist in the music industry is based on an ongoing relationship and friendship with the artist: ‘Despite confidence in performance or talent, everyone’s insecurities manifest themselves through clothing, their appearance and their bodies,’ he says. ‘As much as an artist may say “Its all about the music”, I have yet to meet a pop artist that isn’t interested in experimenting with their appearance and image.’

Baker adds: ‘Image and music these days are so symbiotic, since MTV and the pop video. Plus the cult of celebrity and gossip mags have increased the importance of this symbiosis a hundred-fold. Just look at Lady Gaga... Super-styled, super-fashion, avant-garde? Yet it doesn’t quite sit with her brand of lightweight pop that really could have come from Britney, Christina, Cheryl, Madonna or Kylie. It’s her look and image that make her unique... even more so in the pop field, where artists and their stylists all pilfer the same references, hanker after the same dresses and court the same designers.’
And perhaps that is one of the problems when it comes to the initial concept of a pop star’s image. Newcomer Viktoria Modesta has worked as both a stylist and makeup artist in the past, and has a very strong idea about her image: ‘A true artist's style is second nature. Style is your leopard spots and an authentic extension of your true persona, the scene and culture you've evolved from. A real pop star shouldn’t need a stylist!’.

In Style Counsel Part Two Princess Julia looks at the reasons for having a stylist and concludes with the Top 10 Iconic Looks.

* The Research
Research undertaken on behalf of PRS for Music in May 2010 sampled 1500 respondents in an online survey. It showed that 40 per cent have let their wardrobes be influenced by their music tastes. Men are most likely to let their dress sense mirror their favourite music at 41 per cent, with 39 per cent for women.