David Bowie: a person so significant in international history that the world lacks the ability to summarise his existence in any single word, phrase or statement. The man is so intensely talented in such a diverse number of creative fields that in interviews he often claims that although he knew creativity was going to forge his career, he wasn’t always sure which path he was going to take. In one interview he claimed that he would have been quite happy as just a writer but Bowie became, and still is to this day, so much more than that.
Throughout his career he created a web of intricate characters, with an intense attention to detail regarding the way they looked, dressed, acted, walked and sang. This enabled him to market his work to huge audiences utilising the crucial skills that he would have learned during his job in an advertising agency when he was 16 years old. This job became most valuable to him in his early years as it demanded a daily commute from Bowie’s home in suburbia to a new environment of experimentation in London. It was these influences, particularly those of the mod decade, which encouraged him to embark on his own timeline of experimentation. However, at the time, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles ruled the music scene and Bowie struggled to penetrate the small group of successful artists until Space Oddity took off in the late 60’s. It was from his creation of the character ‘Major Tom’ that Bowie demonstrated his desire to promote liberalism at the climax of the sexual revolution. The song depicted the astronaut as an isolated asexual creature regarded as a taboo in culture at the time. However, Bowie’s focus appeared to be on the promotion of his own androgynous look, breaking the social stereotypes and the bold line between what a woman is and what a man is. The features of his face and excessive make up seen on his earliest records had a feminine style and his flamboyant clothing choices made many viewers question his masculinity. But instead of shying away from this cruel accusation, he embraced it and continued to work with provocative creative types who wore decadent outfits and were sexually ambiguous.
It was through this idea of sexual liberation that Bowie allowed himself to experiment with his image. He collaborated with a vast number of famous designers (Kansai Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen), with many creating unisex costumes for his stage performances. A particular fashion choice to note is the ‘man dress’ created by Mr Fish. Worn by celebrities throughout the 1970s – Bowie on the cover of The Man Who Sold the World and Mick Jagger in the film Performance – the garment was created in order to shift the perception of social stereotypes and the ‘who may wear what’ aura that society had created, as well as generate controversy in the media. Likewise, his attendance at the Brit Awards press conference in 1996 in kitten heels by Katharine Hamnett (dubbed the ‘male stiletto’) is another example of him blurring the lines between feminine and masculine making society accept him as whoever he wished to be. That initial liberation that Bowie forced upon society can now be seen today as an influence to the promotion of individualism of teenagers in the 21st century. Bowie was at the forefront of this revolution as he never bowed to the expectations of the record company but instead stuck to his individual beliefs.
Most of Bowie’s work was heavily influenced by the world around him and his particular interests. Anything that he saw, read or heard that he enjoyed or was inspired by was locked inside his “memory bank”. He visited art galleries around Europe, read lots of books, watched plenty of films, went to see live theatre, researched and attended avant-garde events, and spoke to people and truly adored music therefore giving him experiences to be able to draw inspiration from. It was particularly his friendship and training with mime artist Lindsay Kemp and Kemp’s avant-garde troupe that influenced his early work; he described Kemp as having a day-to-day life that was the most theatrical thing he had ever seen and that the ‘stage thing for him was just an extension of himself’. This evoked a passion in Bowie that is evident in all his work – the need to not only entertain, but to enthral audiences globally through every aspect of himself. This theatrical influence lead to each performance being meticulously planned and created from props, costumes, content and movement which gave it the polished but often controversial finish.
David Bowie has had an enormous impact on the fashion, culture and music of society since his early years to present day. At the time, his fashion choices were deemed creative and brave with many of his fans wanting to copy his look to feel as liberal as him. For example, after his appearance in the striped, knitted, asymmetric cat suit, a sewing pattern was reproduced for his fans to copy and experience the freedom of liberally dressing. You can physically see the direct influence that Bowie had on the fashion industry with Kate Moss on two covers of Vogue magazine; one sporting the infamous red spiky mullet of Ziggy Stardust and the other with the lightning bolt flash across her face from his Aladdin Sane cover. Today’s catwalk collections, 30 years later, hold a resemblance to the costumes of Ziggy in particular; Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring/Summer ‘11 collection contained the bold colours, patterns and the familiar red hair style with pointed jacket shoulders as a modern take on an old theme. Wide lapels and classic masculine tailoring for women has since become fashionable too as Bowie’s androgynous look allowed women and men to move towards their polar opposite when dressing for work as well as play.
Overall, Bowie’s influence is almost indescribable; his methods continue to be unpredictable, out-of-this-world and paranormal that hooks his devout fans and those of the younger generations as they drink him up and ask for more. He will forever be known to the world as a national treasure and will continue to inspire audiences with merely his reputation.
David Bowie Is Eternal.
Words by Rebecca Jayne Wood