Rock ’n’ roll has been at the forefront of fashion ever since it ripped up the denims and went hell bent for leather.
by Sam Lal
Not too long ao, the androgyny flaunting Ranveer Singh had the entire fourth estate frothing itself into a frenzy when he decided to hit the town wearing a nose ring. A chain linked the actor’s septum piercing with his earring and the media went into hyperdrive applauding Ranveer’s decision to boldly go where no man had ever gone before.
All very stereotype-smashing, of course, and would have been a pioneering move, were it not for the little fact that heavy metallers Skid Row spent much of the Eighties ruling the charts with their bassist, Rachel Bolan, flaunting a swashbuckling-beyond-belief septum-earlobe combo.
The fact that music has influenced popular culture is way too well established to be debatable. It shows up in the distressed denims that have been totally haute the last couple of seasons, it is evident in the way that the three-quarter shorts of the grunge era have neither burnt out nor faded away and it manifests itself regularly in jackbooted footwear that has always been a rock ’n’ roll staple.
Ever since the time that the blues sired the raucous offspring which would go on to be called rock ’n’ roll, style statements have been as much a part of the music lexicon as chart-topping hits. It started with Elvis. Of course. In pop music, everything starts with Elvis or The Beatles and with good reason too. There never quite has been any other force that could compare to the immense reservoir of talent that the King of rock ’n’ roll or the Fab Four always had at their disposal.
Elvis’ hairdo alone sparked off a follicular revolution and when he took to wearing flared jumpsuits with broad belts and a cape, it seemed every dandy in town wanted a piece of that action. No one actually stopped to think that without Presley’s charisma, a cape on the streets would definitely make them eligible for the Moron of the Year trophy, but that is another story altogether.
Hindsight and retrospect, which Dave Mustaine tells us is always 20/20, would seem to suggest that one cycle of pop culture fashion is immediately followed by another that is in stark contrast to its predecessor. Almost like Newton’s third law of motion set to a backbeat.
So, Elvis’ extravagance was followed by the impeccably suited, Brian Epstein promulgated image of The Beatles which kept the outfitters of the world profitably engaged for years, churning out identical suits for an entire generation. It did go a bit pear-shaped, though, when the Liverpudlians entered the Sgt. Pepper phase and decided that Edwardian-era military uniforms were the way to go.
However, the Fall/Winter look showcased by both Nina Ricci and Michael Kors for 2015-16 is evidence enough of the fact that The Beatles’ sartorial sixth sense was almost on a par with their music. The military chic will be back in full regalia this winter, which would have elicited a huge round of applause from the late Jimi Hendrix. The guitar icon was totally partial to Hussar-style officers’ jackets favoured by 18th century Hungarian horse troopers and wore them whenever he could.
As the musical progression started mushrooming post the Sixties, the accompanying look took up its own trail of diversification. All-black, heavy-metal hordes swept the world up in a storm with Ozzy Osbourne’s kohl-lined eyes providing much scope for inspiration or mirth depending on the side of the fence you happened to be squatting on.
The punks were another story altogether. Born largely out of the economic repression that defined the Britain of the Seventies, their visual identity hinged on ripped clothing which, more often than not, was held together by safety pins. The punks thought this was a rather nifty way of getting the message across only to get completely stumped by the fact that the safety pin became so popular, it spawned a mini industry of sorts. That is probably the point when Johnny Rotten reverted to his John Lydon persona and stopped creating ‘Anarchy In The UK.’
Convinced that anger-fuelled rants were not the proper soundtrack to their search for nothing but a good time, the glam-rock brigade of the Eighties created elaborate gender-bending fantasies where spandex and leopard print ruled and everyone used so much hairspray, it’s guaranteed to have knocked out a whopping big hole in the stratosphere.
Almost as if on cue, the Seattle grunge pack moved in bringing everything back to a plane of burning hyperrealism and ushering in an era where rock stars managed the near-impossible feat of looking like gas station attendants. The trend has endured in spite of the fact that envelope pushing stars like Lady Gaga have taken firm hold of the rock fashion template and have taken it, kicking and screaming, back to the time when OTT was par for the course.
There really has never been any doubt that a lot of rock’s sense of fashion has flirted with the theatrical side of life and has always been driven by a pressing need to make a statement. There is no other way that you could describe Judas Priest’s all-black leather look in the middle of July.
And that is probably what makes it so compelling. Jean Paul Gaultier’s recent tribute to David Bowie was, in many ways, the perfect encapsulation of music’s fashion mantra-expressive, a tad eccentric and fiercely individual.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Fashion faux pas that mercifully never caught on.
BLACKIE LAWLESS’ FLAMING COD PIECE
A studded metal object that shot out flames. Seriously?
LADY GAGA’S MEAT DRESS
No, we aren’t going for the metaphor. ’Twas an actual beef dress
FLAVOR FLAV’S CLOCKS
The man probably wanted to check if the Apocalypse was nigh
ANGUS YOUNG’S SCHOOLBOY UNIFORM
A grown-up man in a schoolboy’s uniform. ’Nuff said.