If he had not passed away last January 10, David Bowie would have marked his 70th birthday this January 8. Over the course of his inestimably extraordinary career, he made as indelible a mark on fashion as he did on music. When it comes to evaluating the star’s influence on the catwalk, it would be more efficient to single out the fashion designers Bowie did not inspire. The list would include remarkably few designers operating post-1973 or so.
Memorably in Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring 2013 “Rockstars” show a full-fledged Bowie recreation strutted down the runway. “David Bowie is a cult, an absolute rock star,” Gaultier is quoted as saying. “He was relevant across periods, influenced them, even created them musically, intellectually and humanly. Personally, I was influenced by his creativity, his extravagance, his sense of fashion, allure, elegance and play on gender.”
Gaultier was not the only designer to be inspired by Bowie’s particular brand of androgyny. Miuccia Prada’s Fall 2012 collection presented a modern take on the 1971 music video “Life on Mars.” Christophe Decarnin released a series of Aladdin Sane-inspired sparkly jumpsuits for Balmain Fall 2011. Jonathan Saunders celebrated Bowie’s “Plastic Soul” years with his Spring 2013 show — the list goes on and on. The number of times a Bowie soundtrack has provided the backdrop for a show is equally immense. (Check out Dolce & Gabbana’s pairing of “Dancing in the Street” with boxy suits sprinkled with stardust for Fall 2011.)
Even the most exalted names in fashion have given a tip of the hat to Bowie. Gucci’s Fall 2016 menswear line featured Bowie’s name written on the back of a sweater, courtesy of Alessandro Michele. Raf Simons was outspoken about his debt to the rockstar, most evident in his Spring 2015 Couture line for Christian Dior. “He’s a chameleon, able to reinvent himself,” Simons enthused. “But he’s also the materialization of something else. More than a man—an idea.”
Hedi Slimane made no secret about the vast influence Bowie exerted over his creations for Saint Laurent: “I would turn to my music heroes, and this was comforting,” Slimane said in one interview. “I could … feel a connection at the time with ‘The Thin White Duke’ character of Bowie. This is pretty much the origin of everything I did in design after that, a boy or a girl with the same silhouette.”
Looking at the original, it’s easy to understand the fascination. Equipped with an unmatched ability to shock and awe along with charisma levels that were (some believe literally) out of this world, David Bowie fearlessly pioneered glam rock and gender fluidity. Fashion in his hands was a vehicle for liberating self-exploration and self-expression. His legacy continues to reign over the fashion world, which owes an incalculable debt to the irreplaceable icon. — jas