For the style-savvy, image-conscious muscian, accessories are as important as the rest of their ensemble.
This story first appeared in the August 29, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It may seem hard to believe today, but Michael Jackson’s crystal-studded glove, Elton John’s over-the-top sunglasses and even Kiss’ 10-inch-high platforms were once the epitome of cool. Apparently, the music crowd has always had an affinity for accessories.
Whether for the stage or album covers, a sharp hat, a slick pair of sunglasses or even a bling bling ring helps to distinguish a performer from the competition, as well as cement a superstar’s persona among fans.
“Accessories are extremely important for rock stars because you can make such a difference with them,” said sunglass designer Christian Roth, whose frames have adorned stars such as Lenny Kravitz, Mary J. Blige and Mick Jagger. “The right accessory placed correctly can make a huge impact…it’s part of the whole myth.”
While it may be difficult to live the life of a rock star, die-hard fans can do the next best thing: emulate their favorite musician’s wardrobe. Since the birth of rock ’n’ roll, fans have flocked to stores to get their hands on Beatles boots, Janis Joplin love beads and Roy Orbison Wayfarer sunglasses.
When John, Paul, Ringo and George walked on stage to greet the mass hysteria that swept teenage girls the world over, their center-seamed, pointy-toed black leather boots created an equally notable sensation. It is said that the matching boots — in tandem with their cigarette-slim suits — were the idea of their legendary manager Brian Epstein, who harnessed the good looks of the four Liverpool lads into a marketable image.
The Beatles’ boots were perhaps the first rock ’n’ roll-meets-accessories phenomenon that landed on the fashion radar. Other musicians over the years have also jumped on the accessories bandwagon. Just listen to some of the most popular songs from the past 50 years: Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes,” Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking,” Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night,” and more recently, The Hot Boys’ “Bling Bling.”
A seminal moment in Madonna’s career was her take on Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the video for “Material Girl.” Madonna, whose chameleon-like transformations typically involve accessories, rose to fame during the Eighties dripping in rhinestone crosses, multiple rubber bracelets, lace gloves and, of course, wearing the infamous “Boy Toy” belt buckle. As much of an irritant the pop star’s look may have been to parents at the time, Madonna wannabees could be seen prowling shopping malls and lining up at look-alike contests. Over the years, her fans have continued to mimic her looks, including the cowgirl aesthetic she donned for the jacket of her 2000 album, “Music,” on which she appears in a Western hat wearing an equally Patsy Cline-esque belt buckle.
But no other item conveys the rock star lifestyle as well as a pair of sunglasses.
“Sunglasses are like a cosmetic of their own, and they are so important because they accent the face,” said Patti Wilson, stylist for singer Alicia Keys, who often wears YSL’s mirror flash shields when performing.
While a good pair of sunglasses might flatter facial features, more importantly, their best asset might be hiding the signs of a decadent lifestyle. After all, they don’t call it sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll for nothing.
Outrageous eyewear is a trademark of Elton John, who favors frames that are bigger than his face, or that feature whimsical palm trees, cartoon figures and blinding rhinestones.
“Elton John has done a lot for eyewear,” said Roth. “He has helped to make eyewear accessible, and showed how to use it if you want to disguise yourself or just look great.”
Brands such as Chanel, Bulgari and Christian Dior are courting musicians because they have become all too aware of the selling power a rock star has: U2’s Bono, for example, created a stir when he gave a pair of wraparound frames to the Pope, and earlier this year, the Irish rocker wore his Bulgari Quadrato sunglasses when he visited President Bush.
“Sunglasses are helping the brands build the image that they want,” said Eden Wexler, manager of public relations at Safilo Group. “At first, people were asking why we were giving so much product away, but now they understand how much it helps.”
In the past few seasons, Safilo, like many other eyewear firms, has given sunglasses to a slew of musicians including Steven Tyler, Alicia Keys, Brandy and Gwen Stefani. Luxottica, which manufactures Ray-Ban, has also been busy boosting their rock ’n’ roll product placement count, and recent Ray-Ban sightings include Celine Dion, Gwen Stefani and O-Town. Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, meanwhile, rarely leaves home without his small, flash mirror gradient rimless Lunor sunglasses that he buys at New York eyewear retailer Robert Marc.
The rise of hip-hop has given way to several trends, from Adidas sneakers and Kangol hats to a king’s ransom of jewelry. What started out as whimsy with stolen automobile emblems for pendants has evolved into an obsession for fine jewelry. New York designer Jacob Arabo, known in celeb circles as “Jacob the Jeweler,” is revered among hip-hop heavyweights for his custom-made, over-the-top diamond and gold creations. Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Foxy Brown, Jay Z and Nelly not only wear but also sing about Jacob in their songs.
“Jewels are the sign of success and wealth, and at the same time they are fashion and make you feel good,” said Arabo. “Right now, everyone wants yellow and rose gold, and of course platinum and diamonds.”
And it doesn’t look like music’s obsession with accessories will end with this generation. Musician Method Man purchased a $40,000 diamond bracelet from Arabo for his one-year-old son.
“I had to cut it down to his wrist,” said Arabo. “That to me was shocking.”
But then again, that’s rock ’n’ roll.