The term “icon” is one of fashion’s most overused and misapplied words. But it’s a word that properly defined David Bowie.
The gender-bending, glam-rock style of Bowie, who died of cancer in New York Sunday at the age of 69, was a major inspiration and reference to scores of fashion designers over several decades.
A vast swath of the fashion community — from Alexander McQueen and Hedi Slimane to Jean Paul Gaultier, Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck, Tommy Hilfiger and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac — were among those who were inspired by his style.
“David Bowie is a cult, an absolute rock star,” Gaultier said. “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.”
Christopher Bailey, chief creative and chief executive officer of Burberry, called Bowie “a complete legend. He’s somebody that we will all miss — his creativity, his style and the elegant way he approached everything.” Bailey added that Bowie was a “huge” influence on his designs. “I grew up with him, so he’s kind of been an undercurrent to my creative life forever,” he said.
Designer Paul Smith, a long-time friend of Bowie’s, said he had real staying power. “You look at celebrities today and they all seem to be people who have been in their industry for less than a year — or two or three years — but David Bowie, who’s had 36 years in the industry, was always very relevant,” said Smith. “His stagewear was very theatrical because he was a chameleon — and the boss of invention. He always managed to do it in the extreme, but it actually worked.”
Of his friendship with Bowie, Smith said: “We’re both very curious people, we just talked about anything, really.”
“David Bowie was not only a music and style icon, but an innovator of pop culture in the world. Having [his fashion model wife] Iman and David appear in my 2003 ad campaign was a highlight in my life. His many personas and music will live forever,” said Tommy Hilfiger.
“David Bowie has pushed the boundaries in every way possible, reinventing himself every decade,” said Humberto Leon, cofounder and creative director of Opening Ceremony and co-creative director of Kenzo. “Each of his projects are seen as individual pieces of work and have all become iconic which is a huge inspiration for us. In terms of print, color, silhouette, style, boldness — he has touched every single designer.”
“Bowie made it OK to be whoever you want to be, dress however you want and love whoever you want in a time when that wasn’t the fashion,” said Daniel Silver of Duckie Brown.
“He was absolutely fearless in everything he did — a true inspiration and icon,” said David Neville, co-chief executive officer of Rag & Bone. “When we first won a CFDA Award I came back to our table and sat down. I heard a voice in my ear saying: ‘Well done, mate.’ I turned around and it was Bowie — I nearly passed out,” added his partner, Marcus Wainwright.
“I’m truly heartbroken by the loss of David Bowie,” said John Varvatos. “He was a music icon and pop culture legend. A groundbreaker and revolutionary. My thoughts and prayers to his family and loved ones.”
“Bowie meant a lot to me,” said Van Beirendonck. “He gave me power and strength during my teens. He made my view on the world wider, inspired me to be a fashion designer. He gave me beauty and joy [with his] fabulous music and concerts.” Van Beirendonck said his summer 2016 “electric eye-themed” collection was inspired by Bowie’s song “Moonage Daydream,” and its silhouette gave a nod to the singer’s wide pants and huge hats from the Seventies.
Designer Clare Waight Keller cited Bowie as an inspiration for her pre-fall 2015 collection for Chloé, which played with androgyny and the feminine-masculine divide. “He was such a chameleon personality in terms of the way he treated his image and work; there was something provocative of that era, that I wanted to capture and, of course, he was an incredible inspiration for that,” Waight Keller said. “We actually went to the same art school, in Ravensbourne in Kent, South London. It’s a small art school. He was obviously there in an earlier era than me but he was one of the reasons I looked at the school because I felt that, if he had been there, then there must be something interesting about that school…He’s been an enormous influence on the fashion industry.”
“He was a chameleon, and an alien of sorts,” said Christopher Kane. “With David Bowie, you never knew what you were going to get. He was like a jack-in-the-box, always coming out with something surprising.”
“I discovered Bowie via my father’s collection of records,” said Acne Studios creative director Jonny Johansson. “Just holding the covers was an awakening for me. I have learned more about life from music than what school has taught me, and obviously Bowie played a big part in that. I think this is the reason why I’m not afraid of masculinity or femininity. I’m just searching for a modern expression. I have never had a picture of Bowie on my mood boards, but he has always been present anyway.”
“Fashion and rock ‘n roll have had an undeniable, mutual influence upon each other since Elvis,” said David Fisher, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Bloomingdale’s. “There has been a steady stream of influence from the Rolling Stones to the Beatles, but no one has been a more cutting-edge, forward-thinking contributor to fashion trend than Bowie. He was the premier fashion icon of the last four decades, and his creativity will be impossible to replicate. He will be greatly missed.”
Vanessa Seward said David Bowie was inspiring on two levels. “Aesthetically, he reinvented himself so many times — each time emerging with a different character, taking people to other places, which is any creative person’s dream,” said the designer. “But I also admired him so much for his freedom of thought and for his determination.”
At the Burberry men’s ready-to-wear fall 2016 show in London on Monday, numerous front-row attendees shared their thoughts on Bowie’s passing.
Actor-singer Kris Wu said: “He was the idol for music and for fashion, too. He was an inspiration to me in many, many ways. Because I’m really into fashion, I would get inspired [by his style], even his hair color — the orange and red hair — I tried that myself because of him.”
“His influence as a cultural figure goes well beyond music,” said David Furnish. “So much of what exists in the modern world of music and what makes the musical artist today is [due to David Bowie]; it’s that visual appropriation, that ability to, as an artist, not just be a singer and a songwriter but be a whole visual, musical chameleon. He was a conduit, he took ideas from the fringe and put them into his expression of himself and who he was and changed many, many times. He set the template for so many people. There would be no Madonna without David Bowie.”
Model Jack Guinness said: “I heard the news this morning when I was getting ready and I looked at my [outfit] options and — as silly as it sounds — I wanted to be more fearless and more creative. So I put on the craziest, most Bowie outfit I had. I think he’s an inspiration for us all to be more creative, more brave and to take more risks.”
Black Eyed Peas musician Taboo called him “a big inspiration to the music industry and to everybody, as a visionary, an iconic figure in our industry. Going from Ziggy Stardust to David Bowie, David Bowie was a man who was able to evolve and reinvent. And you try to strive for that as an artist, to be able to reinvent yourself and always come up with something new and fresh and innovative.”
Bowie, whose sartorial style morphed continuously over the years, continues to influence the runway.
The office wall of Christophe Lemaire and Sarah-Linh Tran, for instance, features a collage of style icons such as Bowie, Georgia O’Keeffe and Lauren Hutton.
And Paul Smith, who regularly dressed Bowie, has turned out numerous runway collections that hark back to his Seventies origins in men’s wear, and were inspired by the era’s creative talents, including the singer.
In 2013, Smith was involved in a series of collaborations with the designer to celebrate his then new album, “The Next Day.” The first was the official T-shirt for the album, which featured artwork designed by Jonathan Barnbrook printed on organic cotton with a Paul Smith for David Bowie insignia. Smith also personally selected the special translucent tone of the red vinyl limited edition of the album.
The late Lee Alexander McQueen designed the distressed Union Jack coat worn by Bowie on the cover of his 1997 album “Earthling,” and tracks by the singer appeared in the play “McQueen,” about the designer and his visionary that premiered in London’s St. James Theatre early in 2015 before moving to the Haymarket Theatre.
Van Noten, during an interview in 2013 with WWD for a men’s wear issue, recalled a favorite collection that was inspired by Bowie in his Thin White Duke period. “Until [then], everything had to be ‘cool’ men’s wear to be accepted,” Van Noten said at the time. “And what was cool quite often was related to sportswear. So I thought, is there a way I can make men’s wear elegant but still that guys would consider it cool? Cool to be elegant, which is different than wearing the right sneakers, or wearing the jeans that you need to have, or the polo shirt from Lacoste or Fred Perry with just exactly the right color of logo and right size of logo.”
Photographer Nick Knight shot Kate Moss in the style of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane – the alter ego born out of Ziggy Stardust’s ashes – for British Vogue in 2003, 10 years after shooting Bowie himself for the cover of music album “Black Tie White Noise.”
“Bowie represented a strange figure that was at the one time very masculine and aggressive, and at the same time very, very feminine,” he said, “I think that was a really interesting proposal for young people in their teens, it was a really different way of looking at gender blurring in such an appealing and exciting way.”
In a July 2015 interview with WWD, Alan Eckstein, design director and cofounder of Timo Weiland, pointed to Bowie — a poster boy for dandyism and androgyny — as inspiration.
“He is beautiful and bizarre and has a unique way of putting looks together,” said Eckstein. “He wears a great deal of color and geometrics and graphic prints — all of which will be present in our spring 2016 collection.”
Gary Kemp, the brains behind the Eighties supergroup Spandau Ballet, told WWD in a May 2015 interview that his real “seminal moment” came when Bowie emerged onto the scene in his glam rock guise.
“That’s when I came in really,” he said. “I wanted to look like him. I wanted my mom to make me some pants that made me look like Bowie.” He cut his hair and wore makeup and embraced Bowie’s androgynous look. “We’d all grown up with Ziggy Stardust,” Kemp added. “But there were no stores to buy it. In a way, it was a mix-and-match dressing-up, stolen from history.”
Kemp said it was all about “looking outrageous, looking different, standing out from the crowd. It was definitely a combination of gay and straight, working-class and middle-class art student. We weren’t inventing clothing to be in a band, we were kids wearing those clothes and then stepping up onto the stage. This was youth culture inspiring pop culture.”
Designer Keenan Duffty, who was also part of that culture growing up in the U.K., said: “David Bowie offered me the opportunity of a lifetime — a chance to collaborate on a men’s collection inspired by the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust and The Man Who Fell To Earth. For that I am eternally grateful. He was a gentle man, a sexy provocateur, a gender-blender and a rebel. He was also very funny. At one point during our first meeting I forgot where I was in my monologue. ‘I’ve lost my thread,’ I said, at which Bowie pointed out that was ‘not so good for a fashion designer — losing your thread.’ Bowie’s influence on myself and my fellow Central Saint Martins fashion students was profound. He fused the worlds of music and fashion with effortless grace and forged a blueprint for total creative expression and abandon. He was a consumate artist to the end and we will never see his like again.”
“I grew up with Bowie; he taught me so much,” said sound producer Frédéric Sanchez. “I did an entire Calvin Klein show with ‘Heroes’ about 15 years ago. There were different versions of the song, including one by Philip Glass.” Sanchez used Bowie’s songs for other shows as well, including Prada, Miu Miu, Martine Sitbon and Bouchra Jarrar. “Bowie’s songs tell a story,” Sanchez noted. “They set the scene right away.”
Bowie was also connected to the beauty world through his marriage to Iman, whom he met on a blind date. When the model-turned-entrepreneur received an Achievement Award in 2005 from Cosmetic Executive Women, Bowie presented her with the honor, revealing in his introduction that he knew his wife was the one for him when she discussed her shopping habits: “The real clincher was that she rarely went shopping,” he joked at the time. “I ran the figures and asked her to marry me. She ran the figures, and agreed.”
Bowie is the subject of an exhibition currently on at the Groninger Museum in Holland devoted to his stage style and music career. It first opened in London in spring 2013 at the Victoria and Albert Museum and has already visited cities including Paris, Chicago, Melbourne, Berlin, Toronto and São Paulo.
“David Bowie Is” is a blockbuster retrospective tracing the signer’s career from his beginnings in Brixton, south London, to superstardom, delving into his creative process with a show of costumes, sketches, song lyrics, notes, storyboards, films and photographs. Outfits made by Natasha Korniloff for Bowie’s most famous persona, Ziggy Stardust, are dotted throughout the show, as are one-legged and one-armed catsuits.
A spokeswoman for Groninger Museum said ticket sales skyrocketed on Monday after the news of his death became public.
Bowie starred in a Louis Vuitton campaign that broke in November 2013, in which he serenaded model Arizona Muse after she lands in a hot-air balloon in Venice’s San Marco square. In the short film, Bowie performed a unique version of “I’d Rather Be High” while playing the harpsichord.
Also last year, from Sept. 22 to Oct. 30, a specially commissioned painting by Bowie appeared in the “Rock Style” exhibition put on by Hilfiger and American art dealer and curator Jeffrey Deitch at Sotheby’s Gallery in London, which focused the spotlight on innovators in music and fashion over the past decades.
Bowie’s buzzy musical “Lazarus,” currently playing at the New York Theater Workshop through Jan. 20, has an esoteric outlook on the boundaries of contemporary musicals. Written by the singer and “Once” scribe Enda Walsh and directed by the experimental Belgian Ivo van Hove, the madcap play spins 17 Bowie songs (four of them new) into an interpretive narrative inspired by the former Ziggy Stardust’s turn in the 1976 film “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
An D’Huys designed the musical’s costumes. For the star Michael C. Hall — Bowie’s otherworldly protagonist Newton — she created a louche button-down and tailored pants ensemble meant to look like pajamas — entirely of flesh-colored fabric reminiscent of Band-Aids. The same warm beige covers Hall’s onstage apartment walls, creating a bleak, but visually arresting combination — the head-to-toe likes of which have recently appeared on the runways of experimental fashion labels Eckhaus Latta and Jacquemus.
David Robert Jones was born in Brixton on Jan. 8, 1947. He began learning the saxophone at age 13 and started playing with bands such as The Kon-Rads, The Kingbees, The Mannish Boys and The Lower Third. By 1966 he had developed the persona David Bowie.
Bowie, who died after an 18-month battle with cancer, is survived by his wife, and children Duncan Jones and Alexandria Zahra Jones.