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Designers and musicians alike are tuned into each other’s scenes. The result? Concert sponsorships, endorsements,
music-inspired collections, and a slew of other projects that straddle both creative worlds.
Editor’s Note: The following is the full text of a story that appeared in Thursday’s WWD Rock ’n’ Fashion supplement. The story was cut off due to a production error.
Fashion resembles rock most in one way: In order to fully appreciate it, you’ve got to really crank up the volume.
The fashion and music recording industries have come to enjoy such a symbiotic relationship that they could practically be described as parasitic. And these days, they seem to be feeding off of one another more than ever, both in terms of artistic inspiration and just plain old merchandise pushing.
But the real success of rock and fashion collaborations comes down to who makes the loudest splash in a pool, where quite a few top designers — Versace, Christian Dior, Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein and Jean Paul Gaultier — have already taken a long swim. But if the match between music and designer isn’t just right, the result is likely to mean an embarrassing public sinking rather than a smooth stroke.
For every Foxy Brown rapping, “We styles in Burberry/And our walk is mean in them Frankie B. jeans, boy,” there’s a Donna Karan incorporating cutouts of abstract musical notes into a collection called “Manhattan Blues.” Then again, if Andy Hilfiger, Tommy’s brother and executive vice president of Sweetface Fashion Co., can launch a record label and designer stores put out their own compilation CDs, why shouldn’t J.Lo and P. Diddy try their hand at fashion design? And then there are the VH1 Fashion Awards, which come complete with rock performances and a tie-in with Vogue, and MTV’s Video Music Awards, which place a huge emphasis on what celebrities wear and treat designers and supermodels as if they were rock stars themselves.
Fashion-rock symbiosis also lends itself seamlessly to marketing purposes, with designers placing a huge amount of importance on the music they select to be played at their retail doors and on the runways — even staging rock performances at their shows.
This story first appeared in the August 30, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
For their part, musicians, taking a cue from movie stars, rely on designers to dress them for concerts and appearances. Even Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell get the connection — they’ve starred in music videos (Moss for Primal Scream and Campbell for numerous others, including those of George Michael, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin and Vanilla Ice) and have even been known to pick up a microphone, with varying degrees of success (Campbell’s 1995 album, “Babywoman,” could be called a hit only in Japan, while the jury’s out on pregnant Moss’ upcoming duet with Primal Scream). Going back in the other direction, the effect that Calvin Klein’s underwear commercials had on the acting career of the artist formerly known as Marky Mark cannot be underestimated.
“I don’t know which one comes first,” said Bob Cutarella, a veteran songwriter/producer for the likes of Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette and Elton John who’s consulting on a program at the Fashion Institute of Technology teaching students how to capitalize on rock-fashion synergies. “One feeds the other. I don’t know which one inspires the other sometimes, but out of necessity, some clothing trends came out of music, while some music trends came out of fashion.”
“There is no doubt there is a growing link between the entertainment industry and the fashion business,” agreed Joan Volpe, managing coordinator of the Center for Professional Studies at FIT. “It’s a very positive synergy for everyone in fashion because the exposure is creating a demand with customers.”
Elvis, Madonna, the Beatles, the Supremes, Kurt Cobain — each one an icon with an image as distinctive as their sound. Fashion designers have played an increasingly visible role in developing these images, a fact that has profoundly impacted both their business and their celebrity level.
“Fashion and music are more intertwined than ever before, and it is the emotions that music can evoke, together with the personal style of an artist, that can inspire my designs,” said Giorgio Armani, who has worked closely with Ricky Martin, Eric Clapton, Grace Jones and Tina Turner. In 1996, he put on a major concert at the New York Armory in honor of the opening of the Emporio Armani store in Manhattan, with D’Angelo, the Fugees, the Wallflowers and Clapton, and last year he sponsored a concert in Milan for Russell Crowe’s band, Thirty Odd Feet of Grunts.
“The collaboration with music personalities who enjoy wearing my clothing resulted in many ongoing personal friendships,” Armani said.
The list of designers who’ve turned musicians into muses goes on and on, with obvious parallels to the movie industry and red carpet awards shows. The competition to dress the hottest artists is cutthroat, and the Italians have led the charge, with Donatella Versace and Dolce & Gabbana often claiming equal bragging rights. Versace has dressed Madonna, J.Lo, Tina Turner, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé Knowles, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Jon Bon Jovi and Prince, which “fills me with pride,” she said. “Though for a big music fan like myself, it’s kind of natural. I don’t view it as something I should gloat about.” (Nonetheless, Versace doesn’t hesitate to point out that she sort of discovered Robbie Williams, All Saints, Moby and Oasis, who all performed at her shows when they weren’t yet the big deals they are today. Plus, she scored a rare appearance by Madonna in one of her ad campaigns.)
Dolce & Gabbana have dressed Madonna, too, along with Kylie Minogue, Whitney Houston, Dido, Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige and Sheryl Crow, in some cases creating exclusive wardrobes for their tours.
“It’s all about notoriety and getting your name out there,” said Marc Bouwer, who has designed multiple video ensembles for Toni Braxton and Shania Twain. Those artists have very different images, which helps prevent the designer from being pigeonholed by either the association to Braxton’s R&B look or Twain’s Top 40-crossover-country style. He’s also been inspired by the video looks, like Braxton’s red dress from “Spanish Guitar,” which ended up in a subsequent runway collection, and Twain’s long black tuxedo coat from “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” which Bouwer reinterpreted in two later shows “because I loved it so much.”
“I want to be associated with people in rock ’n’ roll, and if that scares a customer away, then that’s not the kind of person I want to dress,” Bouwer said. “There’s something about rock — it’s a more youthful way of dressing. That’s why it’s so popular.”
Tommy Hilfiger, who continues to increase his involvement in the music industry each year and is the sponsor for this summer’s concerts (Santana, Moby, Barry Manilow, et al.) at Jones Beach Theater, a venue on the shores of Long Island, has also studied the influence of musicians on fashion with his sponsorship of the Rolling Stones’ “No Security” tour and “Tommy Hilfiger Presents Lenny Kravitz: The Freedom Tour,” as well as his contributions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Rock Style” exhibit in 1999 and a related catalog, making him more aware of the musical aspects of his own collection.
“Over the years, if you look at Prince, you’ll see a lot of paisleys [and that has influenced my collection],” Hilfiger said. “Also, color has always been influenced by what I’ve seen on stage. Look at motorcycle jackets, leather jeans and vests, all sorts of rugged cool streetwear of the Seventies. A lot of fashion designers don’t admit that musicians influence them. They want people to believe that they are the ones creating the style, but in reality, fashion designers look toward musicians more than or equal to any other source because there’s so much creativity there.”
Versace similarly thrives on the music connection: “I love giving a singer clothes and seeing how she or he interprets them, how they personalize a look by ripping a white T-shirt, for example,” she said. “When rock stars ask me to dress them, just by listening to a song, I imagine what they should be wearing.”
But glamming up rock stars, despite the obvious publicity benefits, might not be as effective or lucrative as targeting actors and actresses, some designers challenged.
“Don’t flatter them too much, because suddenly they might want something else,” sniffed Karl Lagerfeld, who considers music more of an “attitude influence than a fashion influence.” And in his estimation, there are few artists exerting strong style today.
“Even Madonna’s not giving strong looks these days,” he said. “The men are doing better. Mick Jagger and all those people are wearing Hedi Slimane [for Christian Dior]. It’s the influence of those tight jackets. It looks good on David Bowie, too.”
What musicians wear isn’t as loudly promoted or obvious as what actors wear — witness the lack of fashion credits in music videos. Plus, musicians can change their image even more often than actors, meaning they can also switch designers more often. Madonna, for instance, has wavered wildly between Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Olivier Theyskens and Jean Paul Gaultier from year to year, creating a label confusion that can often only be sorted out by her most avid fans (and, presumably, her stylists). And Eric Clapton helped fuel the long-running Versace-Armani feud when he switched allegiances in 1992, leading the late Gianni Versace to then describe the guitarist’s Armani look thusly: “He now looks like an accountant.”
There are also embarrassing moments when musicians, who often aren’t as sartorially savvy as their Hollywood counterparts (or, at least, the actors’ stylists), have made serious fashion faux pas. Celine Dion really goofed up her white reverse Dior tuxedo at the 1999 Academy Awards with a tragic pair of rhinestone sunglasses, and now she’s irking the folks at Céline in Paris with her plans to launch a signature fragrance. The Destiny’s Child trio also upset a lot of designers a couple of years ago when they shopped the designer lines for concert and appearance wardrobes and then, some designers alleged, credited lead singer Beyoncé’s mom, Tina Knowles, with creating their looks.
Let’s not even discuss “Glitter.”
Considering the amount of energy and resources that go into dressing the often divalike performers, some designers have questioned whether the sometimes nominal impact on their businesses and brand awareness has been worth the expended effort, let alone the cost of a dress. It takes a more integrated approach to dressing rockers exclusively or featuring them in an advertising campaign to translate the association between a designer and singer from a subliminal message to a specific connection.
“Does it affect what sells?” asks J. Lindeberg designer Johan Lindeberg, who has outfitted Mary J. Blige, Lenny Kravitz, Maxwell and Mick Jagger. “Not really. Maybe when it comes to belts, but we haven’t dressed anyone as big as Madonna. She can create a specific movement for product or brands. If you put something on Lenny Kravitz, yes, it’s great, but it has to be his whole look, and you need someone to be able to tell people it’s actually your product or belts.”
Calvin Klein’s images of Marky Mark, on the other hand, helped establish the designer’s underwear business as the leading men’s brand for much of the Nineties, and that success led him to branch out beyond models for his CK Jeans collection with infamous results. In 1999, when he replaced supermodels with names like Foxy Brown, Liz Phair, Ja Rule, Macy Gray, Shirley Manson of Garbage and actress Julia Stiles, he said, “I don’t think people are that interested in models anymore.” While his selections seemed prescient, considering the current success of virtually every face pictured in his ads that year, the campaign yielded less-than-remarkable results, and he went back to using models the next year.
Those images didn’t make the same impact as the Marky Mark ads on the general public, either, considering the variety of labels they have gone on to promote. That’s an issue with the music industry’s top prize,?Madonna, too. While Gaultier’s conical bra for Madonna’s “Blonde Ambition” tour goes down as one of the most famous rock and fashion moments of the decade, she is equally associated with Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, the latter who designed their spring 2001 collection with her image on sequined T-shirts. Madonna-esque looks were everywhere that season — pointy bras at Gucci and S&M themes at Helmut Lang — confusing even the Material Girl herself: “It’s very strange to see the style I wore in the Eighties being worn by incredibly glamorous women on the runway,” Madonna told WWD in October 2000.
But the visibility factor for designers still has its big plusses, even if it’s just a personally delivered plaudit from a celeb or a jolt of creative stimulation.
“It’s obviously very important because the result is a high visibility for the clothes,” said Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce, who added that Madonna was the first big star they have dressed. “But it is, above all, a great joy and satisfaction to see one’s creativity recognized by true contemporary icons.”
Gaultier also continues to be inspired by Madonna. “She is a real source of inspiration, through her determination, her concentration and her efficiency,” he said, although now he’s turned to a different M for ideas — Marilyn Manson — as evidenced by the red-rimmed eyes and stringy hair of the male models in his recent Paris runway show. “I would love to dress him, but he doesn’t need anyone,” Gaultier said. “He is a living work of art. He creates fashion. He is fashion with his perpetual transformations.”
Gaultier has a point, anyway, in that as musicians have become more aware of their image and what their endorsement of a brand can do for a designer, they’ve become more interested in breaking into the fashion game themselves.
The celebrities-with-clothing-lines phenomenon seemed to explode when Combs launched his Sean John line to mirror his own personal lifestyle, creating one of the most successful and visible men’s wear launches in recent memory, developing a $100 million business in three years. Countless other singers have been inspired to try their hand at apparel, including his former girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, although her J.Lo women’s launch has not yet performed as well at retail.
Russell Simmons, founder of Phat Fashions, Rush Communications and Def Jam Records, said celebrities began to express interest in launching clothing lines when stations like MTV, VH1 and BET hit television screens.
“It used to be that we couldn’t see rock ’n’ rollers because you only heard them on the radio,” Simmons said. “Now, with MTV, we can see what they are wearing, and we can see that it represents the lifestyles they live. The music is a reflection of them, and the clothes are a reflection of them.”
Snoop Dog, Jermaine Dupri, Nelly and Jay-Z (who runs Rocawear with partner Damon Dash) have all launched men’s lines, while Outkast, whose men’s clothing line launched last year, is planning to launch a women’s collection sometime in mid-2003, and Carlos Santana will launch a young men’s line, following in the footsteps of the Jerry Garcia necktie — still on sale at Macy’s. Also this year, rapper Eve will collaborate with Iceberg Jeans to introduce her first line of women’s wear, called Fetish. Eve stressed that the line will reflect her “ghetto fabulous” lifestyle. Soon to join the crossover crowd is No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani, who will launch a collection for fall 2003.
With so many singers getting into the fashion business, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been some backlash among the style set toward clients who’ve become competition, but the industry has welcomed them. Many insiders even came to Combs’ defense this year when the rap mogul declared that his nomination for a Council of Fashion Designers of America Award indicated he is now considered “one of the top five designers in the world.”
Marc Jacobs, who beat Combs out in the category of men’s wear but said, tongue-in-cheek, that he thinks Puffy is the greatest designer ever, has pointed to constant musical influences on his designs, from Iggy Pop and Courtney Love to the Rolling Stones and present-day artists Eminem and Missy Elliott. “I’m also intrigued by looks that I don’t even like,” he said. “For example, country and western is a type of music I’m not really into, but I think it’s interesting when music and fashion work together. Country and western looks so much like it sounds. It’s like Kurt Cobain. He looked exactly like his music.”
Givenchy designer Julien Macdonald, whose clothes have been featured in Janet Jackson’s “Go Deep” video, put a finer point on why designers are still interested.
“All young fashion designers dream of Missy Elliott and her ghetto-fabulous fashions,” Macdonald said. “This is where it all starts from: You think of the rock stars and the pop stars. Every customer wants to be them. Nobody wants to be just a customer. They want to be like their icon.”