From her punk beginnings in The Runaways to her ongoing hard-rock career with her band, the Blackhearts, Joan Jett has always embraced pure rocker chic.

If anyone embodies rock ’n’ roll style it’s Joan Jett. From her barely legal start in the legendary Runaways to an ongoing solo career with her band, the Blackhearts, the guitar-wielding, hard-singing Jett continues to inspire musicians and the fashion brigade alike.

As a teen, she picked up a leather belt trimmed in heavy-duty rings at a fetish shop, gave it to Sid Vicious, and a punk staple was forever after imitated. In the Eighties, Jett mugged in Claude Montana leathers for an album cover, and stepped onto a Washington, D.C., Independence Day stage poured into a red, white and blue Norma Kamali jumpsuit. In the Nineties, she wore custom looks by Todd Oldham. And designer Cynthia Steffe based her spring 2002 collection on Jett, and even convinced the rocker to take the runway — in a dress.

WWD: Where did your rock sensibility initially come from?

Joan Jett: I was 15 in the Runaways and going to a club in Hollywood, Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, that played Bowie, Sweet, T-Rex, New York Dolls. [The club also attracted those artists.] The style was the whole glam thing. I was also influenced by what I saw in Circus and Creem magazines. We were starved for anything that was different.

WWD: Where did you shop?

JJ: Before the Runaways, I lived in the Valley, so most of it was homemade — I glittered T-shirts. I didn’t shop much in Hollywood. Maybe I got my boots there. I remember going to school in platform boots, bell bottoms — a sort of glam rock vibe. I remember they’d howl, “Ooh, Diamond Dog.” At fetish shops like the Pleasure Chest [in West Hollywood], I’d get really basic stuff — T-shirts with weird things on them, belts. When I was on the road in the Runaways, I was going overseas and seeing the heavy-duty punk scene in the height of the Sex Pistols and The ClashWWD: Why are black and leather such signatures of rock ’n’ roll?

JJ: Go back to the Fifties — to Elvis and “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando. There’s something sensual, something sexy about leather. A little tough, too. Black doesn’t distract. It forces you to look into the face and the eyes [of the performer]. If you’re wearing colors it takes away from the actual being.

WWD: Your brunette shag was such a hallmark. Why did you cut it off seven years ago?

JJ: I was ready. But seeing Nikki Sixx [of Mötley Crüe] was the catalyst. It made me realize I’d become a parody of myself. It wasn’t mine anymore. It took me a while to find what worked. I cut my hair into a bob, which I hated. Slowly, it got shorter and shorter. I decided to color it, so it was bleached out and I just liked it that way. To mark the millennium in 1999, I shaved it bald. I just wanted to mark that transition, take stock of how I changed. It was very defining. Boy, I’ll tell you how women are completely tied to their hair. People really hated me bald. On my Web site the message board went crazy. I thought they liked me because of the music.

WWD: What do you think of rock style now?

JJ: You used to be able to define the kind of music a band or artist did by what they look like. Now you can’t really tell, because of that stylized element. They walk into a photo shoot and somebody brought a rack of “rock” clothes. I’m not saying it’s bad or good. It’s just confusing. You certainly can’t judge an artist by his cover anymore.

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