Home/ Mint-lounge / Features/  And Ziggy became stardust

Bombay, 1974. It was a year after David Bowie’s album Aladdin Sane had wedged itself into the hearts of many a lover of English music. I was tagging along with older cousins who were shopping in Colaba. For a six-year-old visiting from a small town in Kutch, Colaba was the microcosm of “Bombay", the idea of which bled from furtive conversations among grown-ups. Forward. Famous. Filmi. My cousins stopped to buy English music at a store. “English music" was clearly some fantastic phenomenon we had to be in awe of, I deduced from the chatter. My eyes then fell on the cover of the Aladdin Sane record: orange-red hair, burgundy lipstick, face freakily streaked with paint. Is this a man or woman? I asked. Nobody indulged me with a response.

The album cover had the conspiratorial thrill of an unusual toy and the intrigue of an adult poster. I even knew about Aladdin and his genie, only he looked very different here; the image stuck in my head.

New Delhi, 2012. Since 2001, there had been many professional reasons to discover David Bowie’s influence on international fashion. The “chameleonic" urgency of his appearances, his obsession with reinvention, the fast and fleeting boisterousness of his fashion, the monochromatic look from Thin White Duke (his persona from the 1976 album Station To Station) that had been reapplied to menswear a dozen times over. Most of all, the styling copyright Bowie appropriated for the zig-zag patterned jumpsuit by Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto ever since he wore it for his Ziggy Stardust music tours in the late 1960s. It was the first among Bowie’s many unorthodox personas. But it was while looking at Jean Paul Gaultier’s ready-to-wear collection, Rockstars, for Spring/Summer 2013—with models in red mullets and asymmetric star-spangled jumpsuits, a re-imagination of Bowie’s style—that the childhood memory of “English musicwala Aladdin" from the Bombay of 1974 sent a crackle under my skin.

It is now 2016. Last week, Bowie’s impact on fashion androgyny, the spiking popularity of gender-fluid dressing, became obvious again in Louis Vuitton’s new advertising campaign featuring the 17-year-old male stylista Jaden Smith in womenswear. It inflamed again what I call the fabulous principle of style disobedience. That is what makes fashion both ephemeral and lasting. The principle originally authored by Bowie.

David Bowie, singer, songwriter, record maker, actor with a magpie sensibility, the single biggest pop star to leave his lightning bolt mark on dandyism in the last four decades, is dead. Long live style disobedience.

Some looks from Gucci’s Spring 2016 collection for men by creative director Alessandro Michele resonate with the Bowie impact. Several fashion collections have been inspired by Bowie—Jean Paul Gaultier, Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Alexander McQueen Resort, Chloé, Miu Miu, Dries Van Noten menswear, Balmain, Dior Couture and Emilio Pucci Resort, to name some.

But what do they all mean separately and collectively? What does fantastic even mean here?

That’s why fashion enthusiasts like me, who breathe and brood in India, which has a completely different set of cultural impulses from Bowie’s postmodern pop, where our fashion has never been visibly touched by his impact, must ask what about the music legend got so many of us hooked. Did his visual language straddle cultures?

Or, as he wrote in his song Fashion for the album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Listen to me—don’t listen to me/Talk to me—don’t talk to me/Dance with me—don’t dance with me.

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Updated: 15 Jan 2016, 10:42 PM IST
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