Thursday, November 17, 2011

Musical Fashion Icon – Gwen Stefani


Gwen Stefani’s influence on POP showWOMANship is underrated. She West-Coastified Madonna’s looks and sprinkled in some fairy dust, creating an image that was simultaneously sexy, cute, and cartoonish. She’s mixed sporty pieces, like cargo pants and sneakers, with more formal touches, like retrofied hair. Some might say that Gwen simply copied Madonna, but those people must realize that every fashion icon has been inspired by her/his glamcestors; Nicki Minaj borrows from Lady GaGa and Lil Kim, who have both been inspired by Madonna, Grace Jones, Annie Lennox, etc.  Madonna looked to David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe for inspiration, and Marilyn grew up admiring pictures of her idol, Jean Harlow.  I could go back even farther, unfolding Harlow’s inspirations.  There has been no evidence of carbon copying.  Every old touch has been accompanied by something fresh.  You might see the cone bra designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier and worn by Madonna on somebody else, but with modern modifications, including guns (Lady GaGa) or whipped cream cans (Katy Perry) tied to the bosom.  Everything is derived from something that came before, but with a bit of a modern twist; it’s an evolution, not a revolution.  Society takes steps forward, while keeping the past in the back of its brain.

Over the past few years, recent POP stars have taken inspiration from Princess Gwen, and it’s coming to a peak.  When Katy Perry launched onto the scene (a few months before anyone had heard of GaGa), many thought of her as a freshened up Madonna, playing with sexuality using 1940s hair and red lipstick.  What they didn't realize was that Gwen, not Madonna, was actually at the center of Katy’s image.  Ms. Perry has idolized the No Doubt front woman for years, loving her from the Don’t Speak days.  Katy has openly stated her admiration for Ms. Stefani’s combination of toughness and old-world glam.  Moreover, Katy even said that when she first arrived in Los Angeles, she met two POP stars, one of which was Gwen.  While the other (who went unnamed) was horribly rude, Gwen was especially kind and warm-hearted to Katy, who was, at that point, a struggling singer.

Even today, while promoting her perfume, Katy talks about how she looked to Gwen’s Harajuku Lovers’ bottle and overall product-line as a guide for her own.  (Note: the one thing that bothers me about Gwen is how she commodified harajuku girls for her solo music, stage show, and products. I find this to be cultural objectification, no matter how cute and pretty it is, and it’s really cute and pretty.)  When Katy first appeared in full-form, ready to sing I Kissed A Girl, she sported a style quite like Gwen’s in the late ’80 & early ‘90s, before No Doubt was signed to Interscope.  One of Ms. Perry’s 2008 outfits is reminiscent of one worn by Gwen when No Doubt performed at The Roxy in Los Angeles in 1989.  Gwen sported a tank top (which was to become one of her signature pieces) with a bright pink belt, poofy see-through skirt covering leggings decorated with red hearts and polka dots, knee-high socks with orange bows, and a bow in her hair. In the picture, Gwen can be seen with the red lips that nowadays, she’s rarely without.  Katy also has red lips and a bow in her hair, accompanied by a dress with a poofy skirt covered in grey and red sparkly polka dots. Notice that Katy’s hair has the retro curls that became a Stefani classic in the mid-90s through the noughties (my favorite decade name).  

Later, while shooting her California Gurls video, Katy infused the cotton candy Alice in Wonderland vibe previously used by Gwen in her What You Waiting For? video.  Recently, Katy’s been sporting some GORGEOUS pink locks. Who was the first to do that? Oh yeah, Gwen, circa 1999/2000. When I look at the beautiful photo of Katy with pink hair (shown below), I get the feeling she’s pretending to be her favorite superstar as she stares off into the distance.

While promoting their most recent albums, Katy and her best POP gal pal, Rihanna, both wore colorful latex dresses, originally donned by Gwen in the mid-90s. If you look below, you'll notice Gwen’s is a tad looser, but shines brightly in an eye-POPping red. In the S&M video, Rihanna’s is pink with a bright orange bow, a standard Stefani accessory.  Katy accompanies her latex with with a colorful rainbow ring and bracelet, which is quite like the one worn by Gwen.

I love that Gwen's image is totally playful. So many artists, including Bowie, Madonna, and GaGa, have attached a sort of symbolism to their aesthetics, which I think is fantastic, powerful, and super effective, but it’s also nice to see someone playing with image just because it’s FUN!  Gwen tries out different styles without hinting at some deeper meaning. This mindset is finally returning to POP.  Last week, Ryan Seacrest interviewed Rihanna, asking the POP Princess what her look is for the upcoming album, Talk That Talk. RiRi responded by saying that, for the first time, she isn’t making a look the central part of her record.  This time, she’s stripping it all back, letting the music speak for itself.  That's not to say that Rihanna hasn’t been exhibiting some fabulous fashion lately, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that it's so evocative of Gwen because there’s no rhyme or reason to it.  It's not meant to represent A Good Girl Gone Bad, a vulnerable woman scorned who’s taking things to a Rated R level, or a party gal ready to get LOUD with her bright red hair.  I adored all of those looks, but I like this one best because Rihanna’s simply having fun with it, throwing caution to the wind and trying on anything and everything that suits her whimsy, something Gwen has become famous for.

In the We Found Love video (one of RiRi’s BEST), the Bajan beauty wears a denim bra-like top and poofy skirt, along with platform sneakers and garters. The whole ensemble reminds me of Gwen’s outfit at the 1998 VMAs, where she wore a blue bra-esque top and a poofy velvet-like skirt over shiny pants with platform flip-flops. Gwen’s influence may not be noticed immediately when viewing Rihanna’s look, but it is definitely there, in the shape of the skirt, the red lips, the casual (but actually took-hours-to-do) hairstyle, the bracelets, and the overall combination of materials, textures, and colors. I don’t love Gwen’s outfit as much as RiRi’s (from the Jeremy Scott Spring/Summer 2012 collection), but I can’t help but admire how experimental and ahead of her time Gwen was.  The creative designers who dress POP's reigning Princesses reference Gwen quite a bit, including Jeremy Scott, Henry Holland, Jean Charles de Castelbajac, and Ashish, among others.

Even the indie gals are stylistically inspired by Gwen (which actually makes sense, considering No Doubt wasn’t a record label concoction, but rather a band that pulled itself up by its bootstraps, touring California in order to develop a following and make a name for itself)!  Similarly, a record label never concocted Gwen’s style.  On the contrary, it was, and continues to be, an entirely organic creation.  Therefore, it’s only logical that females in music who are in control of their own images find themselves following in Gwen’s fashionable footsteps.  I’ve already mentioned how much Rihanna’s new style choices are reminiscent of Gwen.  This is once again evident in her upcoming album's back sleeve pic.  Rihanna dons red lips, loopy curls, a red and white striped bra top, and a black and white striped skirt with black leather Doc Marten boots - she looks like Where's Waldo Gone Vixen, which can only be a good thing. Rihanna's getup reminds me of an outfit worn by Gwen in 1989 featuring a black and white striped bra top, cartoon-like print skirt, red lips and shiny red nails. Indie soul queen, Florence Welch, was photographed at a music festival wearing a short black and white print tank covering a dress with a black skirt featuring white stripes.  Florence’s outfit definitely possesses that same laid-back feel of Gwen’s 21 years prior.

Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds has an obsession with Americana, evident in her Hollywood video, but Gwen hasn’t been shy with her patriotism, either, wearing an American flag shirt on the cover of Nylon Magazine and a mini-white tank with blue and red stripes in No Doubt’s Just a Girl video.  Marina has confessed to seeing herself as a modern-day version of '90s Gwen Stefani, using multiple elements, some more sporty and others more carefree and fun, when putting together her many eclectic looks.  She loves utilizing an array of cartoonish visuals, including flee-market varsity jackets and mickey-mouse prints, and combining them with classic components, like Mad Men hair and red lips.  Sounds like a synthesis of Stefani proportions to me!

While I’ve never been a huge No Doubt fan, and have only liked a select few songs from Gwen’s solo albums, I've always admired her for the glamazon that she is. I remember eating lunch with my sister and my friend, Stacey, at Balthazar in Soho one day. Gwen Stefani walked right by our table on her way to the bathroom. I never thought I was the starstruck type, but let me tell you, I was flabbergasted.  I screamed, “OH MY GOD, LOOK, IT’S GWEN STEFANI,” while flapping my wrists so vigorously that Stacey thought I was about to fly away.  Do I care that I looked like a complete dork?  Just a little, but let me tell you, Gwen was totally gorgeous.  She was a bit more casual, out to lunch with her hubby, sons, and their babysitter, but she still looked amazing.  Her platinum blonde hair was tied into a pretty little pony tail.  Her lips were the perfect shade of crimson and she was wearing leather sandals, a white tank, and a black leather jacket, all topped by a hat that perfectly matched her army green cargo pants.  Here’s a picture of her leaving the restaurant that very day, flawless, as always.  Did I mention that I saw four paparazzi sitting outside on the bench waiting for her to leave?  It was quite an exciting day.  While looking for a tabloid shot when I came home, I read that Gwen and one of her sons had gone to the nail salon that same day, where she let him get his nails done.  He's just as fabulously fashionable as his mommy.  She seems like the coolest, most progressive, open-minded and loving parent (and rock star, obvi).

Go Gwen! You are our fashion icon!




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