Icons / January 2016

DAVID BOWIE: A LIFE IN STYLE

The Rake remembers iconoclastic musical genius and style shapeshifter David Bowie.

I recently wrote a rather mean-spirited op-ed for this site arguing that various figures from the arts might've been better placed (at least, insofar as the state of their legacies went) to have more hastily shuffled off this mortal coil. Though inarguably his creative output the last couple decades wasn't of nearly the same caliber as his seminal 1970s and '80s work, one name that never came close to consideration for that piece was David Bowie, who sadly departed this earth Sunday, 10th January 2016. The man was an absolute legend, right 'til the all-too-early end.

For Bowie, image was as important a part of the 'product' as his genius compositions. Since style is core to The Rake's editorial remit, in remembering Bowie here, we'll leave deep examination of his musical canon to the likes of Rolling Stone and NME, and instead focus upon the artist's fabulous, enormously influential and constantly evolving aesthetic - his creation, through costume, characters and alter-egos almost as memorable as his greatest hits. Though theatrical razzle-dazzle and a strong look mean nothing without an underlying talent to back the artifice up, Bowie provided a sterling embodiment of the adage 'clothes maketh man.'

Kicking off his musical career with a debut single in 1964, Bowie sported a neat quiff and skinny-tie-and-lapel look, which had morphed into full-blown Faces-esque Mod style by 1965 (when he ditched his birth name David Jones, thanks to the Monkee of the same name having risen to fame). A period of longhaired, floral-clad androgyny accompanied the release of his self-titled debut LP in 1967, before in 1969 the breakthrough Space Oddity album saw a glitzier, lamé-heavy sci-fi persona revealed.

Conceptualising the character while touring in support of his subsequent two albums, The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory, in 1972 Bowie built an album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, around the persona of a sexually liquid fictional rockstar - part man, part god, part extraterrestrial, all glam.

Appropriately enough, Bowie drew the name Ziggy from a tailor's shop he'd happened to pass. 'I thought, well, this whole thing is gonna be about clothes, so it was my own little joke calling him Ziggy,' he explained in a 1990 interview, emphasising the importance of costume to the effort.

'Our new stage act will be outrageous, but theatrical,' Bowie told press before launching Ziggy onto an unsuspecting public. 'It's going to be costumed and choreographed, quite different to anything anyone else has tried to do before.'

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Christian Barker

Christian Barker is The Rake's Asia editor-at-large, a frequent contributor to this site, and an enthusiastic consumer of fine whiskies, sashimi and classic disco music - ideally in unison.