Ch-ch-changes

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Ch-ch-changes
David Bowie in New York, 1980.

Ch-ch-changes

If Madonna can be called the queen of reinvention, it’s only fair to acknowledge its king, whose own chameleonic maneuvers preceded Her Madgesty’s by at least a decade. In 1969 David Bowie rocketed to stardom in space-age garb, only to re-emerge two years later as the androgynously glam Ziggy Stardust. By 1975 he had adopted a more butch persona to coincide with his album Young Americans. “I’m quite fickle when it comes to dressing,” he admitted to W in 1976, “so I guess it does seem that I’m always changing collar styles and haircuts midsentence.”

Surprisingly, given his onstage exhibitionism, Bowie has always possessed a certain shy wariness, a trait shared by few of today’s pop stars. “I’m ever so slow in forming human relationships,” he told W. “You always have to beware of people who are suddenly thrown into the limelight through no talent of their own. They develop this ghastly drive to cuddle with stars and artists, and therefore reflect rather than generate light. It’s also rather hard to avoid people who approach you at just the right photo-second at a party—the result being that you look like you spent the whole night together.” He went on to rave about the back of his Lincoln Continental, which he called his “retreat from the seen-scene,” adding, “It’s got a TV, pictures and plants…the only thing really missing is a cat to keep me company.”

By the late Eighties, Bowie adopted the dapper-with-an-edge style he’s still known for, wearing slim suits by Thom Browne and Valentino. The satire in his 1991 remark to Women’s Wear Daily, W’s sister publication, that he wore a double-breasted gray suit to a soirée at Gianni Versace’s Milan casa because “I couldn’t find a clean T-shirt,” alluded to an under- lying truth: For Bowie, fashion imparted confidence. As he said to W in 1976 of his youthful experimentation with outré style, “The early shock tactics can be best described as a fireball or flare…that would give me the energy to eventually go it alone.”

  • Photo from the Fairchild Archive.