…she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl. Having recently visited the ‘David Bowie is…’ exhibition at the V&A, my love and appreciation for Bowie has grown even stronger. Throughout his illustrious, marvellous, ground-breaking, glorious (insert superfluous superlatives here) career, he tirelessly thrusted gender identity and sexuality into the mainstream. Swinging the sixties may have been, but Bowie gyrated on through the seventies, a dream in neoprene.
Bowie’s career really took off in 1972 when he stepped out in make-up as Ziggy Stardust in whirl of glitter, strutting platforms and fluttering eyelashes. Bowie himself married a woman, then came out as gay, then bi-sexual, divorced his wife, then subsequently stated in an interview that he’d always been ‘a closet hetero-sexual’ and went on to marry a woman again…a neon-hued, polysexual chameleon in warm leatherette. Ziggy Stardust is not entirely male or female, or straight or gay. What Ziggy stands for is the instability of gender categories and our suppressed desires to cross the boundaries.
I particularly enjoy the ending when Bowie appears in drag as his three backing singers. German drag artist Romy Haag inspired his rubbing-the-lipstick-off gesture: it was a classic finale move by drag queens. Plus the rebellion of peeling off the wig and destroying makeup that had taken hours to apply.
Bowie on Boys Keep Swinging: “I do not feel that there is anything remotely glorious about being either male or female. I was merely playing on the idea of the colonization of gender.”
The ideas of androgyny and the blurring of gender categories have come out throughout his career and are being played upon in his latest video. The video features the androgynous models Saskia de Brauw (female), playing a man and Andrej Pejic (male) as a woman. This casual jumbling of gender and sexual identity is becoming commonplace within the fashion world, with the model Casey Legler recently becoming the first female to be signed to the men’s division of Ford Models.
Which brings me on to how fresh perceptions of what is masculine or feminine are transforming the fashion world. The pre fall collections this year seem to be dominated by the idea of unisex; with oversized coats and blazers, double breasted jackets and trouser suits. Hedi Silmane at Saint Laurent went so far as not to alter the cut of their jackets from menswear to womenswear. But the most radical designer of the moment is Johnathon Anderson, whose men’s collection bore many similarities to the women’s, with very masculine looking male models in strapless tops and short ruffled shorts. Conversely using patterns drafted for women for the shorts.
When the traditional gender barriers of fashion are crossed there is the potential to ooze sexuality in a completely unparalleled way. David Bowie, along with others such as Boy George, Annie Lennox and Grace Jones have empowered people to break through the socially imposed barriers and inspire people to freely choose to be whoever they want to be. David Bowie says: ‘Be who you are and, by the way, you can be whoever you want to be.’
I thought I’d have a go at being a boy…