Mick Jagger's inimitable style, feathers and all - Culture - International Herald Tribune
By Guy Trebay
Published: Friday, November 24, 2006
ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — In an era of music careers created in the democratic nowhere of MySpace, where the members of hot bands dress as if they were office temps, the days of the rock show as spectacle and the rock star as circus star are unquestionably numbered.
Yet arena rock, at least, still has a certifiable god in Mick Jagger. And, as the Rolling Stones blew through this honky-tonk beachfront city last week on the last leg of its Bigger Bang tour, Jagger gave a performance that was a master class in the genre.
As lithe as a boy, Jagger seems to defy age. At least he does below the waist. Grooved and sunken, his weather-beaten face betrays every second of his 63 years, and this makes it all the more startling when he prances and postures like some curious and gorgeous superannuated Pan.
It is Jagger's persona that a Stones show is built upon, and Jagger who inspires fans to travel great distances and blow the rent money on tickets.
The music draws them, too, of course, but there are few sights in entertainment as compelling as Jagger's almost vaudevillian brio, his eccentric presentation and his achingly singular style.
"Mick Jagger has been living on the style edge since 1966," said Joe Levy, executive editor of Rolling Stone magazine. "The edge keeps moving, and so does he."
Even a cursory trip through the archives of fashion makes clear that whenever designers as unalike as Roberto Cavalli and Tommy Hilfiger invoked some emblematic rock star, or rocker "icon," or rocker "rebel," Jagger was the point of reference.
Bowie was stylish. Bryan Ferry looked good in a suit. But it was Jagger who preened himself in a Mephistopheles cloak at Altamont; wore Ossie Clark jumpsuits split to the navel; and who appeared in a flounced neo-classical Grecian-style jacket to read Shelley at a concert after Brian Jones's death.
It was Jagger who flaunted billowing trousers designed by Giorgio Sant'Angelo, "mad things, beautiful things," as Tony King, Jagger's media coordinator for four decades, said last week. "From the start, the Stones had kind of their own look," King explained. "They were very much not the Beatles, four guys wearing the same suits."
In truth, the Stones dressed identically in their very earliest incarnation, wearing the matching suits that were the boy-band uniform of the British Invasion.
"It was in 1969, when the Stones made 'Gimme Shelter,' when all of a sudden there became a need to have a look for a tour," King said. It was also about that time when Jagger and his bandmates began affecting eyeliner and the dangling earrings that would eventually provide Johnny Depp with the visual cues for the character Jack Sparrow, his "Pirates of the Caribbean" homage to Keith Richards-as-dandy.
Even as far back as 1975, when Karen Durbin wrote a Village Voice cover article about the Rolling Stones, she was not alone in pointing out the gender games Jagger was already playing through clothes. "He was very, very androgynous," said Durbin, now a film critic for Elle magazine, and so avid a fan she claims to have seen the Stones 22 times. "But he was also simultaneously a little scary, a little hard and indisputably masculine."
Jagger's onstage dualities were not accidental, said Durbin. "It was all deliberate."
Nowadays, of course, gender blur is a karaoke setting in the music business. And while groups as unalike as the Libertines, say, or the Scissor Sisters, or the Strokes continue to pay homage to the rock star as dandified satyr, the much greater shift in the business is away from Rolling Stones-style theatricality and toward something more neutral, amateurish and anonymous.
"We would never get all costumed up," Mitch DeRosier, a musician with the indie band Born Ruffians, said by phone last week from Portland, Oregon, where the group was on tour with Hot Chip.
As an expression of style, grunge has been quoted so liberally by now that it rates a mile marker on the timeline of fashion. Yet compared with the look lately favored by young bands, grunge has come to seem almost baroque.
And as that has happened, so has Jagger's form of personal display been refined to the extent that he is like an essence of rock star: skinny jeans and cropped jackets by the Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière; tight glittering T-shirts by the Dior designer Hedi Slimane.
"In mainstream rock, you no longer see guys willing to take these fashion risks," said Dan Peres, the editor of Details, a magazine whose editorial mission basically descends from Jagger's robust sartorial and social experiments. "In this day and age, where if you have a great MySpace page you can go further than acts with labels promoting them and sell tons of albums without even having a label," said Peres, "no one wants to make a style statement that would alienate anyone."
No one wants to go onstage, as Jagger did each time the band played "Sympathy for the Devil" on the Bigger Bang tour in a coat and matching fedora designed by Miuccia Prada and made entirely of feathers, perhaps because no one without his history could wear a coat of cock feathers and not seem like a joke.
"Very early on we did the same thing" young bands are now doing, Jagger said in an interview this week. "We wore clothes very similar to what we wore offstage because we didn't have any money and that was the look." It wasn't until the end of the '60s, when the Rolling Stones were playing 50,000-seat arenas, that the band began, he said, to wear more "eye-catching" stuff.
"If I was starting out now, I would dress down but still hope to have some distinctive way of dressing down," he said.
"It doesn't matter if you're starting out or you're doing it for years," Jagger said. "There's no point in having a huge dress-up if you're playing a 500-seat club. And if you're playing for 50,000 people, there's no point in wearing rags."