Beyoncé doesn’t just release an album; it triggers a vision. Sometimes it happens, as it did quite revolutionary with 2017 Lemonade, as a visual album, in which the music is fully understood through a rich accompanying film. Last week, in the days before she fell Rebirth, her first solo studio album since, she released a series of images on her website: on a red velvet sofa with brown liquor in a stone tumbler, with metal spears sticking out of a fitted black minidress to form a bathed bustier. ; sitting in the middle of an empty dance floor in a lush silver chiton dress, one arm flung in the air and the other covering her chest; floating in an altar room in a lime green lace gown with a face mask and a thick lime Mongolian skin trumpet sheath. The images are a nightclub fantasy that evokes the feeling of decadent escapist liberation, dressing up to dance the night away. They set the tone for her sound and set us up for house-inspired savagery as a visual primer for her knowledge-hungry acolytes.
What’s even more impressive about these images is the lack of recognizable design pieces. Many of the names are familiar: the lime green lace dress is by Alaïa, redone in an acidic shade of runway orange. A short red ribbed jacket, which she wears perched next to an old-fashioned “On Air” sign, is Dolce & Gabbana. There are several shiny peekaboo bodysuits (a signature of Beyoncé), two of which she wears while riding a horse; both are by relatively unknown designers, Gianni Naazar and Nusi Quero. A cone bra she wears on a set of red stairs looks like a Jean Paul Gaultier confection – a throwback to Madonna’s days as a pioneer of mass provocation – but in fact, it’s actually a look from the Schiaparelli couture collection. of spring 2022 by Daniel Roseberry. They are not pieces that represent the obsessions of each designer, or the priorities of their brands. They represent, instead, Beyoncé’s vision for herself. They are her ultimate expression of pure style.
Over the past decade, musicians have become major players in the fashion industry, aligning themselves, sometimes officially and sometimes less, with brands. Influencers can still guide purchases, but musicians shape global taste and have been the bridge between what happens on the runway and young people, who now fervently discuss clothes and brands on social media. In particular, musicians are drawn to grails, whether it’s a jacket from the historic Supreme and Louis Vuitton collaboration, a Versace bag, or a great Saint Laurent dress. Florence Welch, Lizzo and Billie Eilish are a big part of why we know Gucci’s geek-chic aesthetic. Even more transformative was Rihanna’s style, which introduced us to the allure of vintage Chanel, the tulle charms of Molly Goddard, the cool weirdness of Glenn Martens’ Y/Project and the couture genius of Guo Pei. She changed the way young women dress: remember when it seemed crazy for you to wear a tutu dress to Starbucks? Now, overdressing is Zoomer’s way of life. But even if you don’t have Rihanna’s passion, an obsessive relationship with fashion, with a playful and intuitive understanding of the latest items, brands and trends, has been a platform for many young musicians to showcase their cultural cache.
Beyoncé sometimes wears these pieces, but in her official imagery, she resists such connoisseurism. Maybe that’s why her visuals are so unique, so indelible. Days later, I’m still thinking of her in that red puffer, looking into the camera lens with that “On Air” sign lit. She has literally red-hot news: new music, bitch! The images look timeless, even when there are clear historical references, as in his latest batch of photos, with their disco-era Vaseline glow, dense with Antonio Lopez’s realism. What differentiates her approach to clothing is that she chooses pieces that fulfill her identity, her sense of what she wants to be, embody and feel, rather than what she identifies as interesting or of the moment.
It’s an image that seems to come completely from its own creative source, made in collaboration with stylists like Marni Senofonte and photographers alike (here, Mason Poole and Carlijn Jacobs). She often uses younger, untested and unreleased designers, which suggests that she knows there is power in the exposure she can offer; but just as often the label ends up being Gucci or Dolce. When the world sees the image, it’s not the brand that matters, but the emotion it creates within us and what it can inspire us to do or wear.
This has always been your mission. One of the most indelible style moments of her career: when she took a baseball bat to a series of cars in the video for Lemonadeof “Wait”. The lemon-yellow silk georgette dress, with its pleated folds and loose bodice, clung to her body in sensual but strong folds as she walked down the street, a woman despised but proud. You probably don’t remember the brand, though – even I had to research it to be sure. Given the year (2017) and the romantic shape and wild color, you can guess it was Gucci; it was actually Roberto Cavalli, who at the time was directed by Peter Dundas, then a regular contributor to Beyoncé. You remember the woman and what she did with the dress, not who did it. That’s powerful. Even when she wore Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy gowns, as she did at the Met Gala for several years, it felt like Tisci was articulating some secret part of Beyoncé’s tastes, rather than the artist trying to embody the designer’s message of the moment.
Not that other stars aren’t creating historic images – Rihanna has turned street style into an art form, turning the sidewalk into a public forum for joy and wild self-expression. The genius of a musician like Rihanna, or Lady Gaga or Madonna, is that they use the tools of their own time to make their statements. They love fashion, with all its madness, its constant change, its exciting possibilities for reinvention and dramatization. But Beyoncé is almost alone in her commitment to developing a total and complete look, seeking out clothes that heighten that reality. She is not interested in what appears to be the moment, but rather in how she can create her own moment. It’s the difference between fashion and style – and her videos, images and music add to the resounding decree that style is indeed substance.
Probably the only musician with a similar approach is David Bowie, who we think is constantly evolving, but in many ways was simply refining and redefining a glorious and utterly original sense of vision. It can refer to other times, other musicians, other ideas. But the look and feeling always seemed like nothing more. It wasn’t about interpreting our times, but about what becomes possible when one allows oneself to be totally subsumed in a universe.
The exception that proves the rule is the handful of names Rebirth: in “Summer Renaissance” she quotes “Versace, Bottega, Prada, Balenciaga/Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy, collect your coins, Beyoncé”. But the line sounds more like classic rap bravado; it’s lucky for these European brands that their names rhyme. It’s the line that follows that is most intriguing: “So elegant and sassy, this haute couture I’m showing off / This imported Telfar bag, Birkins, this shit in storage.” On Monday, The Real Real reported that on the day of the album’s release alone, the site saw an 85% increase in searches for Telfar. The Birkin may be the most famous and coveted bag in the world, but it’s the Telfar bag that fits into the world of Beyoncé and, therefore, her fans.
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