A news item surfaced recently about model Gigi Hadid wearing “what was once thought of as menswear – button-up, collared shirts underneath blazers” to an event with Zayn Malik. According to the article, Hadid and Malik speak to the “gender fluidity of fashion”. Author Erin Jensen of USA Today quotes Hadid as explaining: “It’s not about gender. It’s about…shapes. And what feels good on you that day. And anyway, it’s fun to experiment…” (1)
What caught my eye about this article was the similarity in attitude to a view expressed by Michael Jackson in his 1988 autobiography, Moonwalk and subsequently quoted in numerous articles about his personal style, i.e. “My attitude is if fashion says it’s forbidden, I’m going to do it.” (2)
Following his passing in June 2009 Vogue noted that Michael’s “exuberant sense of style often meant that he would wear pieces from the women’s collections” and cited examples from Givenchy’s autumn/winter 2007-08 collection. (3)
Balmain’s Fall 2009 black and silver t-shirt and military jackets and peaked shouldered blazers are examples of clothing originally designed for women that Michael Jackson was able to wear convincingly as his own fashion styling – which is not surprising, because some of the pieces were inspired by him. (4)
Michael’s style transcended gender stereotypes and pushed fashion boundaries. His personal stylist from 2007, Rushka Bergman, said “He loved everything that I wore, and he always wanted to wear it.” (5)
His famous attention to detail extended to Michael’s clothing as well as his art – in fact, it was an integral part of his art, not just on stage and in his short films, but his public appearances generally. His custom-made wardrobe, primarily designed and crafted for him by Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush (who worked with Michael for nearly 25 years), resulted in some memorable ensembles worn by the King of Pop throughout his career. (6)
Think back to the Oscar ceremony of 1991 – Madonna dazzled in diamonds and a sparkling dress à la Marilyn Monroe while Michael, who’d asked his staff to find out in advance what she would be wearing, out-dazzled everyone in his pearl-covered dinner jacket, textured jeans and gold embossed metal belt. Michael was very conscious of the impression he created and the impact he made in public appearances.
As observed by Emily McWilliams on diply.com:
“When you think of Michael Jackson three things immediately come to mind: his incredible voice, his mind-blowing dance moves, and his innovative style. Michael created many iconic looks in his music videos, performances and at award shows. It seemed that no matter what he wore, fans and other artists wanted to imitate the King of Pop’s original fashion sense. When it came to fashion, Michael was fearless—pushing boundaries and daring to wear what no one else would. Michael’s style easily extended into the mainstream and around the world, setting trends that defined the decades they were popular in. Like his record-breaking music, Michael’s fashion was a part of his identity—he understood how to bring his image of pop music to life, and his style played a huge role in that vision.” (7)
And let’s not forget the fedora. On stage and in his short films, it was white for Smooth Criminal, while for performances of Billie Jean, Dangerous and everyday wear, it was black.
According to McWilliams: “No one could wear a hat like Michael did, because to him, it was more than an accessory. He integrated the hat into his choreography, using it to build incredible performances. Michael was playful with his audience and liked to surprise them. His hat allowed him to create that tension and keep his identity hidden a little longer, even though his voice and dancing would give him away almost immediately.” (8)
Entertainers who have followed Michael’s fashion lead abound – whether or not they, or the media, acknowledge it. In some cases the reference is obvious (e.g. Beyoncé’s Super Bowl concert leather outfit by DSquared2 in 2016, which intentionally referenced Michael’s Dangerous tour costume from his landmark 1993 Super Bowl show). (9)
In other instances we might see a celebrity or pop star of either gender wearing a red-leather, letterman or zippered black moto jacket, and even without a word being said or printed, the source of inspiration is pretty obvious.
As a Michael Jackson fan, I’m inclined to respond to these news stories and images with a comment that goes something like this: “Hmmm, reminds me of something MJ wore back in [insert relevant date here].”
Postscript: Michael’s fashion legacy also extends to accessories like his iconic sunglasses. His aviator and wayfarer style glasses and variations thereon, were an integral part of MJ’s style throughout his adult career. Now, eyewear company Illesteva has partnered with the Michael Jackson Estate to produce a frameless, reflective gold reinterpretation of the aviators that Michael wore during the late 80s and early 90s. The release of the limited edition (200 pairs) – called ‘MJ’s style’ – will coincide with this year’s 35th anniversary of the release of the Thriller album. They will retail for US$240 each.
“Michael Jackson, one of the most iconic performers of all time, was rarely seen without sunglasses. When we think of him, the aviator immediately comes to mind,” says Daniel Silberman, designer and CEO of Illesteva. “We wanted to design a shape that he would wear on stage today but combined with modern technology.” (10)
(1) Erin Jensen in USA Today 13 July 2017: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2017/07/13/vogue-gigi-hadid-zayn-malik-speak-to-gender-fluidity-fashion/475158001/
(2) Michael Jackson Moonwalk 1988, Arrow Books 2010 paperback edition.
(3) Vogue – Michael Jackson – A Tribute: http://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/michael-jacksons-style-26062009
(4) Balmain Fall 2009 Ready-To-Wear collection http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2009-ready-to-wear/balmain
(5) Siran Babayan Strange But True Stories from the Man who designed Michael Jackson’s jackets in LA Weekly 29 November 2012: http://www.laweekly.com/arts/strange-but-true-stories-from-the-man-who-designed-michael-jacksons-jackets-2370514
(6) Zaneta Apostolovski Ruska Bergman: The Last Dinner with Michael Jackson blogged on http://www.truemichaeljackson.com/more-about-michael/rushka-bergman-talks/
(7) Emily McWilliams The King of Fashion: Michael Jackson’s Style Influences Generations http://diply.com/different-solutions/article/michael-jackson-fashion-style
(9) Gaby Wilson, MTV News: http://www.mtv.com/news/2736806/beyonce-super-bowl-michael-jackson/?xrs=_s.tw_news
(10) Liana Satenstein in Vogue: 35 Years After Thriller, Michael Jackson’s Iconic Sunglasses Get a Modern Reboot http://www.vogue.com/article/michael-jackson-thriller-anniversary-illesteva-sunglasses
“MJ fashion icon” photo montage compiled and photo-shopped by Kerry Hennigan, July 2017. Copyright of all photos is vested in the respective photographer/copyright holder.