How the Rolling Stones Became Fashion Icons
The retrospective, curated by Ileen Gallagher, formerly of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, digs deep from collectors’ vaults and the band members’ closets. The black-and-red Lucifer cape that Mr. Jagger wore at Altamont? It’s there. The antique toy drum kit that Charlie Watts used for “Street Fighting Man”? It’s there, too.
The techy, multimedia exhibition contains old diaries, notebooks filled with lyrics, original cover art and historically significant guitars in glass cases. Video screens flicker with historical concert footage, and recorded audio of the band talking about songwriting wafts overhead.
The exhibition also features meticulous re-creations of a Stones recording studio and the infamous hovel at 102 Edith Grove in London that Mr. Jagger shared with Keith Richards and Brian Jones in 1962 and ’63, complete with peeling wallpaper, discarded Playboy magazines and an artificial odor that suggests stale beer and old socks. (“I kept saying, ‘C’mon guys, there are too many beer bottles, too many dishes in the sink,” recalled Mick Jagger, in a telephone interview from Los Angeles last week.) Think of “Exhibitionism” as the King Tut exhibition for the dad-jeans set.
But it is the floors filled with period Stones outfits, many not seen in public for decades, that serve to underscore the band’s incalculable influence on rock style.
Although David Bowie generally got credit for being rock’s ultimate chameleon, the Stones went one further: They invented the very image of the modern rock star.
With a fashion sensibility that was one part Vogue magazine and one part skin magazine, the Stones laid the groundwork for punk, dandified Mod, pushed psychedelia to its cartoon extreme and basically invented glam rock. And that was just the ’60s.
“You want to be new, you want to be eye-catching and yet elegant, but yet crazy, because you’re onstage,” said Mr. Jagger, explaining his sartorial philosophy in the interview. “It’s not just five blokes in bluejeans going on with a lot of amps, you know what I mean?”
The collection starts at the beginning, with Mr. Jones’s houndstooth-check jacket from 1963, a relic of that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment where the Stones attempted to be G-rated teen idols in matching uniforms, à la Herman’s Hermits.
“In the early ’60s, one of the big fashion things was the Beatles’ jackets,” Mr. Jagger said. “That was something different. Clothes were immediately talked about on men, as well as on women performers.”
Even so, he added, the band was always mystified why their manager, who curated its bad-boy image as the anti-Beatles, wanted to experiment with uniforms. “It was a really weird thing, the matching jackets,” Mr. Jagger said, because Mr. Oldham’s “whole thing was to be not like that. He was the one who wanted to be different.”
And very quickly, they were. By the time the Stones were starting to cross over in America in 1964 and 1965, they already looked vaguely dangerous, at least to teen-pop audiences weaned on Neil Sedaka.
“You saw the scruffiness, the down-dressing that really didn’t exist in the American vocabulary: the mismatched look, the leather jackets, adopting some of the traditional rhythm-and-blues style,” said the designer Anna Sui, a lifelong Stones fan. “And then, throwing in a pair of white shoes. It was just like, ‘Wow, what is this?’ That’s how guys reacted. And to this day, you see guys dressing exactly that way.”
Soon, the Stones were serving as global ambassadors of a very different style, the Swinging London dandy look coming out of Carnaby Street and King’s Road. That is exemplified in the exhibition by Mr. Watts’s blue-and-green tartan suit by Granny Takes a Trip, the seminal King’s Road boutique of the era, and Mr. Jagger’s red Grenadier military guardsman drummer’s jacket, which he wore while performing “Paint It Black” on the TV show “Ready Steady Go!” on May 27, 1966.
Victorian cravats and Regency-era ruffled shirts were the order of the day. “It was really the ‘anything goes’ period,” Mr. Jagger said. “There was a lot of antique clothing being sold, and a lot of it was revived Romantic stuff in velvets and things like that.”
The style cues did not only come from the streets, but also from the fashion establishment. “I was seeing fashion a lot. I was great friends with David Bailey,” Mr. Jagger said, referring to the fashion photographer, “so I’d be hanging out with people from like Vogue and that sort of thing.”
While some outfits in the exhibition still look cover-worthy (Mr. Jagger’s Beau Brummel-esque black velvet frock coat from 1965 comes to mind), the Stones were not simply recycling swinging London in the prepackaged manner of the fashion glossies.
“I loved the fact that they looked like Romantic poets with lace trim sleeves and brooches and brocaded jackets,” Ms. Sui said. “Everything was askew, and it became another way of looking really cool.”
That mid-’60s dandy look may have borrowed from the gender-blurring Oscar Wilde style vernacular. But it was scarcely a hint of what was to come.
On July 5, 1969, during a memorial concert in London’s Hyde Park for Brian Jones (the band’s founder who drowned shortly after being fired from the band), Mr. Jagger strode onstage in white voile Michael Fish man-dress with ruffled bishop’s sleeves and a bow-laced front. A re-creation of the dress is on display in “Exhibitionism.”
The Stones had essentially created “glam rock,” said Simon Reynolds, the author of “Shock and Awe,” a new book on that ’70s music movement. “Bowie is often regarded as the pioneer when it comes to gender-bending and extreme fashion statements in rock,” Mr. Reynolds said. “But many of the things he’s been celebrated for had actually already been done by the Rolling Stones.”
Keith Richards, for example, was rifling through his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg’s closet for his groundbreaking ensembles. “It really pissed off Charlie Watts, with his walk-in cupboards of impeccable Savile Row suits, that I started to become a fashion icon for wearing my old lady’s clothes,” Mr. Richards wrote in his 2010 autobiography, “Life.”
By the landmark 1972 tour, it was simply expected that Mr. Jagger would take the stage in eye-shadow and skintight velvet jumpsuits by Ossie Clark, three of which are on display.
“These kinds of jumpsuits, they were really easy, you didn’t have to make any decisions,” Mr. Jagger said. “You were just like, ‘Is it going to be this color or this color,’ then put a scarf over it and you’re ready. They were very comfortable to wear. They were, like, sexy, and you could move in them.”
For his part, Mr. Jagger thinks the androgyny thing was overblown. “I mean, do you think the jumpsuits are androgynous?” he said. “I suppose the colors are. I mean, I never saw any women wearing them.”
“The innocence of it was, you weren’t really consciously thinking about the androgynous part of it,” he said. “You were hoping other people would notice it, or journalists would write about it, and you’d go, ‘First I’m going to look up what ‘androgynous’ really means, and then I’m going to analyze it.’”
If the band had burned out at that point, like so many of their contemporaries, the clothes in “Exhibitionism” would still make for a watershed retrospective. The Stones of the ’60s and ’70s had an impact on men’s style that is inestimable.
“I’ve lost count of how many mood boards I’ve seen with photos of Mick and Keith, and Brian Jones and Charlie Watts, too,” said Will Welch, the editor in chief of GQ Style. “Fashion designer inspiration boards, collages on the walls at cool men’s stores, corporate-branding PowerPoint presentations, the pages of men’s magazines including GQ and GQ Style: The list goes on.”
“But that hasn’t watered down the power of the band or their legacy a bit,” he said. “What blows me away is that there always seem to be more photos we haven’t seen. It’s like, how many lives did these guys live?”
The Rolling Stones, in fact, had another 40 years of head-turning looks.
As disco became a punch line in the late ’70s, the Stones seemed to salvage a degree of cultural credibility for it by reaching for the white suits and skinny ties and cranking out slick dance-pop numbers like “Miss You.”
In the early ’80s, the Day-Glo explosion of MTV videos seemed like kid’s stuff except when Mr. Jagger would show up onstage in tangerine-orange, blue and gold athletic pants by Antony Price (also in the exhibition), turning a 50,000-seat football stadium into his personal Jazzercise class.
By the ’90s, the Stones were a Fortune 500-level touring behemoth, and their clothes reflected their status as the new establishment.
Mr. Richards turned his status as rock’s ur-rebel into a brand, performing in a swashbuckling assemblage of animal-print coats, headbands and sash belts that synergized with his role as Captain Teague in Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.
Mr. Jagger, meanwhile, went couture, working with the leading fashion designers, including Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen and Hedi Slimane, for stage outfits that would pop even for fans squinting from the bleachers.
“I just think they were the people who were going to do the best job,” Mr. Jagger said. “It’s just a natural progression to work with the best fashion designers available.”
As “Exhibitionism” proves, corporate need not equal bland. Take, for example, a spectacular knee-length sequined coat by Alexander McQueen, superimposed with haunting images of the children of Czar Nicholas II, that the singer wore during the “Bridges to Babylon” tour of the late ’90s.
After 54 years and seemingly 54,000 fashion experiments, the only remaining question seems to be whether Mr. Jagger regretted any particular outfit. “Ah, that’s a horrible question!” he said with a laugh. “You’re bound to make mistakes.”
“There are so many ghastly awful ones,” he added, “but at the time, everyone loved them, you know what I mean?”
“You always have to go further and go to more to the defense of the ridiculous in fashion,” he said. “You have to go and take chances, and people are going to laugh, and maybe it’s not going to be a success.
“But there is no success without risk.”
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