LADY GAGA / THE MONSTER BALL TOUR
PHOTO FROM A NICK KNIGHT RUTH HOGDEN FILM
STYLING NICOLA FORMICHETTI
INTERVIEW JO-ANN FURNISS
‘So I wake up in the morning and I feel black on the inside so I will wear black, have my hair high above my head with a puppet lobster stuck in the centre of it. If I feel really light, happy and beautiful I’ll wear something very colourful with rainbows and sparkles and have messy eyeliner and wear my hair like Peggy Moffitt. It really depends on what the day is...’
Look at the countless forums on the internet. The constant criticism and/or adulation for Gaga’s fashion sense. But what is often ignored by both the pro and the anti factions is that Gaga’s sense of style is not a distraction, camouflage or an adjunct to the music she creates, it is as equally important as the way she sounds and carries equal weight. It could be the weight of a lobster on her head today - and she will often talk about the value of something being ‘whimsical’, like a chic pre-war Lady with a penchant for Schiaparelli but make no mistake, this is no mere accident.
‘The clothing, the hair and the hats... when you are not part of that world the public can look at my love of fashion, my love of clothing and theatre as something disingenuous, as something of a mask that I could hide behind,’ says Gaga today in the middle of her strenuous world tour with all of its countless costume changes, a whirlwind of interviews and photo opportunities. And yet, even in her downtime - and I have seen it, in a distinctly untrendy East End pub feeding families Sunday lunch with no paparazzi in sight - Gaga’s sense of fashion is always ON. It is who she is.
‘There was this group of people in the fashion industry like Nick Knight, Nicola Formichetti, McQueen, Mr Armani and some of my other friends,’ she could go on, she has plenty of other high fashion supporters in that world. ‘Who saw the genuineness of what I was doing. Not the disingenuousness at all, but the liberation in that sort of work. What I love is the way it sets me free and the way I want my fans to be set free by it too. That was the most difficult fight for me in the beginning, and it still is a fight. It is a fight for the work every day, but I am unwavering in what I believe about my work and what I do because it is genuine. It is not disingenuous, it’s not a farce it is not artifice it is part of who I am and it is something that I want to share with everyone.’
Gaga of course has her precedents in the music industry and they are Glamorous ones. David Bowie, Roxy Music and Marc Bowlan spring to mind - and dismiss the importance of their sense of style to their music and musical evolution at your peril. This is pop as performance, pop as art, pop as persona and fashion is inextricably linked to all those things. What do you want to be today? Who do you want to be today? How do you want to sound? You need the visual accompaniment to succeed in those tasks and Gaga knows it. It was a blueprint knowingly laid down in the world of Glamorous Rock.
It seems for too long pop stars have been relieved of the responsibility of their own image. For too long they have been told what to wear, told what to do and how they should be marketed. They have had no idea of how to really present themselves visually and for the most part, actually seemed to have had no idea of a visual culture in general. When, in the 1970s, everybody who was a real pop star seemed to know how to do this. Gaga agrees: ‘Everybody knew about it. It wasn’t like you had to do the research or pull the references back then, it seemed innately part of who everybody was. The art and the fashion and the music world were all intertwined and I guess that is the world that I live in today just through who I truly am.’
Going back to Bowie, Roxy and Bolan, there was also the subversive threat of Glamour. Of men in make-up and their adoring male fans in hard-bitten towns in the North of England encouraged to become magical, painted creatures themselves. Now, with Gaga, there is a similar thing happening only it is a woman leading the way. She does not necessarily want to restrict herself to influencing girls or having her own self too wrapped up in that identity, but wants to influence men as well. That’s why she is as equally interested in and important to men’s fashion as women’s fashion, in a male world as much as a female world. She is the antithesis of the idiotic Spice Girls, of their everydayness, of their female stereotypes of their hollow ‘girl power’, this is as much about boy power as anything else.
‘With ‘The Fame’ it was a commentary, a social commentary and something we can all understand and something we can all harness for ourselves,’ she explains. ‘It was this thing you could just pick for yourself and in the videos and the fashion in the videos it was this fantasy of what you could become just by purely deciding to become it. Like the Telephone video, the roller cans in my hair, my mom used to do that when she could not find rollers in my house. I thought if I was in prison I’d do that with Coke cans. Suddenly it becomes a fashion accessory, a fashion accessory that requires no money. You pay 79c for a Coke can and then you pin it in your hair. Suddenly you’re liberated because you chose to, it’s part of who you are, you just put it right on your head.’
She continues: ‘It is so exciting when a 14 year old is screaming “I love McQueen!” at a show. Or they are looking at a dress inspired by a Mugler gown from the 80s and see Glenda the good witch in the Wizard of Oz. There is a connection that is really youthful in a way and completely naive. Nicola and I always joke around saying we want to make these tee shirts that say ‘fuck fashion’ on them because we love fashion so much but in another way we want to explode it, ruin it and recreate it, then ruin it again and recreate it because I don’t want any status attached to fashion. I don’t want any pretence attached to it because I want it to be something that my fans, and Nicola wants it to be something for his fans, something that everyone could have. Beautiful, tangible and something from the inside.’
‘Fashion from the inside’ is the thing that seems to have chimed with many of Gaga’s collaborators. When you are dealing with the elite of the fashion world, they too are in the business of ‘fashion from the inside’ and recognise in somebody else the ambition to set the agenda not merely to follow it, just like them. In this way Gaga has been accepted by the world of high fashion and yet has no truck with any snobbery its ‘highness’ might entail. She sees the revolution she can set in motion by getting that world to engage with wider pop culture - Steven Klein’s Alejandro music video for instance, the first time that fashion photographer had undertaken such a task. ‘What a wonderful experience that was, says Gaga. ‘We are both very strong willed and we both have very specific visions. And I knew his specific vision and he knew mine so that it was like tugging at a rope together...’ she pauses, ‘And then we tied a beautiful knot! I wanted to bring him out of his comfort zone and he wanted to bring me out of mine. I think what made the Alejandro video so successful was getting Steven to look at pop choreography and my aesthetic in putting things that are really interesting, of how to sell messages and metaphors into a pop landscape so it suddenly becomes universal and means something completely different. And him stripping me down, taking off all my make up, no eyelashes, no liner, saying “I’m cutting all of your hair off” and not tanned... For me, I was hyperventilating, but it did force me to be myself.’
She talks about her creative cohorts with great fondness and reverence. When approaching Nick Knight to work on her tour films, videos that are set pieces interspersed throughout the concert, she recounts their first ever conversation: ‘I just called Nick. We were struggling to put the tour together so quickly and we wanted to do something very video driven and very interactive and I thought if I am going to do a video based show I need someone who can create videos and visuals who is really a genius. So I just called Nick and said “I’m in trouble. I need to phone God to help me get all this done in time. So naturally I called God, I called Nick Knight.” He started laughing. He just said, “oh thank you very much that’s very nice of you.” In that incredibly polite way he has. I said I wanted him to really push me, to go beyond my limits in terms of what I had done so far. In terms of marrying performance art, music and fashion and visuals. So naturally he wanted me to puke on myself and eat a bovine heart and do all sorts of other things,’ she adds with mock casualness.
Or when talking about her close relationship with the stylist Nicola Formichetti: ‘There is that heightened sense of your inner joy and your inner sense of self and expressing who you are - I can be the fantasy if I choose to be - that I think we share. We always laugh, we work so organically together. There is the fantasy and there is something so well put together about the final image that you can imagine there is so much time crafting it. But what really happens is we show up and we look at Nick’s lighting and we go to the racks and most of the time we end up slicing things up and making something out of cardboard and it all becomes completely different. But when it’s done it looks like a fairy tale that has been done so meticulously. It’s effortless with Nicola.’
At the moment she is on the road with Terry Richardson ‘He wanted to do a book about The Monster Ball. He wanted to shoot me backstage not onstage and look at who I am offstage. He’s on the bus with me, he just follows me everywhere,’ she explains. He’ll photograph me when I’m changing, those quick changes during the show. And sometimes I’ll have to pee during the show and I’m always screaming “Terry get out!” And he’ll be saying “It’s so beautiful, you’re so punk!” If only my fans knew I was peeing in a beer cup backstage.’ Well even Gaga can’t be that glamorous all the time.
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