Is there a game of fashion one-upmanship happening among female pop stars? Of late, Beyoncé, Rihanna and other notable acts seem to be in a battle of sci-fi fashion not seen since the high-tech looks of Grace Jones and Patti Labelle in the ’70s. Whatever the origin, a surge in galactic inspiration has taken hold of the industry.
The press perked up late last year to Beyoncé’s zipper-strewn Gareth Pugh leather dress with exaggerated shoulders that she wore to the MTV Europe Music Awards—evoking the extreme silhouettes and metallic eyewear that turned up all over her “Diva” video. Critics who had grown accustomed to the songstress’ Las Vegas worthy glamour gowns were stunned by the edgy shift. “It’s as though she skipped three fashion steps,” one anonymous editor mused.
Despite the jarring jump, Beyoncé shows no signs of letting up. The singer fell for designer Thierry Mugler’s severe creations at the Met’s Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy last year. The singer already wore a vintage Mugler on her latest album cover as well as in the “Diva” video, but, for her upcoming tour, the designer will also have his hand in everything from stage direction to lighting and designing 58 outfits.
Even with this ongoing creative collaboration, some industry insiders point to a rivalry with fellow chart-topper Rihanna and other emerging singers. “We have to wonder if perhaps [Beyoncé] chose the dress to combat a certain popular singer who’s mentored by Jay-Z and who easily pulls off lesser-known designers,” notes New York magazine’s The Cut. And indeed many are whispering that Beyoncé’s newfound edge has to do with the need to keep up with other daring starlets’ growing fashion cred and directional picks.
Rihanna in particular has ascended the fashion totem pole with relative ease. After improving her round-the-way belly baring looks from 2005 into knee-high gladiator Balenciaga sandals and S&M inspired Rodarte and PPQ, Rihanna was snapped up by Cover Girl and Gucci for major endorsement deals. And she’s kept up the assault of primo fashion expression by sporting an assortment of bondage get-ups that mark a distinct departure from the pretty, sexy, sweetness the public has come to expect of their cookie cutter popstars.
“The Beyoncés and the Rihannas of the world are aware that their imagery and look is just as important as their talent and sound,” explains Vibe magazine’s fashion director Memsor Kamarake. “In finding ways to differentiate themselves from the labels of their predecessors—Mary J. Blige in Fendi, Lil’ Kim in Versace—they are forging into new territories. With Beyoncé and Rihanna wearing such fashion forward brands on stage and on the red carpet, it introduces new names into the fashion vocabulary of their music audience, much like when Madonna wore an Olivier Theyskens.”
Indeed, M.I.A, Santogold, Janelle Monae and other technicolor-clad popstarts are also raising the fashion bar, demanding attention in their custom Cassette Playa and graphic printed gear. Estelle is another example of this edgy shift, even if hers is a less extreme look. The singer’s stylist Karen Binns, one of the more fashion forward people in the business, keeps Estelle clad in Chritopher Kane and Danielle Stutt. Meanwhile, veteran envelope-pusher Madonna is trying to hold on to her directional ways, turning up in chain covered Givenchy in her video and on stage. Even Christina Milian is nearly unrecognizable in some of the forward-looking metallics she dons in her latest comeback video “Us Against The World.”
Fashion designer Edward Buchanan theorizes about the video angle on this story, “For a consumer, fantasy is intriguing. You feel as though you can somehow have a piece of it through the music, thanks to the visual aid of Youtube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. But don’t make me buy the entire album—it’s only about the single with the looks that I like in the video.”
There’s no denying the inspiring component of this fashion display, but where do fans turn to emulate the trend? “The audience may not be able to afford the Gareths of the world, but are discerning enough to be able to incorporate some elements of the look into their wardrobes—metallic sneakers, vinyl structured capes,” claims Kamarake. “With the return of Grace Jones and the group Labelle to public consciousness, it serves as a reminder that this sort of exploration and eccentric expression is nothing new. They were at the helm of the Starship Enterprise that went ‘boldly where no man has gone before’! These girls are just catching their stardust.”
Check back during the coming days as we feature a series of music videos that capture the essence of this space odyssey trend.