David Bowie was never a normal celebrity. He was a cosmic body floating overhead, a North Star for creative oddballs everywhere, and a nightmare for conservative culture. A mysterious and charming artist with endless ideas, his public personas (Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke) represented stardom at its most fantastic, and yet never floated so far from humanity that the empathetic soul somewhere beneath the face paint and three-piece suits could not be heard. The natural theatricality of Bowie’s work in music made it easy for the rock star to dabble as an actor, where he played spectacularly unearthly characters. The style born from Bowie’s body of work immortalized him in pop culture history, and continues to set the bar for subversive artists to this day. Here, we explore two of Bowie’s most iconic film characters and their ethereal fashion.
“The Man Who Fell to Earth”
This cult classic directed by Nicolas Roeg stars Bowie in his first major film role playing Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien disguised as a human who has come to Earth searching for water to save his home planet. Newton quickly finds that he is naturally successful on Earth and becomes distracted by the vices of money and alcohol, all while an acute sense of loneliness quietly smothers his ambition. The style of his character is a visual struggle between trying to blend in and an inescapable aura of alienating cool that wasn’t far from Bowie’s real life experience at the time. Newton’s outfits— a utilitarian jumpsuit, a plain white t-shirt and slim-fit black pants, angular suits, herringbone jackets, colored glasses and eye-cutting fedoras—chart the character’s immersion into human culture, but also his loss of self in a material world. As the film progresses, Newton becomes more ornamental on the outside while becoming more hollow on the inside, until all that remains is a rather nice looking shell with no use for any of the memories it used to hold. Thomas Jerome Newton is the essence of aloof, cold style, and his character went on to inspire Bowie’s “Station to Station” character, the Thin White Duke.
In this 1986 fantasy film by Jim Henson (of Muppet fame) we find a more mature Bowie playing Jareth the Goblin King, a complex character who would seem to be an absolute villain—he steals the protagonist’s baby brother in an attempt to keep him forever in his kingdom—if it weren’t for the occasional flashes of affection he displays. The film is usually interpreted as a metaphor for a girl’s coming of age and subsequent struggle with adulthood, including sexuality—which brings us to Jareth’s costuming. Designer Brian Froud wanted to evoke romantic figures from Heathcliff of “Wuthering Heights” to Marlon Brando in the Goblin King’s clothing, and the final product can only be described as an explosion of teen girl fantasies. Jareth sports leather jackets, ruffled ascots, and skin-tight pants (including leggings), snowballing the archetypal bad boy and knight together with a touch of raw sex. Bowie’s patented rock-and-roll androgyny finds familiar footing in Jareth’s penchant for plunging necklines, jewelry, and high-heeled boots , demonstrating the seductive power of gender-bending fashion that has brought stylish celebrities from Marlene Dietrich to,–well, David Bowie–to the forefront of fashion history.
— Gabriella Lacombe, wunderfiend.com