Remember When Velvet Goldmine Brought Glam Rock to the Runway?


In swirls of neon jackets, platform shoes and, of course, so much glitter, Velvet Goldmine hit theaters in the U.S. on November 6, 1998. Directed by Todd Haynes, the musical-drama loosely retold David Bowie’s glam rock years in England. It starred Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Brian Slade, who adopted the space-y alter ego Maxwell Demon; Ewan McGregor as Curt Wild, an Iggy Pop/Lou Reed-inspired character; and Toni Collette as Mandy Slade, based on Bowie’s first wife, Angela. The costumes by Sandy Powell, however, were arguably the real star, and went on to influence a multitude of designers’ Spring 1999 collections and even a few forthcoming today.

A visual feast for which she won a BAFTA for Best Costume Design in 1999, Powell’s creations visualized the story of Slade’s ascendancy to rock stardom, beginning with 1960s mod suiting and leading up to the gender-bending neon leopard jacket he—and the movie itself —became famous for. In one scene in the film, Powell paired a blush pink wig and a shimmering, Edwardian-style jacket on Rhys-Meyers for a music video. In another, she had him in a silvery, spandex bodysuit for the evening of his final concert.

Back in 1998, the buzz around the movie had fashion critics heralding the return of glam way before it was even released. Because of Velvet Goldmine, VH-1 decided on glam rock as its theme for its Fashion Awards of the same year, for which it would ask designers to produce attire inspired by the film. Those like John Galliano, Michael Kors, Tom Ford, and Anna Sui were enlisted for the live show but the latter two also found themselves adopting some of the film’s glam signifiers—velvet, Lycra, and leather among them—into their own collections respectively. Though glam had always been an important inspiration for Sui in particular, the designer covered her studio in photographs of Rhys-Meyers and McGregor as their characters in the film while crafting her Spring/Summer 1999 collection. Similarly, leather jackets accented with beads and ruffles appeared in Ford’s Milan showing that season.

Now, 20 years later, the dark, fantastical world of Velvet Goldmine is relevant once again as designers experiment with leaving gendered ensembles behind and fashion revives its interest in all things camp—as referenced by the adoption of camp for next year’s Met Gala theme.

Alessandro Michele’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection for Gucci featured bold colors, leopard, and silken, sueded, fringed, and even feathered ensembles look like they may have fallen right out of the film. Gender non-conforming corsets, and leather pants not unlike those McGregor wears as Curt Wild, appear in Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s Spring/Summer 2019 menswear collection as well. As we celebrate the film’s second decade, it’s clear that glam habits die hard.


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