Iconic music video style: Historic fashion highlights from Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and more
Sight and sound
Music and fashion have long fed off each other, so it's no surprise that music videos have, over the decades, become a wellspring of fashion inspo. For our roundup of the most stylish MVs of all time, we decided to focus on examples that sourced directly from the high-fashion runways (see gallery above). It hasn't escaped our notice that all but one of the featured artists is white, which, sad but true, reflects fashion's traditional neglect of people of colour; all that's changing, though, as Rihanna, Cardi B, and other artists are proving — onward and upward!
Björk, The Gate, 2017
If ever someone argued that fashion couldn't scale the same heights as art, the iridescent Gucci masterpiece that Alessandro Michele created for the Icelandic artist would be a pretty solid rebuttal.
Beyoncé, Formation and Hold Up, 2016
Beyoncé's visual album Lemonade was a milestone depiction of the black experience in the United States. Formation's video referenced — among other things — slavery in the South, police brutality, and federal indifference in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; delicate costumes from the likes of Gucci, Zimmermann, and Alessandra Rich clashed unsettlingly with the clip's dark subject matter. The canary-yellow Roberto Cavalli gown Beyoncé wears in Hold Up, by contrast, was so infectiously upbeat that it spawned a wave of (occasionally inspired) imitators.
Beyoncé, Run the World (Girls), 2011
Nowhere is the depiction of glamour as armour clearer than in Run the World (Girls), which sees Beyoncé shout down sexism in Alexander McQueen — specifically, a look from the designer's final collection — Riccardo Tisci-era Givenchy, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Emilio Pucci, and Gareth Pugh.
Lady Gaga, Bad Romance, 2009
The enormous digital crowd that turned up for the debut of Bad Romance at Alexander McQueen's SS10 runway show caused ShowStudio — whose website livestreamed the event — to crash. The corresponding music video, in which Gaga dons the now-iconic Armadillo shoes, was one of the 2000s' last hurrahs before a global recession ushered in the age of athleisure and normcore high-fashion.
Róisín Murphy, Overpowered, Let Me Know, and You Know Me Better, 2007-2008
Before there was Gaga, Europe had — the criminally underrated, in both fashion and music terms — Róisín Murphy. The former Moloko frontwoman and Viktor & Rolf muse most stylishly repped Gareth Pugh as early as his second collection, and dressed herself in kooky Maison Martin Margiela, Phillip Treacy, and Louis Vuitton without breaking so much as a sweat during her Overpowered phase.
Gwen Stefani, What You Waiting For?, 2004
Stefani's bubblegum pop, solo debut album saw her go full fashion, with gratuitous name-drops of Yohji Yamamoto, John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, and even the Tokyo neighbourhood of Harajuku — yes, we're aware that this entire phase of Stefani's career is wildly appropriative of Japanese culture — peppered throughout her lyrics. Despite critics' mixed feelings on her musical about-face, the fantastical Dior Haute Couture gowns Stefani wore for the lead single's video signalled how far she had come from her early days glue-gunning felt stripes onto home-sewn stage jumpsuits — see receipts on YouTube.
No Doubt, Spiderwebs, 1995
Unbeknownst to many, this early No Doubt single marked the beginning of Stefani's high-fashion obsession; she purchased her first designer item, a rose-printed Vivienne Westwood corset top (which, according to the singer's 2013 Vogue cover interview, she still owns), especially for the filming of its music video.
Madonna, Frozen, 1998
Costumer Arianne Phillips and Belgian designer Olivier Theyskens — who had only recently shown his first collection, but would eventually lead Rochas, Nina Ricci, and Theory — were tapped by Madonna to co-create her vampiric outfit for Frozen's video, which remains one of Madge's most visually adventurous.
George Michael, Too Funky, 1992
Freedom '90's video may be celebrated for confirming Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Tatjana Patitz as the most popular models of their era, but truth be told, there wasn't much fashion to look at. Too Funky, George Michael's contribution to the AIDS charity album Red Hot + Dance, redresses this shortcoming in its video.
A mockumentary-style staging of a Thierry Mugler couture show directed by the couturier himself, Too Funky features Linda Evangelista, Tyra Banks, and more taking cheeky turns down the catwalk as all hell breaks loose backstage. Michael and Mugler famously butted heads throughout filming, resulting into the two very different video cuts floating out there on the web; Michael's frothy and lighthearted romp (below, top), and Mugler's racier and cattier edit (below, bottom).
Madonna, Express Yourself and Vogue, 1989-1990
Madonna's sultry image has remained fairly consistent throughout her career. But her hypersexualised — and crucially, sex-positive — image took on a newfound political significance during her Like a Prayer/Blond Ambition tour period. Like a Prayer's CD included a 'safe sex guidelines' insert, while the sexually-explicit dance routines and skits of Blond Ambition, controversially juxtaposed with Catholic imagery, aimed to break down the fatal silence around sex in the midst of the AIDS crisis. No surprise, then, that Jean-Paul Gaultier's exaggerated, conical bras became the most enduring icon of that Madonna era.
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