Beyoncé doesn’t just release an album; she triggers a vision. Sometimes this comes along, as it happened quite revolutionary with the 2017 years Lemonade, like a visual album, where the music is fully understood through a rich accompanying film. Last week, in the days before it fell Renaissance, her first solo studio album since then, has posted a series of images on her site: on a red velvet sofa with brown liquor in a rock glass, with metal spears protruding from a tight black minidress to form a plated bustier; sitting in the middle of an empty dance floor in an exuberant silver chiton dress, one arm raised in the air and the other covering her breasts; floating in an altar room in a lime green lace gown with a face mask and a trumpet hem of lime-colored Mongolian fur. The images are a disco fantasy that evokes the sense of decadent liberation escapism by dressing up to dance the promised night. They set the tone for her sound and prepared us for the home-inspired wilderness, as a visual primer for the knowledge-hungry acolytes of her.
What is most striking about these images is the lack of recognizable design pieces. Many of the names are familiar: the lime green lace dress is from Alaïa, redone in an acid tone from runway orange. A fluted short red puffer jacket, which she wears perched next to an old-fashioned “On Air” sign, is Dolce & Gabbana. There are several sparkly and peekaboo leotards (a Beyoncé signature), two of which she wears while she’s on horseback; both are by relatively unknown designers, Gianni Naazar and Nusi Quero. A cone bra she wears up a flight of red stairs looks like a Jean Paul Gaultier pack, a throwback to Madonna’s days as a pioneer of mass provocation, but it’s actually a look from Daniel Roseberry’s Schiaparelli Spring 2022 couture collection. These are not pieces that represent each designer’s obsessions, or the priorities of their brands. Instead, they represent Beyoncé’s vision for herself. I am the ultimate expression of her style pure her.
In the last decade, musicians have become the protagonists of the fashion industry aligning themselves, sometimes officially and sometimes less, with brands. Influencers may still drive purchases, but musicians shape global taste and have been the bridge between what’s happening on the runway and young people, who now fervently discuss clothes and brands on social media. In particular, musicians are drawn to the Grail, whether it’s a jacket from the historic collaboration between Supreme and Louis Vuitton, a Versace bag or a fantastic Saint Laurent dress. Florence Welch, Lizzo and Billie Eilish are a big part of why we know Gucci’s geek-chic aesthetic. Even more transformative was Rihanna’s style, which introduced us to the charm of vintage Chanel, the tulle charm of Molly Goddard, the icy quirkiness of Glenn Martens’ Y / Project and the couture genius of Guo Pei. She changed the way young women dress: remember when it seemed crazy to wear a tutu dress to go to Starbucks? Now dressing too much is Zoomer’s lifestyle. But even if you don’t have Rihanna’s passion, an obsessive relationship with fashion, with a playful and intuitive understanding of the latest items, brands and trends, it has been a platform for many young musicians to demonstrate their cultural hiding place.
Beyoncé sometimes wears these garments, but in her official images she resists that understanding. Maybe that’s why her images are so singular, so indelible. Days later, I’m still thinking of her in that red puffer jacket, looking into the camera lens with that “On Air” sign lit up. She literally has hot news: new music, bitch! The images seem timeless, even when there are clear historical references, as in the most recent series of photos of her, with their disco Vaseline glow, dense with Antonio Lopez’s reality. What sets her apart about her approach to her clothes is that she chooses garments that match her identity, her sense of who she wants to be, embody and feel, rather than what she identifies as interesting or of the moment.
It is an image that seems to come entirely from his own creative source, created in collaboration with stylists such as Marni Xenophon and also photographers (here, Mason Poole and Carlijn Jacobs). He often wears younger, untested and unknown designers, which suggests that he knows there is a power in the display he can offer; but just as often the label turns out to be Gucci or Dolce. When the world sees the image, it’s not the brand that matters, but the emotion it creates within us and what it might inspire us to do or wear.
This has always been his job. One of the most indelible style moments of his career: when she carried a baseball bat on a series of cars in the video of Lemonadeis “Wait”. Her lemon yellow silk georgette dress, with its pleated pleats and lightly tied bodice, clung to her body in sensual but strong pleats as she strode down the street, a scorned but proud woman. You probably don’t remember the brand though, even I had to look for it to be sure. Given the year (2017) and the romantic shape and wild color, you might imagine it was Gucci; in reality it was Roberto Cavalli, who at the time was helmed by Peter Dundas, then a regular collaborator of Beyoncé. You remember the woman and what she did to and in her dress rather than who did it. It is powerful. Even when she wore Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy dresses, as she did for several years at the Met Gala, it seemed that Tisci was articulating a secret part of Beyoncé’s tastes, rather than the artist trying to embody the designer’s message of the moment.
It’s not that the other stars aren’t creating historical images: Rihanna has turned street style into an art form, turning the sidewalk into a public forum of joy and wild self-expression. The genius of a musician like Rihanna, or Lady Gaga or Madonna, is that they use the tools of their time to express their affirmations. By hand fashion, with all its madness, its constant changes, its exciting possibilities for reinvention and role-playing. But Beyoncé is almost alone in her commitment to develop a total and complete look, then looking for clothes that augment that reality. She is not interested in what the moment feels like, but rather in how she can create her own moment. It is the difference between fashion and style and her videos, images and music add up to the sensational decree that style is truly substance.
Probably the only musician with a similar approach is David Bowie, who we think is constantly evolving, but in many ways he was simply refining and redefining a glorious and totally original sense of vision. He could refer to other eras, to other musicians, to other ideas. But the look and feel always seemed like nothing else. It was not a question of interpreting our time, but of what becomes possible when we allow ourselves to be completely absorbed in a universe.
The exception that proves the rule is the series of names dropped Renaissance: in “Summer Renaissance”, check out “Versace, Bottega, Prada, Balenciaga / Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy, collect your coins, Beyoncé”. But the joke is more like the classic rap braggart; it is fortunate for these European brands that their names all rhyme. It’s the line that follows that is most intriguing: “So elegant and vulgar, this haute couture I’m flaunting / This imported Telfar bag, Birkins, that shit in storage.” On Monday, The Real Real reported that on the day of the album’s release alone, the site experienced an 85% increase in searches for Telfar. The Birkin may be the most famous and coveted bag in the world, but it is the Telfar tote that fits into the world of Beyoncé, and therefore of her fans.
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