Nothing is as quintessentially vogue as music, and its power to create change through sheer fascination is boundless. Musicians and their stories have inspired political movements, social conversions, and of course, decades of revolution in fashion. Jazz created the flapper; Woodstock brought the wave of tie-dye, long hair and flowers; and without Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, the ‘80s would have faired drastically different. While the divine impact of music on fashion is obvious, fashion similarly plays an inherent role in curating a recording artist’s brand. Particularly in today’s landscape, where bands come and go like flashes of light, the right image can often be more memorable to the blinking eye than even the most gimmicky tune.
Ashton Hirota, an LA-based clothing designer and stylist, has worked with a long line of music’s fashion forerunners, counting the Black Eyed Peas, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears, Passion Pit, Shout Out Louds, and Regina Spektor among his many clients. For Hirota, the trick is not about less or more; nor is it about shock value. Rather, it’s the power to boldly inhabit your identity as an artist. Fads come and go, he says, the secret is to use them as enhancements.
“For females, the trend now is ‘excess’ and pushing the envelope too much,” observes Hirota, who also owns a boutique – the House of Infinite Radness – in Hollywood. “It seems that most artists are really trying to stand out by almost becoming costume. I blame Lady Gaga for not knowing when to stop and also ripping off nearly every female artist, including Roisin Murphy, Madonna, Annie Lennox and the list goes on. Unless you are Sia, Bjork, or another great arty indie artist (cause it works on them), put down the caution tape, glue gun and move forward.”
Men, by contrast, have adopted a sleeker, sophisticated look. Suits, trimmed coifs, ties –the classic details are a la mode at present.
Hirota notes, “A very popular trend now is to be refined and dapper. Hip hop, rock and roll, pop, and even electro clients of mine are going the gentleman route, but putting a twist on it: a classic tux in fuchsia or yellow with a bowtie and some boots. The look is fashion forward, polished and sexy to both male and female. I’ve made artists like Chris Brown, Patrick Stump, and John Legend in versions of this look and they all wore it completely different, yet equally amazing.”
Musical genres seemingly factor little into the mix other than as an accouterment to the individual character of an artist. First impressions are critical; lasting imprints produce an aura a musician strives to craft through the mystique of their sound and the transparent borders of the world’s stage. Hirota believes the margin of genres has faded over the years, and that now, people prefer to see an artist with unique attire who carries it well. He points to electronic musician, Roisin Murphy, as exemplification of such an artist, mentioning her flawless image as always “ahead of the game.”
Dressing as a band brings new questions to the mix. A nondescript pack of indie rockers from Portland undoubtedly need to do more than throw on a flannel shirt from the thrift store (aka Urban Outfitters) to create an identity. There are limits, nevertheless, to coordination, and as Hirota astutely stresses, a band is a collective of individuals, all with their own spunk. Since music reflects a composite of varying personalities, fashion should follow suit.
The question then: to match or not to match?
“For the anti-love of N’Sync, and Backstreet Boys, NO!” affirms Hirota, with utmost passion. “There should be a common thread that ties the band together, keeping everyone in unison, but not matching. They become so clique when you do that. I think that if it’s done artistically and well, it can be a huge statement for special events or photo shoot purposes. For example, when OK Go was dressed in head-to-toe burgundy and gold paisley for the red carpet, it was genius! I’ve had the pleasure of working with them after they did that… It’s so fun to work with artists who don’t take themselves too seriously.”
Also of note, the right ensemble for the stage must be mobile, flexible and easy to clean, whereas an outfit for a photo shoot offers more leeway. Fabric can be clamped, pinned, cut; adjustments are easy to conceal and hold more efficiently.
Inevitably, most musicians don’t know a whole lot about fashion, and accordingly they don’t care. Hirota describes two types of clients he meets on average: the blank canvas and the befuddled rambler. The first is most enjoyable from a stylist’s perspective, as a musician with no ideas and an open mind is often willing to experiment. The latter can be a challenge.
Hirota describes his approach with these sorts.
“The artist has a horrible way of explaining what they actually want and the process becomes lost in translation,” he says. “It’s my job to tell them to avoid looking like a circus runaway. Let’s focus on an image identity, and build from there. It’s like a first date: you meet them, ask their interests, likes and dislikes, analyze them and then by then end your judging them! Well, not judging necessarily but you feel them out.”
Hirota is also careful not to make the musician feel as if they’re being “made over” – it’s about being defined and polished. Particularly nowadays, with genres of music blurring and breeding, an artist can be a hybrid of various cultures, sounds and stories. Thus, their look must be distinguishable.
“Really, it’s their choice what they want to look like,” adds Hirota. “I’m here to tell them what works and doesn’t, but if they want to wear a paper bag on their head and a tutu, that’s on them. Ideally, I hope they understand how important it is that those two coincide with each other, and are willing to adjust accordingly.”
Sometimes a questionable choice can even return a surprisingly nice result.
“My favorite exposed moment lately has been Cee Lo Green coming out in no shirt and just football shoulder pads,” recalls Hirota. “He’s an incredibly talented man, super sweet, and in my opinion, one of the boldest fashion men out there.”