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The Many Looks of David Bowie, Master of Reinventions

The Man Who Fell to Earth is finally on his way home. While the world mourns the loss of David Robert Jones, professional known as David Bowie, who wasn’t just a songwriter but also an innovator who changed the course of western culture, we are also celebrating his vast legacy on realms as diverse as pop music, science fiction, and fashion and beauty. While some pop and rock stars fade into oblivion as they get older, Bowie was working up until his death — his twenty-fifth and final album, Blackstar, was released three days ago on his 69th birthday. According to producer Tony Visconti, the album was meant to be a “swan song” or parting gift to Bowie’s generations of devoted fans. Bowie’s famous changing personas, from Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane to The Thin White Duke, challenged our notions of masculinity and authenticity and taught us that we, too, could recreate and reinvent ourselves in many shapes and forms without losing ourselves in the process. “I’m just an individual who doesn’t feel that I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I’m working for me,” Bowie told 60 Minutes in 2002.

It wasn’t just his work that was out of this world. Bowie fashioned himself to be a space alien who questioned the social constructions of human beings. In his third album released in 1971, The Man Who Sold the Earth, Bowie personified queer performance. This was Ziggy Stardust. "I want to tart rock up. I don’t want to climb out of my fantasies in order to go up on stage — I want to take them on stage with me,” he told John Mendelsohn of Rolling Stone. The album was a crucial player in the birth of “glam rock,” with performers — across the varying gender-identifying spectrum — who decked out onstage in platform boots, glitter makeup, and flamboyant prints. After Ziggy Stardust rocked the world, Bowie gave birth to other personas that influenced both counterculture and mainstream culture. His pompadour, fake Mohawk, bleached eyebrows, and Technicolored cheekbones — the result of many layers of blush applied over the course of a day — have become inseparable from his image, but Bowie wasn’t just the sparkly space alien who could both scream and croon into the microphone, and who navigated four decades of dramatic artistic and aesthetic transformation without losing himself. “I fell in love with David Jones. I did not fall in love with David Bowie. Bowie is just a persona. He’s a singer, an entertainer,” his second wife, Somali-American supermodel Iman, told The Guardian in 2014. These days, one can still find Bowie’s influence in pop star reinventions and redemptions, like Lady Gaga’s transformation from avant-garde artist to Old Hollywood siren in 2014.

In March 2013, Tilda Swinton honored Bowie at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum by citing all the individuals, like herself, who became alive with Bowie’s help. “And you brought us out of the wainscotting like so many freaky old bastard, like so many fan boys and girls, like so many loners and pretty things and dandies and dudes and dukes and duckies and testicular types, and pulled us together,” she said. “I think the thing I’m loving the most about the last few weeks is how clear it now is — how undeniable — that the freak becomes the great unifier.” Swinton described the outcast’s journey to knowing Bowie, whether it was through music or exorbitant amounts of pink blush, as a lonely path paved with breadcrumbs, but Bowie himself had another view about the meanders we take with ourselves to find each other: “The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time,” he told Livewire in 2002. But for many, Bowie neither arrived nor departed into oblivion like human beings are fated to do. “How can Bowie be dead? He was never alive, like the rest of us,” Irish novelist Roddy Doyle wrote on Facebook this morning. Here, we pay tribute to the late, great David Bowie and the looks that will continue to delight and inspire for decades to come.


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