How The Rolling Stones became fashion icons

The band's style legacy is on display at a show billed as the largest collection of their stage outfits and memorabilia

A colourful display of outfits worn by Mick Jagger over the years on display in Exhibitionism - The Rolling Stones.
A colourful display of outfits worn by Mick Jagger over the years on display in Exhibitionism - The Rolling Stones.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • On May 4, 1963, The Rolling Stones, then a scrappy quintet known mostly for banging out Chuck Berry covers, gathered for their first official photo shoot on the streets of London's Chelsea district.

Five bad boys in the making, they slouched in ratty sweaters, rumpled jackets and ill-fitting trousers, looking like students stumbling through a three-day bender after getting expelled.

"Word got out that the results of the session were disgusting," Mr Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones' manager, later said.

And he could barely contain his glee. That just-got-out-of-bed, to- hell-with-you look, he added, "would define them and divine them".

But it would hardly limit them. Over the next five decades, the Stones would turn the stage into the world's largest runway, transforming their look constantly and radically, even as they stayed true to their filthy, blue-based sound.

The band's vast fashion legacy is on full display at a show opening tomorrow in New York, Exhibitionism - The Rolling Stones, billed as the largest collection of the Stones' stage outfits, musical instruments and memorabilia assembled.

The show takes place at Industria, a sprawling studio and event space in the West Village, after a five-month run at the Saatchi Gallery in London that drew more than 350,000 visitors. The retrospective, curated by Ms Ileen Gallagher, formerly of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, digs deep from collectors' vaults and the band members' closets. The black-and-red Lucifer cape that Mick Jagger wore at Altamont? It is there. The antique toy drum kit that Charlie Watts used for Street Fighting Man? It is there, too.

The exhibition also features meticulous re-creations of a Stones recording studio and the infamous hovel at 102 Edith Grove in London that Jagger shared with Keith Richards and Brian Jones in 1962 and 1963, complete with peeling wall- paper, discarded Playboy magazines and an artificial odour that suggests stale beer and old socks.

Although David Bowie generally got credit for being rock's ultimate chameleon, the Stones invented the very image of the modern rock star. With a fashion sensibility that was one part Vogue magazine and one part skin magazine, the Stones laid the groundwork for punk, dandified Mod, pushed psychedelia to its cartoon extreme and basically invented glam rock. And that was just the 1960s.

"You want to be new; you want to be eye-catching and yet elegant, but yet crazy because you're on stage," said Jagger. "It's not just five blokes in blue jeans going on with a lot of amps, you know what I mean?"

The collection starts at the beginning, with Jones' houndstooth- check jacket from 1963, a relic of that blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment when the Stones attempted to be G-rated teen idols in matching uniforms.

"In the early 1960s, one of the big fashion things was The Beatles' jackets," Jagger said. "That was something different."

Even so, he added, the band were always mystified why their manager, who curated their bad-boy image as the anti-Beatles, wanted to experiment with uniforms.

"It was a really weird thing, the matching jackets," Jagger said, because Oldham's "whole thing was to be not like that. He was the one who wanted to be different".

And very quickly, they were. By the time they were starting to cross over in the United States in 1964 and 1965, they already looked vaguely dangerous, at least to teen-pop audiences weaned on Neil Sedaka.

"You saw the scruffiness, the down-dressing that really didn't exist in the American vocabulary: the mismatched look, the leather jackets, adopting some of the traditional rhythm-and-blues style," said designer Anna Sui, a Stones fan. "And then, throwing in a pair of white shoes. It was just like, 'Wow, what is this?' That's how guys reacted. And to this day, you see guys dressing exactly that way."

Soon, the Stones were serving as global ambassadors of a very different style, the Swinging London dandy look coming out of Carnaby Street and King's Road. That is exemplified in the exhibition by Watts' blue-and-green tartan suit by Granny Takes A Trip, the seminal King's Road boutique of the era, and Jagger's red Grenadier military guardsman drummer's jacket, which he wore while performing Paint It Black on the television show Ready Steady Go! on May 27, 1966. Victorian cravats and Regency-era ruffled shirts were the order of the day.

On July 5, 1969, during a memorial concert in London's Hyde Park for Jones (the band's founder who drowned), Jagger strode on stage in a white voile Michael Fish man- dress with a bow-laced front.

A re-creation of the dress is on display in Exhibitionism.

The Stones had essentially created "glam rock", said Simon Reynolds, the author of Shock And Awe, a new book on that 1970s music movement.

"Bowie is often regarded as the pioneer when it comes to gender- bending and extreme fashion statements in rock," Reynolds said. "But many of the things he's been celebrated for had actually already been done by The Rolling Stones."

Richards, for example, was searching his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg's closet for his groundbreaking ensembles. By the landmark 1972 tour, it was simply expected that Jagger would take the stage in eye-shadow and skintight, velvet jumpsuits by Ossie Clark, three of which are on display.

"These kinds of jumpsuits, they were really easy; you didn't have to make any decisions," Jagger said. "You were just like, 'Is it going to be this colour or this colour', then put a scarf over it and you're ready. They were very comfortable to wear. They were, like, sexy, and you could move in them."

By the 1990s, the Stones were a Fortune 500-level touring behemoth and Jagger went couture, working with leading fashion designers, including Alexander McQueen and Hedi Slimane.

After 54 years and seemingly 54,000 fashion experiments, the only remaining question seems to be whether Jagger regretted any particular outfit. "Ah, that's a horrible question!" he said with a laugh. "You're bound to make mistakes."

"There were so many ghastly awful ones," he added, "but, at the time, everyone loved them, you know what I mean? You have to go and take chances, and people are going to laugh, and maybe it's not going to be a success. But there is no success without risk."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2016, with the headline 'How The Rolling Stones became fashion icons'. Subscribe