Father of glam-rock fashion leaves a legacy

Marc Bolan's sartorial influence has touched countless fashion designers, rock stars and celebrities.
Marc Bolan's sartorial influence has touched countless fashion designers, rock stars and celebrities.PHOTO:MARC BOLAN/INSTAGRAM

LONDON • These days, Rihanna, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Selena Gomez are making a song and dance with their fashion lines.

Musicians have gone from fashion muses to fashion-makers in the turn of a few seasons, one-upping style heroes of yesteryear such as Mick Jagger and David Bowie - who nevertheless are name-checked as inspiration in show notes.

Yet, few words, if any, are devoted to the sartorial legacy of a man whose influence has done as much (if not more) to shape what you see on runways today: Marc Bolan, a wild child who once had all of Britain grovelling at his shiny heels.

Forty years after his death in a car crash just days before his 30th birthday, it is time the rock 'n' roller is given his fashion due.

"He wasn't just a dedicated follower of fashion - he created fashion," said Mr Alan Edwards, a publicist who worked with Bolan and Bowie.

"With his black curls, made-up eyes and uniquely androgynous look, Marc helped pioneer a look that endures to this day.

"His hippie-chic influence can be seen all over the place, from Lenny Kravitz to Kate Moss."

Add to the list Slash (whose signature look owes much to Bolan's portrait on the cover of the 1972 album The Slider), James Bagshaw of the rock outfit Temples and Johnny Depp in the Alice films.

Generally speaking, though, the man behind glam rock is largely shrouded in obscurity while Bowie is hailed as its poster boy.

Born Mark Feld into a Jewish family in London, Bolan always knew he wanted to be famous.

First, he did it solely with style, appearing in Mod outfits in magazine spreads and cardboard cutouts in department stores.

Later, in the early 1970s, he did it with his band T. Rex.

Widely credited with pioneering glam rock, Bolan, with his corkscrew hair, sparkly make-up and flamboyant outfits, defined an era of glitter and gobbledygook, though he never broke through in America.

"A lot of fashion designers reference him today," said senior fashion and textiles curator Oriole Cullen, at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

"For instance, at YSL when Hedi Slimane was there, with the chunky platforms, baby-doll dresses, the snakeskin jackets."

His influence can also be seen in the glittery space boots of the Saint Laurent autumn 2017 collection, the lush red velvet trousers in Anna Sui's autumn 2017 show and coruscating jackets and vivid patterned flares in Balmain's spring 2017 collections.

Gucci's current interstellar advertising campaign, featuring ornate, shimmering jackets a la Bolan with wide lapels and sequins, has the T. Rex song Ballrooms Of Mars (1972) written all over it.

Paul Smith, another Bolan fan, explained why. "Bolan's look was always incredibly theatrical," he said. To the London designer, things have changed for the worse.

"Sadly, it seems to me that there is almost no theatre left in popular music. Lots of skinny jeans, T-shirts and short haircuts."

The most overt example of Bolan's continued influence in fashion, however, can be seen in the designs of John Varvatos.

His T-shirts have often displayed Bolan's image and the designer has "definitely" hung posters of the rocker in his studio.

For Varvatos, the rocker has been a long-time source of inspiration.

"In menswear, especially, style isn't just about the individual pieces - it's really about how you put your whole look together," he said.

Bolan "did this in a unique way that became his own, a hallmark".

It is easy to imagine that, had he lived, Bolan would have had a permanent place in the front row of every fashion week show.

As Zowie Broach, head of fashion at the Royal College of Art and a co-founder and designer of the brand Boudicca, said, he "would have been deeply adored and would have adored fashion today".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline 'Father of glam-rock fashion leaves a legacy'. Subscribe