Art & Design

5 Best Bowie Outfits at ACMI

By Stephen A Russell
17th Jul 2015

The Starman has landed. Blockbusting exhibition David Bowie Is… falls to earth, touching down in Melbourne’s Australian Centre of the Moving Image (ACMI). Packed with over 300 objects plundered from his extensive archive, the exhibition, originally hosted by London’s V&A museum, brings with it a cornucopia of the chameleon-like star’s most distinctive fashion statements.

They say the clothes maketh the man, and while Bowie has always worked a whirlwind of colliding mediums, his sartorial selections form an integral part of the myth.

Officially unveiling the exhibition with a slow jazz rendition of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance,’ the video clip for which was filmed down under, Melbourne cabaret act Geraldine Quinn sported a glittering red and blue asymmetric number that referenced both the lyrics, “put on your red shoes and dance the blues,” as well as Bowie’s trademark zigzag make up from the cover of Aladdin Sane.

Quinn will host late-night Bowie-inspired performances every Thursday and Friday for the duration of David Bowie Is… and we recommend catching the show after checking out your favourite outfits of his downstairs, with over 50 to peruse (read, imagine yourself parading around in).


1. Aladdin In Big Pants

Set against a blood red backdrop, the first exhibit visitors will encounter is an incredible black bodysuit picked out with swirling, fine white line detail and sporting exuberantly bulbous legs, created for Bowie’s 1973 Aladdin Sane tour by influential Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto.

A perfect symbol for Bowie’s rapid rise to global stardom, the star first spotted Yamamoto’s work at an exhibition held in London in 1971, but could never hope to afford his pieces. Instead he relied on designer mates like Natasha Korniloff and Freddie Burretti to conjure up a similar style.

By the time the tour came around two years later, Bowie was a megastar who could afford to hit up the real deal. Creating many costumes for the tour, Yamamoto drew on kabuki actors and samurais as his source of inspiration. (Pictured)

2. Hallo Spaceboy

If there’s one moment that seared Bowie’s sound and vision into the cultural consciousness it’s his now legendary appearance on BBC One’s long-running music program Top of the Pops back in 1972, performing Starman in the androgynous guise of Ziggy Stardust, one of many alter egos he would assume over his decades in the business.

Designed by Burretti, the dazzling orange, blue and green quilted number was accessorised with a wild red bouffant and matching patent calf-high boots done up with dark green laces.

In a nod to Bowie’s enduring love of cinema, Burretti riffed off of the super-stylish thugs of auteur Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Bowie dubbed the ensemble, “ultra-violence in Liberty fabrics,” after the London department store, and it blew minds wide open.

Beaming into living rooms across the nation and then on out around the world, freaks, geeks and even the quietly meek saw in Ziggy a real hero championing being whoever you wanted to be. David Bowie Is… wisely presents the outfit against a massive video screen playing his show-stopping performance.

3. For McQueen And Country

Part of Bowie’s magic is his willingness to collaborate with fellow creatives breaking the mould, traversing the boundaries of design through fashion, film and music. Often he spotted fellow genius before they’d even had the chance to make their own big mark.

Fashion designer Alexander McQueen was one such bright spark Bowie championed early on, and for me, the absolute highlight of the costumes on display in David Bowie Is… is the artfully torn Union Jack coat he fashioned, which Bowie sported on the cover of his 1997 album Earthling.

A perfect union of both Bowie’s daring – he had a firm hand in its design - and McQueen’s counter-couture punk sensibility, it’s an enduring icon all of its own. (Pictured).

4. Friday On My Mime

Clowns are scary, but there’s something ethereally beautiful about the white cone hat and glittering, silvery blue frilly Pierrot-style mime’s outfit that stands astride McQueen’s Union Jack trench.

Designed by Korniloff for the cover of 1980’s Scary Monsters… (And Super Creeps), there’s a special kind of otherworldly power held in this strange vision that references centuries of performance art, with Bowie endlessly fascinated by the art of mime.

It memorably appears in the video for ‘Ashes to Ashes,’ which Bowie co-directed with David Mallet, a regular collaborator who also helmed both of Bowie’s videos shot in Australia, ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘China Girl.’

CREDIT: Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive.

5. Ice, Ice Baby

Long before Pluto was hot to trot, Bowie was asking us, “Is there life on Mars?” What’s cooler than Bowie’s Ice-blue suit in the 1972 video for Life On Mars?

He cuts a dash on wedge heels with a matching gold tie featuring turquoise polka dots and a bold red and pale gold diagonal stripe, perched on a dark vertical striped shirt with cream collar. It gleams in the darkness as Bowie’s immortal refrain belts out. Designed by Burretti, we love the flaring lapel, double-edged pockets and striking seamlines. Minty fresh.

David Bowie Is… at ACMI until November 1

Image Credits: 1. Alladin (main image right). CREDIT: Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita, © Sukita / The David Bowie Archive; 3. McQueen (main image left). CREDIT: Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3, © Frank W Ockenfels 3.

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