Beyoncé transcends fashion

Image credit: Beyoncé

Image credit: Beyoncé

Beyoncé doesn’t just release an album; she unleashes a vision. Sometimes this comes, as it did quite revolutionary with the 2017s Lemonade, as a visual album, where the music is fully understood through rich accompanying film. Last week, in the days before she fell Renaissance, her first solo studio album since then, she released a series of photos on her website: on a red velvet couch with brown liquor in a rocks glass, with metal skewers protruding from a black minidress to form a padded bustier; sitting in the middle of an empty dance floor in a sparkling silver chiton dress, one arm thrown in the air and the other covering her chest; floating in an altar room in a lime green lace dress with a face mask and a bushy lime Mongolian fur trumpet seam. The images are a nightclub fantasy that evokes the feeling of a decadent escapist release that dressing up to dance the night away promises. They set the tone for her sound, preparing us for the house-inspired wildness, as a visual primer for her knowledge-hungry acolytes.

Image credit: Beyoncé.

Image credit: Beyoncé.

What’s even more striking about these images is the lack of recognizable designer pieces. Many of the names are familiar: the lime green lace dress is by Alaïa, recreated in a sour tone from runway orange. A cropped red trench coat, which she wears next to an old-fashioned “On Air” sign, is Dolce & Gabbana. There are several sparkly, peekaboo bodysuits (a Beyoncé signature), two of which she wears on a horse; both are by relatively unknown designers, Gianni Naazar and Nusi Quero. A cone bra she wears on a set of red stairs looks like a Jean Paul Gaultier confection—a throwback to Madonna’s days as a pioneer of mass provocation—but is actually a look from Daniel Roseberry’s Schiaparelli couture spring 2022 collection .These are not pieces that represent the obsessions of each designer, or the priorities of their brands. They instead represent Beyoncé’s vision for herself. They are the latest expression of her pure style.

Image credit: Beyoncé.

Image credit: Beyoncé.

Over the past decade, musicians have become power players in the fashion industry by aligning themselves, sometimes officially and sometimes less so, with brands. Influencers can still control purchases, but musicians shape the global taste and have been the bridge between what happens on the runway and young people, who now discuss clothes and brands on social media. Musicians in particular are drawn to grails, whether it’s a jacket from Supreme and Louis Vuitton’s landmark collaboration, a Versace bag or a gorgeous Saint Laurent dress. Florence Welch, Lizzo and Billie Eilish are a big part of the reason we know Gucci’s geek-chic aesthetic. Even more transformative has been Rihanna’s style, introducing us to the allure of vintage Chanel, the tulle glamor of Molly Goddard, the cool weirdness of Glenn Martens’ Y/Project, and the couture genius of Guo Pei. She has changed the way young women dress: remember when it seemed crazy to wear a tutu dress to go to starbucks? Now overdressing is Zoomer’s way of life. But even if you don’t have Rihanna’s passion, an obsessive relationship with fashion, with a playful, intuitive understanding of the latest IT goods and brands and trends, has been a platform for many young musicians to demonstrate their cultural cache.

Beyoncé sometimes wears such pieces, but in her official image she resists such connoisseurship. Perhaps that is why her images are so singular, so indelible. Days later, I still think of her in the red pouf, staring into the camera lens with that “On Air” sign glowing. She literally has red-hot news: new music, bitch! The images feel timeless, even when there are clear historical references, as in her latest series of images, with their disco-era Vaseline glow, thick with Antonio Lopez’s authenticity. What distinguishes her approach to clothing is that she chooses pieces that fulfill her identity, her sense of what she wants to be, embody and feel, rather than what she identifies as interesting or of the moment.

Image credit: Beyoncé

Image credit: Beyoncé

It’s an image that seems to come entirely from her own creative well, created in collaboration with stylists like Marni Senofonte and photographers too (here, Mason Poole and Carlijn Jacobs). She often wears younger, unproven, unheard of designers, suggesting she knows there’s power in the exposure she can offer; but just as often the label turns out to be Gucci or Dolce. When the world sees the image, it’s not the brand that matters, but the feelings it creates in us, and what it can inspire us to do or wear.

This has always been her mission. One of the most indelible style moments of her career: when she took a baseball bat to a series of cars in the video for Lemonadeis “Hold up.” The lemon yellow silk georgette dress, with its pleated pleats and loosely laced bodice, clung to her body in sensual but strong folds as she strode down the street, a woman scorned but proud. You probably don’t remember the brand – even I had to look it up to be sure. Given the year (2017) and the romantic shape and wild color, you might guess it was Gucci; it was actually Roberto Cavalli, which at the time was managed by Peter Dundas, then a regular collaborator of Beyoncé’s. You remember the woman and what she did with and in the dress, rather than who made it. It is powerful. Even when she wore Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy gowns, as she did at the Met Gala for several years, it seemed as if Tisci was articulating a secret part of Beyoncé’s taste, rather than the artist trying to embody the designer’s message of the moment.

Image credit: Beyoncé

Image credit: Beyoncé

It’s not that other stars aren’t creating history-making photos—Rihanna turned street style into an art form, turning the sidewalk into a public forum for joy and wild self-expression. The genius of a musician like Rihanna, or Lady Gaga or Madonna, is that they use the tools of their time to make their statements. They love Meeting, with all its madness, its constant change, its exciting possibilities for reinvention and role-playing. But Beyoncé stands almost alone in her commitment to developing a total and complete look, then finding clothes that reinforce that reality. She is not interested in what the moment looks like, but rather how she can create her own moment. It’s the difference between fashion and style—and her videos, photos, and music all add up to the resounding decree that style really is substance.

Probably the only musician with a similar approach is David Bowie, who we think of as constantly evolving, but in many ways simply refined and redefined a brilliant, wholly original sense of vision. He can refer to other eras, other musicians, other ideas. But the look and feel always felt like nothing else. It was not about interpreting our time, but about what becomes possible when you allow yourself to be completely incorporated into a universe.

The exception that proves the rule is the itch of name-dropping Renaissance: On “Summer Renaissance,” she checks “Versace, Bottega, Prada, Balenciaga / Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy, collect your coins, Beyoncé.” But the line comes off more like classic rap braggadocio; it’s lucky for these European brands that all their names rhyme. It’s the line that follows that’s more exciting: “So elegant and sassy, ​​this haute couture I boast / This Telfar bag imported, Birkins, they shit in storage.” On Monday, The Real Real reported that on the day of the album release alone, the site saw an 85% increase in searches for Telfar. The Birkin may be the most famous and sought-after handbag in the world, but it’s the Telfar bag that fits right into Beyoncé’s – and therefore her fans’ – world.

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