Having just finished a style cycle in which the terms high fashion and celebrity evoked designer jeans, T-shirts, and UGGs rather than sequins, spikes, and wild glasses, Gaga's performances mark a return to over-the-top showmanship. In an era when even Bootsy Collins, Elton John, and Madonna are dressing tamely, Gaga has nearly single-handedly brought blinking attire back to the stage.
"She's given us all permission to be bold in our fashion statements, even to have a little fun," said Karen Giberson, who lives in Media and is president of the New York-based Accessories Council. In 2009, the council deemed Lady Gaga its Stylemaker of the Year, and she did not disappoint when she arrived at the ceremony, her face covered in lace and a veil, with a white wig reminiscent of Marie Antoinette. "It's always so interesting to see what she's going to do next. You can't possibly guess what it will be," Giberson said.
Gaga has already influenced a gang of young artists, including rapper Nicki Minaj - with her pink-banged bob - as well as pop singers Katy Perry and Adam Lambert, both of whom choose glittery Goth over all-American casual. You might have noticed new artist Ke$ha sports a look complete with blue lipstick, stacks of plastic watches she wears like bangles, and sparkling eye covers. Haven't we seen that on Gaga? Even 10-year-old Willow Smith - daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith - flipped her hair "back and forth" in a Mohawk, sheered leggings, and multicolored nails, surely all Gaga-inspired.
Gaga, born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in New York City, started performing in clubs early in the decade as part of a group called Lady Gaga and the Twilight Revue. She was known for prancing around town in high heels and fishnet stockings. And, according to Lizzy Goodman's book Lady Gaga: Critical Mass Fashion, even before she dyed her black hair platinum blond and built relationships with the late Alexander McQueen and Giorgio Armani, her signature look had always been a little bit Goth/superhero - totally inspired by David Bowie.
Nowadays, the two-time Grammy winner has an entire Haus of Gaga - a group of stylists and makeup artists who share her oddball vision. In some cases, Gaga hasn't disappointed the part of me that celebrates the bold and the fresh, as in her superhero costumes or when she ties her hair in a bow. I liked the pearl-encrusted outfit (complete with pearlized makeup) she wore by Canadian artist Terence Koh, as well as the crystal minidress by Thierry Mugler, who, thanks to Gaga, is enjoying a comeback. And my favorite - I'm not being sarcastic - was the bubble dress/leotard by Hussein Chalayan.
"Everyone is getting sucked into the Gaga vortex," said Sasha Charnin Morrison, fashion editor at US Weekly. She has also noticed that Gaga has brought a bevy of new designers to the forefront this year, adding towering high-heel shoe designer Noritaka Tatehana to the list. "And everyone is demanding the next Lady Gaga. . . . So it opens doors for other artists to wear things that are unexpected."
But it's the unexpected parts of Gaga that bug me out. I was explaining this predicament to a friend on Facebook while snowed in on Monday, and she called me conservative. She may be right, but I grew up with Madonna and Cher and Grace Jones, no slouches in the shock-value department. Still, Lady Gaga makes me uncomfortable. And I think it's because I'm dealing with my first major generation gap in the world of young entertainment. When I was 24, my cutting-edge fashion was about minimalism. We didn't show off our sexuality. . . . OK, maybe Lil' Kim did, but she was an exception.
Gaga, on the other hand, is forcing performers to step up their game. Even artists who started their careers with harmless, cookie-cutter styles are embracing her visual spectacle: Miley Cyrus has been performing in a black leather hot-pants jumpsuit, and actress/singer Taylor Momsen is wearing a similar leotard style on stage with legs à la Gaga.
Gaga also has helped us get in touch with our own inner rocker. Although we may never wear a lobster headdress the way she does, Gaga exists in the funkiness and boldness of recent accessories, according to Giberson. She has helped usher in towering high heels, pearls, lace, and gloves. You can also credit Gaga with the recent daytime glittery looks and the continued bold-colored lipstick trend. (MAC has even jumped on the Gaga fashion train.) And shiny Minx nails have had surprisingly long staying power, thanks to Gaga. That said, 2011 will continue to be a bold fashion year.
"It's very rare that someone comes out that's as remarkable and unique as Gaga," Giberson said. "It's refreshing. It's different. It's irreverent."
Maybe it's not that scary after all.
Contact Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at ewellingtonphl.