The perversely corporeal ghosts of Amy Winehouse that stalked Jean Paul Gaultier’s couture Spring 2012 runway were a macabre, saddening reminder that, in modern culture, the term ‘inimitable’ is seen as a challenge rather than a tribute. Amy was there, a blaringly evident presence, spiriting through every single thread. There were waspish waists and constrictive pencil skirts. Sleeves were cast cheekily askew, reminiscent of the singer’s heavily-photographed drunken wanderings through Camden. Models wore eyeliner thicker than oil spills, their hair piled to proportions that defied both gravity and good taste. Yes, the clothes were inspired, the artistry manifest in every delicately boned corset. But, ostensibly, this was a fashionable farce. Gaultier aimed at an homage but got caught up in the web of theatrics that blinded much of the public to Amy’s true talents.
Pop music is an industry built on the commodification of carefully constructed images. These facades, if nurtured by crafty PR representatives and a media hungry to elevate the next big thing from humble beginnings, can soon come to define those who gave them corporeal life. As a twice-divorced mother of two, Britney Spears will eternally be the quintessential naughty schoolgirl. Despite a decade spent stealing small children away from their homelands and sculpting arm muscles that would not look out of place on a tub of protein powder, Madonna’s 1984 turn as a starry-eyed nymphet wearing a frothy wedding dress is still all-pervasive. More recently, pallid Lizzie Grant proved that with bouncy hair, lips inflated to Bardot-like proportions and a catchy stage name (Lana Del Rey, natch), overnight pop ubiquity is an easy feat.
It was never like that with Amy. Her gloriously proportioned beehive was always slightly sunken and ratty at the ends. Her tattoos, messily conceived and lacking any cohesion, had most likely been impulsive late-night feats of drunken fancy. Her eyeliner, though conscientiously applied daily with the diligence of a goody-goody schoolgirl, was always smeared about the edges, hinting at bleary-eyed evenings. She was her own woman— her image an organically cultivated bricolage of her passions and whims, a refreshingly stark contrast to the meticulously conceived likes of Del Rey.
The pervasive influence of such a deeply forged image hit me when I arrived at work one morning last year, just days after the singer’s tragic death. I rarely go a day without wearing a thick slick of liquid eyeliner— painting it on is very much entrenched in my overtly complicated daily beauty ritual and, like Amy, I suppose, I feel somewhat naked without it. It struck me as telling, then, that despite the fact I had seen her on an almost daily basis for nearly two years, my manager asked me if my heavily lined eyes were a tribute to Amy. Feline eyeliner was very much Amy’s ‘thing’, despite a rich history in the cosmetic arsenals of icons like Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe. In much the same way that ‘Rehab’ became her apt anthem, the dramatic warpaint in which she smothered her lids became her totem, and Jean Paul Gaultier wielded it, claiming it as a tribute. With models snarling, stumbling and dragging on cigarettes, however, what Fashion Wire Daily called, “a joyful homage” was instead a vulgar caricature of a troubled young woman who met an untimely, and ultimately tragic, end.
More often than not, political correctness is an enemy to creativity. Fashion’s talent for creating witty references to the cultural zeitgeist is part of what makes it so continually interesting. There is no doubt that Amy Winehouse pioneered a look that was eminently desirable, but Gaultier’s veiled carbon copies, no matter how skillfully conceived, commodified a legacy, and a tragic loss, that is still bitingly raw.