Amy Winehouse: Fashion's Roman Candle

Courtesy of LOVE Magazine, Mark Allan (Winehouse)
Adriana Lima as Amy Winehouse in LOVE magazine, Winehouse performing in London.
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Music isn't the only creative industry mourning Amy Winehouse's death. As critics contemplate how the singer transformed the pop landscape of the 2000s, the fashion universe reflects upon how her unique appearance reinvented what we consider stylish.  Film director John Waters notes to The Times that, “it's hard to look that cheap and pull it off.” But unlike so many she left in her wake, she did.

Not a conventional beauty, Winehouse nonetheless maintained a distinct visual that blended retro posturing with a certain cock-eyed North London insouciance. Or, as she blithely remarked to Harper's Bazaar last fall, “I'm an old Jewish black man. I just dress like it's still the '50s." But as our eyes adjusted to her outlandish look, fashion provacateurs christened the singer as one of their own, branding her their new, tortured muse. Winehouse was the ultimate roman candle of her generation, burning briefly, but poignantly, as a new series of style tributes attests.

Photos: Amy Winehouse Remembered

Popular site Fashionista curated a special gallery of fashion editorials that seem to cull direct inspiration from Winehouse. Some of the references are unmistakable: Victoria' Secret Angel Adriana Lima overtly posing as Winehouse in a LOVE Spring 2009 spread; Isabella Fontana skulking across London Streets in the singer's signature ballet flats for a February 2008 issue of Vogue Paris. These visuals serve as a noble tribute, but are also aestheticized appropriations of real woman's torment. There is a sense of irony to these spreads: of beautiful, thriving youth trying on the costume of a maddened genius for danger and kicks.

Such festishization of Winehouse's appearance is typical of fashion's ongoing fascination with the distance between tragedy and beauty, notes critic Robin Givhan in an op-ed for The Daily Beast. She found the industry's "complex" obsession with Winehouse troubling, suggesting that "her emphatic, tortured, out-of-control life was a familiar and irresistible creative motif" for the industry at the time. The inevitable havoc-strewn spectacle was as integral to the Winehouse package, as valuable to imagemakers as her talent.

When Winehouse was at the height of her global fame, makeup artists rushed to mimic the most charictured of her signifiers—an unruly, towering beehive, violently lined Cleopatra eyes, tawdry lipstick. It was 2007, Back to Black was everyone's favorite feel-bad album of the year, and anti-vitality anthems "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good" spent as much time on the runways as they did the charts. Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, who hailed Winehouse a rara avis of her time, made her his unofficial muse for the label's Pre-Fall 2008 collection, where models sported gentrified, elegant versions of the singer's trademark renegade hair and makeup.

Interestingly, it is Lagerfeld, through Italian line Fendi (which he also directs), who offered  fashion's most notably sincere tribute to the singer, sharing with WWD his first impressions of the singer:

"We met Amy in Paris, fresh from having won five Grammys. That night, everyone discovered that in addition to a genius voice Amy also had an exceptional and very British sense of humor. Having restyled the Fendi dress she was wearing that night, she said with a wink: 'Forgive my ignorance, I don't know anything about fashion....' We are very sad for the loss of such a unique talent that in many ways transcended music, fashion, and culture."

Though Winehouse didn't openly endorse fashion as particularly relevant to her overall creativity, she partnered on a very popular collaboration with Fred Perry, the British clothing line famous for its "teddy" boy and girl punk connotations. The future of that project remains unclear, though rumors suggest the line may continue as an ongoing tribute to the singer.

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