Hard-rock, glam-rock, spandex, fur, feathers, leather, glitter and sequins – Freddie Mercury was a visual explosion of elaborate unitards and showmanship. As he once said, “it is not a concert you are seeing, it is a fashion show.”
Originally named Farrokh Bulsara, Mercury adopted his stage name when he arrived in England – even his official passport read Frederick Mercury. His extravagant clothing reflected the cross-genre of his music and the extent of his creativity and self-belief as an entertainer. Repeatedly titled the greatest frontman of his time, his four-octave vocal range helped redefine pop music. Band-mate Brian May described him as “a frail but energised dandy.. a paradoxically shy yet flamboyant young man”. Despite his magnetic onstage bravado, Freddie was notably unconfident. He hated his teeth and would often try to cover them during conversation.
Born in Zanzibar and educated in India, his upbringing perhaps influenced his sparkling costumes of harlequins, platform boots and embellishment. Zhandra Rhodes famously designed costumes for Queen, including Mercury’s white satin, winged top. Mercury stated, “I dress to kill, but tastefully.” His iconic harlequin bodysuit sold at Bonhams Entertainment Memorabilia sale for £22,500 in July of this year, while his ballet pumps sold for £4000. He wore ballet pumps whilst recording in the same studio as the Sex Pistols. Sid Vicious commented, “Fred, I see you’ve brought ballet to the masses then.” Freddie replied, “Oh yes Mr Ferocious. Trying my best, dear.”
“It is not a concert you are seeing, it is a fashion show"
Although notoriously wild and a prominent figure within the camp, hedonistic era of disco, Freddie also enjoyed ballet and painting in his free time. Graduating from Ealing with a diploma in graphic design, he was the brain behind Queen's logo and also many of their album covers and costumes. He was inspired by Victorian folklore and fantasy, an obsession identified within his lyrics. “I want to lead the Victorian life, surrounded by exquisite clutter,” he would later remark.
Queen videos are as equally iconic as their stage performances – those four floating heads in the three-act mini opera of Bohemian Rhapsody remain etched into the visual patchwork of the 1970s, while their 1984 video release for I Want to Break Free was famously banned from MTV. a tribute to Coronation Street, the video featured the band dressed up as women, with Freddie rocking a fishnet and leather skirt combo.
Bulsara and Mercury were two different people, one a showman and the other extremely private. Freddie Mercury passed away on November 23, 1991, aged 45, revealing his four-year battle against Aids only a day previously. His vocals and eclectic style remain as relevant today as ever.
Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé’s seminal album ‘BARCELONA’ is being re-released on September 3rd, to mark its 25th anniversary.
Text by Mhairi Graham