There are few women who can lay claim to the word “chic” as sincerely as Sade Adu. Her signature look has been referred to as ‘unspecifically exotic’, and when she burst onto the music scene in the early 1980s, a recent graduate of Central Saint Martins’ prestigious fashion course, no less, her discerning eye for effortless style caught the attention of magazine editors worldwide.
Part of Adu’s allure is her authenticity. “It wasn’t marketing,” she said. “It was just me, and I wasn’t trying to promote an image.” A record label executive the musician once worked with attested to this: “She didn’t follow anyone else’s style. No one was as beautiful or had as sleek of a look as her. She didn’t mind designer clothes, but you’d never ever look at her and say, ‘Oh that’s a Chanel outfit.’ She never looked like a brand.” In a way, Adu became a trademark in and of herself, instantly recognisable by a sleek braid, weighty gold earrings, a poppy-hued red lip and the unique ability to wear shoulder pads and batwing sleeves with a timeless elegance. Today, as Sade celebrates her 59th birthday, we look back on five of her best music video style moments.
1. The Sweetest Taboo (1985)
High-waisted jeans, a brick-red suede matador jacket and gargantuan hoop earrings form the basis of Sade’s ensemble in the video for The Sweetest Taboo – that is, before she changes into a double denim look similar to the outfit she wore for that iconic photograph taken by David Montgomery in 1980. Both are suitably equestrian – ideal when you are cantering across the desert with a motorbike-riding creep hot on your hooves.
2. No Ordinary Love (1992)
The Little Mermaid meets haute couture in the 1992 video for No Ordinary Love. Sade stars as an ethereal mer-creature, iridescent fins and all, who falls in love with a man dressed like a bottle of Jean Paul Gaultier’s Le Male. Deciding she would rather be where the people are, Ms Adu fashions herself a bridal skirt-over-trousers look made from metres of white netting and marabou feather trim, accessorised with a litre bottle of Evian as a reminder of her watery heritage.
3. Your Love is King (1984)
For Your Love is King, Sade sports a belted, black angora knit and suede trousers, and accessorises with plastic earrings, a flamingo-pink smokey eye and a white ribbon woven through her long plait. Lest we forget the black leather gloves, too, which are worn indoors at all times for true crime-scene chic.
4. When Am I Going to Make a Living? (1984)
We would wager that Demna Gvasalia looked to the When Am I Going to Make a Living? video for inspiration when designing Balenciaga’s S/S17 trenchcoats. The pointed shoulder pads on Sade’s iteration (which could, frankly, have taken somebody’s eye out) are emblematic of the ‘loadsamoney’ aesthetic particular to the corporate world of the 1980s. The song itself was Sade’s version of ‘sticking it to the man’, urging those working in the creative industries to keep fighting for what they believe in, even if that means squatting in a Finsbury Park flat with no central heating – which, not incidentally, she did while she was at art school.
5. King of Sorrow (2000)
King of Sorrow was directed by Sophie Muller in 2000, and filmed in and around San Juan, Puerto Rico. With an aesthetic inspired by the 1960 Italian film Two Women, starring Sophia Loren, Sade plays a single mother who dreams of becoming a singer, wearing a bandana by day and a ballgown by night. “Sade herself came up with the original idea,” said Muller. “However, she saw it in a different way – as a housewife who sings to make money, but in a northern working men’s club. This is exactly what her guitarist’s mum used to do.
“It was obvious this was a good idea, but it’s difficult to make Doncaster look exciting for the length of a video. I thought it had to have an otherworldliness and I couldn’t get the idea of Sophia Loren out of my head, as the ordinary working mother, but very sexy too. It allowed me to make a whole other drama.”