The Flamboyant 1970s Stage Costumes That Inspired Gucci

Pin It
Terry O’Neill_Iconic Images
Elton John at home in London, 1975Photography by Terry O’Neill © Iconic Images

A shared love of excess led Gucci’s Alessandro Michele to Elton John’s fantastical wardrobe – and a newfound friendship

Elton John is well known for dressing with wild abandon, but his most dazzling outfits are found in his archive, worn by the legendary performer during the 1970s. There you will find his most outré get-ups – from plume upon plume of rainbow-coloured feathers worn on a 1977 episode of Jim Henson’s The Muppet Show to an entirely bejewelled Dodgers uniform, with ‘ELTON’ on the back, worn to play a sold-out show at the baseball team’s stadium in 1975. 

The most memorable of these were down to the adept hands of Bob Mackie, the legendary costumer who dressed the divas, from Judy Garland to Tina Turner, Diana Ross to RuPaul. He is best known though for his barely-there creations for pop diva Cher, created with crystals, sequins, trails of feathers and little else that saw her rule the red carpets of the 1970s and 80s. According to Mackie, it was her outfits that John originally sought to mimic when he approached the designer – talking to American Vogue he recounts the singer telling him: “I kind of like what you do for Cher”. From then on, Mackie says, “I treated him like a male showgirl”. Alongside Anne Reavey and Tommy Roberts, designers that John also worked with, Mackie would transform the singer into fashion’s ultimate male peacock.

40 years on, among paintings by Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo in the Palatina portrait gallery of the Medici palace in Florence, John would watch on as Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director, showed his Resort 2018 collection in the city of the house’s birth. It was one of Elton-worthy excess, weaving together billowing Renaissance gowns with the house’s logo-heavy offerings of the 1990s and a multitude of other opulent reference points that number too many to list. John sat front row in sequin jacket with a multicoloured lizard running down the side, created by Michele himself.

His attendance was a clue of what was to come – in Milan, a few months later, Michele showed his S/S18 collection for the house, turning his attention to the glam rock stylings of the 1970s. It was territory he had dipped into previously, but this time the reference was overt – multicoloured paillettes covered dresses and tops, shoulders were amplified, and the models’ hair was teased into crispy waves. Among this was a capsule collection inspired by the glammest of those rockers – Elton John himself; the singer had invited him to dig into his incredible archive of clothes, saved from the era, and create his own vision of the historic garments.

“He showed me the archive. He has everything. It’s unbelievable, like a store: clothes, jewellery, photographs… It’s like… Santa Claus’s grotto!” Michele told AnOther’s Susannah Frankel. “We have the same attitude, we love things and beautiful objects. We share the same obsession for collecting things. So I was completely hypnotised. The clothes were unbelievable. In every piece there is a story, a piece of his heart, of his song.”

There was a set of jacket and trousers, appliquéd with coloured music notes, inspired by an outfit by Anne Reavey, worn to perform at the Hollywood Bowl in 1973. A checkerboard jacket was edged with crystals and dotted with studs, reworked from an original design by Bob Mackie (Mackie’s name was also swirled across the back of a T-shirt, in further ode to the designer). There were ‘Mr Freedom’ prints, a reference to Tommy Roberts’ London boutique – and Tommy himself, the man responsible for John’s 1970 tour outfits. One jacket simply had ‘EHJ’ stitched onto the back.

Last week, it was announced that the pair’s newfound friendship would continue, with Michele designing the outfits for John’s 300-date farewell tour. John celebrated the announcement by performing in a brocade dress coat with ‘Gucci Loves Elton’ spelt out in crystals and beads across it. It was a love letter, in clothing form, between two men who understand the transformative, and often transgressive, power of flamboyance.

AnOther Magazine have celebrated this partnership in the S/S18 issue, in which dazzling film star Saoirse Ronan wears pieces from both Elton John’s archive, and the Gucci pieces they inspired – alongside an interview with Alessandro Michele by Susannah Frankel.

The Spring/Summer 2018 issue of AnOther Magazine is on sale now.