Rock rag pickers Musicians looking for style let stylists call the tune

September 02, 1993|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Staff Writer

he rockers who make their way into the MTV video cycle have acquired a style to call their own. The superstars even have star designers to dress, or undress, them as Jean-Paul Gaultier did for Miss Madonna with his leather harness. The contraption brought five figures at auction last month. Rock fashion counts.

New bands trying to break into any musical venue, even in Baltimore clubs, often scoff at the notion that what they wear may count as well as what they play. But they learn. Most often, a savvy friend is the first to take them in hand and lead them into fashion attitude.

Julia Sullivan, a Baltimore fashion stylist who works at pulling together outfits for catalogs, advertisements and shows, is putting her fashion experience to work on the music scene. She practices on her boy friend's band, The Inner Voice.

"They really needed help, a stage look. People do want something to look at along with the music," she says.

Ron Hamilton, the band leader and boyfriend, is willing to go PTC along if it helps to get the band a gig. They haven't played out yet, but they're getting ready.

"I've got a pretty good casual look," he says, "but the other guys need a little more help, and Julia gives us ideas."

Her ideas are to change the band dramatically. "There's the resistance. Many musicians won't admit to caring about fashion," she says. "They persist with jeans and concert T-shirts."

She hits the thrift shops and club banger boutiques such as Nuclear Kiss in Fells Point for the unusual bits. It wouldn't do for a band to be tainted with mall-rat mainstays like Doc Martens.

"I'll scrounge, look for one-of-a-kind things like hats, belts and vests," she says, "and it takes time to build a look." For Inner Voice, she went for a '50s Beatnik coffee house feel -- berets, ribbed sweaters. "It's getting away from the '60s and '70s retro and all the grunge."

She says many area underground bands are mired in grunge or && stick to their Guns N' Roses shabby. Other bands are keen for change.

"Silk Hammer advertised for a stylist to do their promo photo and stage look," she says, "and I worked with them. They were really clueless and they admitted it. They had been wearing just about anything -- dress shirts, odd pants. Angie, the front singer, had this big hair and sleazy dresses."

A stylist can change all that. "I smoothed her hair, found some crochet tops and little caps and put more flow to her clothes. They liked it, paid me a lot, and we were all happy."

Silk Hammer plays out a lot, and she's hoping her boyfriend's band has equal success.

Music, fashion and friendship sometimes lead to the star circuit.

Arienne Philips styles for Lenny Kravitz and has been with him since the beginning.

"I now do his photo shoots, album covers, videos and tour clothes. I even do the clothes he wears every day," says Ms. Philips on the phone from Los Angeles.

She was in a rush to get clothes to Lenny so he could choose something for his MTV Music Awards appearance tonight.

It wasn't always so.

Early days they shopped together on the same thrift and flea-market circuit where hungry bands go to find their style.

"We were the first people to bring flares back. It was what we felt," she says.

"We're the same age and generation -- he's 29, I'm 30 -- our aesthetics are the same.

"The retro looks we first introduced are now mass marketed, but we were first inspired by our influences as teen-agers -- Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, the R&B Memphis sound -- so we went back to what we knew fashion-wise."

They've gone through a lot of different stages together, and they've grown. "I'm a fashion stylist, but my job has expanded -- I design, I do films, video. I have a rep."

But the easiest work is for old friends. "Lenny is a natural," she says, "just like a lot of other high-end rock stars, he's not manufactured, he is honestly what he is.

"I don't believe in forcing, telling artists 'You have to wear this.' It's a little different with new artists when you are asked to give them a look and image, but you have to be so sensitive."

First there's the music. "You have to listen; there is no formula for being a stylist. My success as a stylist is that I'm sensitive to the sound. I can't work for anyone unless I like them creatively."

Music is where she wanted to be, and got there. She has styled for Spin, Creem and Rolling Stone.

"It's often the relationship with a photographer that makes the style happen. I've done a lot of covers with Mark Seliger at Rolling Stone -- very high-concept images. It's the pinnacle of rock 'n' roll, being on the cover of Rolling Stone, and as a stylist I get to illustrate that moment in an artist's career."

She styles a variety of artists -- Iggy Pop, Ice T, Patty Smyth, Vanessa Paradis, Jody Watley -- and says the experience is different each time. Some of them are only one-stint.

Lenny is long-term. "With Lenny it's easy," she says, "second nature. He trusts me. He has his own incredible fashion sense, I just bring it out.

"I can pull off a look on a model, or a movie character, but not with a real artist. No way they will ever understand or own it. It's like putting a girl in high heels if she's never worn them before. It may work once, but not in real life."

She and Lenny are moving into "future phunk" and away from the '70s retro, global, romantic butch look he originated.

"It's not just making an artist look good, like putting him in an Armani suit," she says, "it's important to show what they're about."

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