Have you ever had a creative breakthrough?
"The rock goddess I will be in the future ...!"
Text: Jan Kedves
First the bleaching, then the breakthrough: 23-year-old Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, known as Lady Gaga, gives the lie to all critics who talked about the bankruptcy of pop culture. The fashion-conscious newcomer has sold 2.5 million copies of her debut album "The Fame" and says of herself that when she composes a song, she always thinks of the corresponding outfit at the same time. Mid-July in Cologne: In the evening, Lady Gaga will play an acoustic version of her hit »Poker Face« on a Plexiglas piano in the Palladium with the heels of her patent leather pumps. Before that, the New Yorker sits in a leopard blazer on the roof terrace of a luxury hotel and talks about her visual strategy - about Thierry Mugler, Andy Warhol and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Against the radiant blue of the sky, the contour of her pink-streaked wig and the towers of Cologne Cathedral form a connection of a strange installation-like character.
Lady Gaga, the color of your lipstick - is that Barbie pink?
Nearly. We call it 'synthetic pink'.
Like ›Prussian Blue‹? Did you come up with this name?
Of course. We are very specific about Lady Gaga's color palette. There are of course black, red, pink and a few other colors. But when we talk about 'pink' it can't possibly just be pink - the word is far too vague. It has no perspective, it doesn't sound plastic enough. Only ›Synthetic Pink‹ goes with Lady Gaga.
You speak of 'we'. You mean your ›House of Gaga‹?
Correctly. This is my creative team. Graphic designers, sound designers and set designers work at the Haus of Gaga. They are all young - no one is older than 26 - and they all share my vision. First and foremost my designer Matthew Williams, known as "Dada". He develops my outfits and accessories with me, we plan together in which direction the style and color palette should develop.
What criteria are used to define Lady Gaga's color palette?
The theme is opalescence - a very specific three-dimensional shimmer. It is created by the refraction of light. All the air bubbles, crystals, Plexiglas prisms and shards of mirrors that are applied to my stage outfits and accessories create that plastic-like sheen that defines my look. A David-LaChapelle’s color spectrum goes best with this: turquoise, lavender, synthetic pink. Sometimes we joke and say my aesthetic is that of a drugged fairytale princess.
When did you realize how important style and consistent aesthetics are for a career in pop business?
It's not that style is only important to me as a musician, it has always determined my life. I had to wear a uniform when I went to high school - a tough time for a theatrical girl like me. I went to a girls' school, the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan ...
... the same private school that Paris and Nicky Hilton attended.
Exactly, and there I was always mocked for still dressing up every day. But what should I do? I've always put a lot of emphasis on glamor. And that meant for me back then: sunglasses, knickers over fishnet tights, high-heeled shoes, bras, blousons. Don't forget the power shoulder pads. They are extremely important! My favorite designer is Thierry Mugler, he redefined shoulder pads in the eighties. And my favorite designer is Donatella Versace. As you can see, it's about glamor. I'm from New York, a city that is saturated with style and fashion. We New Yorkers are headless fashion hookers. Vanity is not a dirty word for us. We pretend to be glamorous because we believe that glamor is a projection of our soul. You could say: Lady Gaga was famous before anyone knew who she was - simply because of the way I presented myself.
Lady Gaga with the tiger mastiff and self-designed vinyl catsuit in her »Poker Face« video
The projection became a reality?
Exactly. The focus is on the conviction that a certain image has the potential to change life - if it is consistently projected outwards. The best way to explain it is with the title of my debut album “The Fame”: “The” is very important because there is a crucial difference between “Fame” and “The Fame”. 'Fame' is enjoyed when the gossip press reports about you every day, when everyone knows who you are. You enjoy ›The Fame‹ when nobody knows you, but everyone really wants to know who you are. ›The Fame‹ is therefore a strategy to present yourself like a star. It's a creative awareness, an artistic sensitivity.
You must know the documentary "Paris is Burning".
The film is my bible! "Paris is Burning" was one of the first films Matthew and I watched together when we were starting to develop my look - it was our inspiration. The film shows exactly what Lady Gaga is about: people who have decided to be stars. The drag queens and voguers shown in the film came from the New York house ball scene, they lived their glamorous lives independently, although they had no money and were unknown outside of their community. The ballroom was where they felt famous. At the balls they fought for 'The Fame'. Even if I'm not a Voguerin: I love and appreciate this original New York culture, its fashion consciousness and its creativity.
Have you ever met Willi Ninja, the most legendary Voguer on the scene and founder of the House of Ninja?
Unfortunately not. Some of the outfits that Matthew Dada designed for me are inspired by Willi Ninja and his style. I also know that Willi Ninja was teaching Paris Hilton how to walk in New York when she was signed by Ford Models - he also worked as a model trainer. And guess what? The other day someone told me that in Harlem, where the New York Vogueing Houses are still battling each other today, there has recently also been a ›House of Gaga‹. Isn't that great?
In your opinion, is that proof that Lady Gaga no longer just enjoys “The Fame”, but actually enjoys “Fame”?
Hardly anyone knows that Lady Gaga wasn't blonde at the beginning of her career.
Right. I signed my record deal as a brunette. I wore a bouffant - a hairstyle like Amy Winehouse. Everyone mistook me for her. The breakthrough only came when I opted for blonde hair. It was like that with Madonna. Interesting, isn't it?
Is 'blonde' the right name for your hair color?
No, not really. I call them Andy Warhol White.
Are you a big Andy Warhol fan?
Andy was the greatest! Did you know he never threw away any of his hair pieces? He kept each one. When he died, they were all found. He even powdered his hair pieces to underline the white - like Karl Lagerfeld!
Speaking of which: like Karl Lagerfeld, you seem to have mastered the art of completely overwriting previous looks with new ones. Just as Lagerfeld is no longer remembered as a fat man with a fan and a cola glass, Lady Gaga is no longer known as a brunette, and with every new video you overwrite your image a little bit ...
I can explain it to you: iconography. The theory of repetition. You have to drill an image into people's heads over and over again until they don't forget it. If you look at photos from the first year of my career - after bleaching: I always wore the same outfit. It consisted of a black vinyl catsuit that Matthew Dada had designed for me and a blazer by Martin Margiela. Plus gold chains, a pair of Burberry patent leather boots, my white pony and black Versace sunglasses. I wore this outfit every day for a year, no matter where, no matter when, no matter how hot it was. We made a conscious decision: This look is iconic. You can remember him. So that's how I flew around the world. And it worked: now it seems like I invented the white pony hairstyle and black sunglasses - which is ridiculous, because white ponies and sunglasses have been around for ages. Still, I've mastered both of them so successfully that everyone now associates them with Lady Gaga. When my fans paint my head on a banner, they don't paint my face, they paint my bangs and sunglasses. Iconography and repetition!
Is everything you do iconic?
Naturally. I'm not saying that everything I do is automatically legendary. Only history can decide that. But when I say iconic, I mean: Everything about Lady Gaga is thought out, theorized and designed to be remembered.
When do you start your own clothing line?
I don't want to rush anything. Of course there is merchandise from Lady Gaga - but merchandise and fashion are two very different pairs of shoes. I admire Kanye West for his courage to start his own fashion label with pastels. And I wish Beth Ditto every success with her plus size line. But I am still unsure myself. In order to successfully start a fashion label, you not only have to be creative, you also have to be interested in business. But I don't care about the money. As long as I have enough to pay for my outfits and my show, I don't care about money.
Do you prefer to let others profit from your look? The 25 percent increase in sales of black knickers in the UK in recent months is attributed to Lady Gaga's success.
I heard that too - but who can say such a thing with certainty? I would find it a lot more plausible if we brought out an art line. Because that's how I see what we do anyway: as art. We design fashion that is perceived in the art world - but it is not for sale. We are developing a transparent plexiglass piano that is filled with transparent plastic bubbles, and I wear a transparent jacket with the same air bubbles from top to bottom. An installation!
Is your ›Disco-Stick‹ such an installation too? It looks like a glowing toilet brush, but at the same time it is the most iconic rock insignia that the pop world has seen in a long time.
Many people think it is presumptuous for a newcomer to swing a shining crystal scepter right away. But that's exactly what Lady Gaga is all about: claiming fame. First I wrote the song "Love Game". I had hit a boy in the club one night with the slogan: "I want to ride your disco stick." This is how the song developed. When it came time to choose the right outfit, I said to Matthew Dada, “I need my own disco stick. Because even if I sing: 'I want to ride your disco stick', it really means: 'I wish I had my own.' Penis envy.
You talk like Grace Jones.
Maybe Grace Jones and I have something in common? In any case, I wanted an accessory that represented feminine and masculine potency on stage at the same time - and everyone can celebrate with it! And what was Matthew doing? He showed me the photo of a white lamp in a black room and said, “This is your inspiration. You don't have a light show yet. You have to be your own light show! ”At that time I was performing in a different club every night, where I had to get by with the existing light show - I didn't have the money to bring my own light show with me.
The accessory was born out of necessity.
Exactly. If we had had money right from the start, we would probably never have come up with the idea of the disco stick. Not to be drawn in! He makes such a beautiful light.
You are now so successful that with »Paparazzi« you have been able to shoot a video which, in terms of budget and aesthetically, follows the era of the great music videos in the early 1990s.
The "Paparazzi" video is inspired by Helmut Newton. To be more precise: from a fashion series that he photographed for Vogue in 1995, »The Empowered Woman«. For this series, Newton photographed all these beautiful supermodels as cripples, with crutches and ruffs. On one motif, "Invincible Woman," a model even wears splints on her leg. Sexy! The route immediately reminded me of the story of the Kazakh supermodel who fell from the ninth floor of a New York house at the age of twenty last June. Ruslana Korschunova. She died a mysterious death. I also had to think about pornography.
Yes, pornography is - besides murder - the most desperate cry for attention and fame that our time knows. As early as 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in his work »On the Social Contract or Principles of Constitutional Law« that society repeatedly falls into cycles.
Lady Gaga with a chrome dress, heavily inspired by Thierry Mugler, from the Spring / Summer 2007 collection by Dolce & Gabbana in her "Paparazzi" video was last worn in 1992 by Swedish supermodel Emma Sjöberg in George Michael's "Too Funky" video?
A perfect match! Crippling, glamor, fame and death - that's what my "Paparazzi" video is about. By the way, the robot outfit is the same as one of the models in Helmut Newton's spread. It fit me like a glove.
Beyoncé Knowles must be pretty mad at you - after all, she recently wore vintage costumes by Thierry Mugler under her alias Sasha Fierce.
Why should Beyoncé be mad at me? She doesn't have an exclusive right to Thierry Mugler! In any case, she didn't complain to me.
Let's also talk about the May cover of American Rolling Stone that you shot with David LaChapelle.
David LaChapelle and I have been good friends for a year, I call him my poodle. I love David so much that I almost cry when I see his pictures. The way in which he links Botticelli's aesthetics with images of pop culture in them, how he reveals the flaws of the celebrities in them and at the same time canonize them - that is simply brilliant! I always say: David LaChapelle is the Andy Warhol of our generation.
He photographed you naked for the cover.
Only dressed in plexiglass balls, everything is pink, and I'm wearing a wig with a frizzy blonde afro. I've never been seen like this! I said to David, “I don't want you to photograph me as I look right now. I want you to show me as the rock goddess I will be in the future. I want you to make the lie a reality. ”He did.
A self-fulfilling prophecy?
Exactly. And guess what? I recently saw Andy Warhol's last painting in an exhibition in Paris, it is entitled "Raphael Madonna, $ 6.99". It is Raphael's famous Madonna picture with Mary holding little Jesus, Warhol duplicated it and put it on a price tag: $ 6.99. That was his comment on mercantilism and classical art. Then he died. But what fascinated me even more about the picture: Warhol used opalescent tones - turquoise, pink. My color palette! And David LaChapelle's color palette! When I saw this, I started crying. I ran out of the exhibition and immediately called David LaChapelle. I shouted into my Blackberry: "David, David - I see you! I see you!"
How did he react?
He asked, "What are you talking about, Gaga?" I explained to him that I had just seen Warhol's last picture and that it reminded me exactly of his pictures - that his creative consciousness was magically synchronized with that of the late Warhol! David just said, "It's interesting that you say that, Gaga - because believe it or not, I was there when Andy painted this picture."
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