How heavy metal became the cool kid of the fashion industry
At first glance, Motorhead and Iron Maiden may not look like your typical fashion icons (salivating war-pigs and maniacal zombies seem a little far removed from Fashion Week, no?)—and yet, the aesthetic they pioneered has endured for the last 40-plus years, albeit within more alternative circles. The bad assery that comes along with wearing a gnarly, spiked skull has proven difficult to resist for rebels without a cause throughout the decades, resulting in many an unlikely metalhead.
Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, et al., have practically founded a style tribe around the idea that rocking a metal tee instantly grits up an otherwise bubble gum persona (needless to say, said bands have not been appreciative of the free publicity). Kanye West and Justin Bieber have blown up the tour merch industry with their Old English font-emblazoned wares, which have also effectively infiltrated the ranks of fast fashion. Justin O’Shea, the recently appointed creative director for Brioni, debuted his first ad campaign for the brand last week starring Metallica, as well as a revamp of the 71-year-old house’s OG logo in a ferociously sleek Gothic font.
Despite this longevity, mainstream acceptance would have seemed unlikely even 10 years ago—I mean, the High School Musical soundtrack was the best-selling album of 2006. So how have we arrived at this place where the antithesis of all things wholesome and stylish is being championed by none other than teen idols? Such appropriation of a subculture is nothing new in fashion—skate culture is having its own mainstream moment, much to the chagrin of many actual skaters. Commercially successful juggernaut Supreme has built its livelihood on this kind of co-opting, releasing capsule collection after capsule collection tapping into the cool cred of music icons (most recently a collab with Black Sabbath, who are conveniently in the midst of a farewell tour).
Here, a history of heavy metal in fashion:
1969: Heavy metal fashion’s origins were born out of biker and leather subcultures, as evidenced by the tattoo-like imagery that makes up the Hells Angels logo.
1976: The font on the poster for David Bowie’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth inspired Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris in his design of the band’s logo.
1978: An adoption of military wears (lingering effects of the Vietnam War) was seen with many bands, including bullet belts and kutte vests adorned with badges, pins and patches. As with the bikers, there was also a fascination with Germanic imagery, such as the Iron Cross.
1979: Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford takes to appearing onstage riding a motorcycle in full leather garb, bringing the subculture to a wider audience.
1981: New wave heavy metal British band Iron Maiden’s lead singer Paul Di’Anno innovates the look with studded belt and bracelets.
1988: The imagery and values of Celtic, Saxon, Viking and Chivalric cultures often led fans and band members to grow long, thick hair and beards (as pictured here on Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine).
1989: Guns n’ Roses singer Axl Rose brings in the addition of the kilt as the genre enters the ’90s.
2012: Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière draws inspiration from Iron Maiden’s logo for his “Join a Weird Trip” sweatshirt.
2013: Hedi Slimane casts ’90s industrial metal icon Marilyn Manson in his 2013 ad campaign for Saint Laurent.
(Also: here he is wearing a Justin Bieber shirt, unironically. Nineties emo kids, are you questioning EVERYTHING?!)
2013: Kanye West’s Yeezus tour logo by artist Wes Lang borrows heavily from Metallica’s emblem, with its use of sharp points.
2014: Kendall Jenner wears a Slayer shirt while hosting the MuchMusic Video Awards. The end is nigh.
— billboard (@billboard) June 18, 2015
2015: Slayer guitarist Gary Holt sports his reaction.
2016: The ultimate subversion: Fear of God’s designer Jerry Lorenzo collaborates on branded merch for Justin Bieber’s Purpose tour—a pop star who has a song that actually contains the word “baby” repeated six times in succession.
Lorenzo’s side of the story? (As told to Hypebeast): “Fear of God is a thought and, more importantly, it’s a conviction. And if there’s an opportunity to reach more people and be honest in the approach of how we do it, then that’s what we’re gonna do. And if to you, as a critic, it makes it less cool… that’s the last thing that I’m worried about! Cool is the most fleeting thing in the world.”
2016: Demna Gvasalia of Vetements riffed off satanic symbols such as the pentacle, skulls and blood-splashed lettering in the most talked-about collection of the FW 2016 season.
2016: The trend comes full circle with the reigning king of street style Justin O’Shea puts Metallica into immaculately tailored Italian suits in a vignette reminiscent of another piece of legendary rock iconography: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Though critics will remain without a doubt, there is something undeniably appealing about the metal aesthetic—who doesn’t love a bad boy/girl (big hair, tight pants, motorcycles…need we say more)? However, latching onto a style in pursuit of the ideals it engenders is pretty much the definition of ultimate poserdom. Then again, you could just say fuck it, because what’s more metal than that?