Fashion Icon: Lady Gaga

Jun 17, 2011
Tom Ryan

While Lady Gaga tends to create a stir all by herself, the Council of Fashion Designers of America at least helped her create another in fashion circles when it presented its Fashion Icon Award to the rock star.

Besides her mega-selling albums and ravenous fans, the singer is known for her over-the-top takes on fashion that often become fodder for late-night comics. She wore a dress made entirely out of raw meat at the MTV Video Music Awards in September. She later showed up at a baseball game in nothing but a bra and knickers. But fashion’s leaders publicly supported the choice.

Designer Vera Wang described Gaga’s style, according to USA Today, as "eclectic, original and fearless. I think she’s her own person in terms of her style. She marches to her own drum."

"It’s about what you are bringing to the table," said footwear designer Alejandro Ingelmo, who was also up for a CFDA award, to The Wall Street Journal. "I think [Lady Gaga] is very different and I respect that."

While the choice surprised some columnists and fashion bloggers partly because of her age (25), most were fixated on Lady Gaga’s bizarre wardrobe picks. Past winners were more demure and included supermodels Iman and Kate Moss, actresses Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicole Kidman, and C.Z. Guest, the late gardening columnist and fixture of New York society.

Writing for New York Magazine, Amy Odell said other current fashion icons such as Kate Moss, Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton have shown they can drive fashion sales much more widely than Ms. Gaga’s wild looks. But she added, "People still want to look at Gaga perhaps more than any other person on this planet because of what she wears, and that is what makes her a fashion icon."

Comparing Ms. Gaga to Cher, Bjork and Madonna, Blue Carreon wondered if her fashion stardom only represented "shock value" and likewise questioned whether she created trends, inspired women and supported mainstream fashion like past recipients of the award.

On the other hand, he noted that greatest fashion icons have all been a reflection of the times and Ms. Gaga may reflect her era.

"Slim Keith who described herself as a ‘fabulous arm-piece, the ultimate decoration’ and Grace Kelly are from that women-as-untouchable-deities era," wrote Mr. Carreon for "Twiggy was the poster child for the youth quake. Raquel Welch of the excess of the ’80s. Carolyn Bessette Kennedy of ’90s minimalism. And Michelle Obama of the democratization of fashion. What is Lady Gaga a representation of? Is she the model of self-expression? The symbol of the freedom of being able to choose who or what you want to be?"

Discussion Questions: Is Lady Gaga a good choice for CFDA’s Fashion Icon award in the current era? Are fashion icons’ influence on fashion generally overestimated or underestimated?

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8 Comments on "Fashion Icon: Lady Gaga"

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David Biernbaum
9 years 10 months ago

The affect on fashion icons depends on the true influence of the icon. I have not yet run into any women wearing meat dresses however I recall many women wearing haircuts like Jennifer Aniston’s back when she was on Friends. There are many young men that want to dress like today’s most prominant hip hop artists; even younger men are trying their hardest to dress and wear their hair the same as Justin Bieber. Men once wore suits that looked like Johnny Carson and some shaved their faces to look like Don Johnson. Depends on the icon.

Dick Seesel
9 years 10 months ago

It’s hard to say whether Lady Gaga will have the same lasting effect on fashion that Madonna brought about in the 80’s. What seemed extreme when Madonna first appeared on the scene became “mainstream” within a couple of years. Lady Gaga seems to aim for something more theatrical and less “street-friendly” than Madonna, so time will tell. In any case, pop icons as fashion influencers are as old as time. The Beatles had a profound effect on hairstyles and fashions, and the list goes on and on.

Paula Rosenblum
9 years 10 months ago

You know, Gaga is certainly over the top, but I think the CFDA is well-disposed towards her because, strange as it may sound, she’s a great role model for many disaffected youths. So is she a good choice? Yes!

I went to see her in concert and while I’ve seen better shows, because she talks so much between tunes, the message is very empowering. And I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera…the audience was dressed in Gaga-like outrageous fashions. Just like the Madonna fans from the 80’s.

So, a) Gaga was a good choice and b) I think we’ve got fashion icon’s influence just about right.

Ryan Mathews
9 years 10 months ago

She’s a great choice!

After all the purpose of high fashion is to create a stir ad she clearly does that.

Fashion icons have profound — if sometimes indirect — impact (think about all those girls flooding the malls to get that Madonna look). It isn’t the exact style so much as the direction or theme behind the style that drives the mass market.

Fashion runways have been filled with clothes most people wouldn’t wear in public since…well, since there were fashion runways.

And…just think what would happen to meat department sales if the Lady Gaga look became more widely adopted!

Ed Rosenbaum
9 years 10 months ago

Somehow I can’t see any person over the age of 35 seeing Lady Gaga as a fashion icon and model for them to follow. Then again, I am not close to 25 and sense that I have my feet firmly planted. So I don’t need a role model as off the charts as her. Now on the other hand, her ability to draw audiences and become a money maker is genius. I guess it depends on how one sees her.

Dan Berthiaume
Dan Berthiaume
9 years 10 months ago

Fashion icons’ influence is generally overestimated. For example, young girls are not wearing meat dresses in great numbers. However, anyone who was a teen in the 1980s knows how many girls dressed like Madonna, the proliferation of Michael Jackson jackets, and the influence heavy metal and punk had on teens of both genders. In the 90s, although Kurt Cobain is an unlikely fashion icon, he made the “grunge look” extremely cool. It may be tougher for one celebrity to have that kind of impact today due to the proliferation and splintering of media.

Lee Peterson
9 years 10 months ago

This begs the infinite question: What is Fashion? To which, I always find awards of this nature pretty humorous…because “fashion” is what you think it is, and what he thinks it is, and what she thinks it is, and what he thinks it is…on and on. In other words, it’s a very subjective, emotional decision that is best left up to the individual. What is fashion to me may not be fashion to you at all. Some like Ralph Lauren, some like Lady Gaga; all are correct.

Unless, of course, you’re just shooting for a fake-controversial topic to write about (all P.R. is good P.R., right?). Which, in this case, is the whole story. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Jerome Schindler
9 years 10 months ago

No one else is creating the same “stir.” I doubt that her “style” is going main stream, but she is working it for all it’s worth. And despite all that, she has a lot of talent so will not be a flash in the pan.


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