Leigh Bowery was a man who was confidently unconventional. An icon. An enigma. The Australian-born performance artist, designer and model for artist, Lucian Freud, created controversial looks and embraced a persona which is still renowned today. Above all, Bowery represented a sense of complete creative freedom – he was a walking piece of art. As a figure in fashion, art and popular culture in 1970s London, his influence has continued through to the present day, with fashion houses, such as Alexander McQueen imitating the looks of Bowery in their runway shows and collections.
Bowery’s relationship with London and the nightclub scene is, perhaps, where he was first exposed in the media. He came to London during the ‘New Romanticism’ popular culture movement. This movement was known for its flamboyant, eccentric fashion – a perfect fit for Bowery, who was amongst the likes of Boy George, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. The nightclub scene appeared to be a place of comfort for Bowery, so much so, he eventually opened his own nightclub, Taboo in 1985. The nightclub became extremely popular and a hub for drugs, androgyny, pro-weird ideals, establishing Bowery as a figure in London culture during this time. Bowery made his mark on the London nightclub scene.
Bowery’s newfound notoriety provided a platform for his creations and stylistic choices to be noticed. If anything, Bowery knew his place as a spectacle and most of all loved possessing creative control. In an interview with Bowery in 1986, he referenced his conflicts with the fashion industry and the desire to simply be creative for himself – “Fashion’s a bit of a problem with me, because you have to really appeal to too many people and I like appealing to maybe one or two and then I like them to be interested in me, but never dare copy me.” From this, it’s clear to see that Bowery was not concerned with his effect, or appeal, but is more simplistic in his thinking. He was an artist. He wanted to create. There is something admirable in the fearlessness of Bowery, not only in his thought process but his complete disregard for the opinions of the masses. He objectified himself, creating a disparity between his art and its reception by others. Bowery’s fashion looks, which seem conceptually intricate and are the manifestations of his passion, remain so distant from the public. Bowery the artist and Bowery the art were inextricably linked.
Whilst Bowery has provided such memorable and influential looks, he remained the outsider in the fashion industry. In a 1989 interview with Gary Glitter, Bowery gestured to the perception of people within the industry’s opinion of him – “I think they’re sort of amused and stimulated by how far I take things. That’s roughly how I fit into fashion, I’m just sort of on the border of it.” His position in fashion is that of an outsider, however, he is so integral and central to stylistic concepts. Bowery is a mesmerising and somewhat, unnoticed individual. Recognition must be given to a figure who has been such a subversive and influential force as Bowery has. He is, simply put, a creative genius.