It was his Veronica Lake phase. We present David Bowie, one incarnation before the arrival of shock-headed Ziggy Stardust. Yes, sad to say those beautiful locks were all for the chop — and so was the dress.
In 1971, we saw two seminal records from Bowie: The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory. The latter, which boasted “Changes,” “Life on Mars” and “Oh You Pretty Things,” had a cover shot of Bowie channeling Veronica. But the earlier album was hidden behind a more controversial photograph.
It featured a garment that was a ‘man’s dress,’ according to Bowie, and the work of then en-vogue fashion designer Michael Fish. For Bowie, this dress was significant, so much so that he wore it on the front of his second proper solo album, The Man Who Sold The World.
But boy oh boy, did it not fit the music inside that album’s sleeve. Bowie had created (or rather his producer Tony Visconti and guitarist Mick Ronson had created, Bowie had instructed) a record very much in keeping with the nascent heavy rock/metal sound of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Riffs, bass, drums and little else.
Denim over dresses
Needless to say, the audience who bought such music favored denim over dresses. In the States, the sleeve was deemed to be so controversial that it was scrapped entirely and replaced by a more “American” cartoon drawing of a James Dean-esque cowboy with a gun under his arm. Subtle.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, Bowie was living in the lower half of a small Victorian mansion — Haddon Hall, in Beckenham. It was there that Bowie recorded the album, and also where he was photographed, dress-clad, with and without his wife Angie, and friend Freddie Burretti.
In one shot, Bowie is smiling and looks a little embarrassed. But was he? Perhaps for a moment. But only a moment.