When is a Style Icon not a Style Icon?

by Katie on March 2, 2010

In the past few weeks, the international fashion circus and its myriad gatherings in between has thrown up a dilemma: When is a style icon not a style icon? Add to this the impending 82nd Oscars presentation (7th March) and I’m God damn certain I’m sure to be further irritated by the overuse of the words ‘fashion’ and ‘style’ connected to icon.

As the media devours both newness and celebrities, there’s a fast growing tendency to shower a celeb newbie with the term ‘fashion icon’ before they’ve so much as gone out and plundered Selfridges or Harvey Nichols. Being simply popular or the celeb du jour does not confer fashion prowess.

Take Kristen Stewart for example. She undoubtedly influences a whole generation goofed up on Twilight and her dalliance with RPatz makes her double attractive media fodder, but is she really a fashion icon? Despite the fact she has designers clamouring to dress her and regularly wears Pucci and Proenza Schouler, on the red carpet the effect is of a gawky, awkward 19 year old indie kid, plonked in an expensive dress but desperate to be down the youth club with her mates. It all spells rabbit in the fashion headlights to me. “No, she’s so in” I hear you cry. Yes, well that may be but my overriding memory is of Kristen at the Elle Style Awards dwarfed and a trite over awed by her ‘Woman of the Year’ award.

Then we have Mary- Kate and Ashley Olsen who can both wear a great dress (that is, when it’s not drowning or overpowering their size) but style icons…really? Nah! What they do is choose to wear great designers and market themselves as a huge brand. It obviously works as their popularity and reach in the fashion establishment just saw them walk away with the ‘style icon’ award at the recent Elle Style Awards 2010.

At the recent Milan shows, we had Lindsay Lohan front row at Robert Cavalli but nonetheless trying desperately to avoid the media glare. Now, Miss Lohan may be a bona fide 100% international star known as much for her talent as for her train wreck life choices but an important and enduring symbol of style and grace she is not.

When you throw into the debate the fact that reams of stars have talented stylists to trawl the designers for the perfect show-stopper outfit that matches the star’s style, or should I say ‘brand’, and there are even fewer true style icons. The celebrity today is often manufactured as stylish but it’s not inherent. It doesn’t come from the soul. As the great Yves Saint Laurent said, “Fashions fade, style is eternal” and he should know.

To bolster their sales and appease customers, high street chains chase the newest (teen) star style icon to help impart the brand’s collection with kudos and give it an angle if not an edge. Combine that strategy with a limit on supply and bob’s your uncle. There’s been Lily Allen and Alexa Chung for New Look, Tess Daly for La Senza, Peaches Geldof for Agent Provocateur and even Madonna at H&M. And now, once again, hot on the hip trail is New Look who have signed ‘Gossip Girl’ actress, musician, designer and style-setter Taylor Momsen as the face of their Spring/Summer 2010 campaign. (Pictured above).

But just compare our current offering of Heat and Grazia type stars to the style icons of the past who devised their own style and did not have it thrust upon them: Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Bianca Jagger, Wenda Parkinson, all carried an insouciant air and had a uncompromising attitude in the way they styled themselves. Marlene Dietrich said, “I dress for the image. Not for myself, not for the public, not for fashion, not for men.”

And there are devastatingly, mind blowing, stylish women out there so we’re not short on inspiration: Daphne Guinness, Roisin Murphy, Laura Bailey, Eva Green, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Moss (mind you, she’s usually on the catwalk) and Paloma Faith to name only a few. While in the fashion industry itself we have Rachel Zoe, Carine Roitfeld, Amanda Harlech, Caroline Sieber, Anna Piaggi, Franca Sozanni and Anna Wintour for inspiration. Phew!

It would give me great pleasure if on Oscars night Joan Rivers or some other bitchy braveheart covering the red carpet entrances would announce, “And the award for best stylist for turning a fright mess into a style icon goes to….”
I leave it to you to make that award.

Some inherent style icons
Carey Mulligan, Alexa Chung, Roisin Murphy, Kate Moss, Daphne Guinness, Laura Bailey, Eva Green, Carine Roitfeld, Natalia Vodonova, Elle Macpherson, Rachel Zoe, Amanda Harlech, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Dita von Teese, Paloma Faith

Some ‘styled’ icons
Coleen Rooney, Cheryl Cole, Kristen Stewart, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Peaches Geldof, Jaime Winstone, Lily Allen, Miley Cyrus, Hilary Duff, Emma Watson, Leona Lewis.

What do you think? Please leave your comments.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

minn. March 3, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I so agree, that is why I go for a vaguely retro look because those retro ladies knew their stuff. x


Retro Chick March 3, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Oh absolutely. Style Icon is one of those terms that is used a lot in the tabloids these days for anyone who wears pretty frocks.

I like my style icons to make their own decisions, and their own mistakes.


Anonymous March 3, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Alexa Chung made some interesting choices when she first grabbed my attention by grabbing Alex Turner; I was hooked on her effortless style sense and unique signature pieces, the way she pulled them all together was fun and seamless. And then for me, at least, she got famous and got it all wrong. I haven’t enjoyed the looks she’s put together recently, all labels and no sense of personality. She’s another one of the crowd now.


Robyn March 3, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Great post, I totally agree, especially about Kirsten Stewart, she always looks so awkward! I wish she would stand up straight. Gah!


esther March 3, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Yes yes yes! You are soooo right! I am sick to death of Chery Cole being touted as this huge ‘style icon’! She is a vehicle of a big brand marketing strategy aimed at the mass mainstream market. And they have been so easily taken in. What a coat hanger with a big head!
Esther xx


Allegra March 14, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Yes, agree about so called Icons, also don’t really get the Celebrity tag, I certainly do not celebrate most of the tabloid crop.


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