BOWIE 1980 FLOOR SHOW COSTUMES @ David Bowie Is… @ Brooklyn Museum 2018
By Madeline Bocaro
I attended the preview reception for the exhibit @ the Brooklyn Museum last night!
This is my edited recap featuring ONLY the 1980 Floor Show costumes.
The exhibit includes more items than when I saw it in Toronto in 2013! Be forewarned that my recap is far more obsessive than the simple texts written on plaques in the museum.
(for more on the Floor Show, send a request to join my Facebook page):
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would ever see the shroud of Turin with my own eyes! Well, actually it was not really a shroud. It was more like a black spider-webbed body suit with one shiny gold sleeve and one shiny gold leg, and two oversized glittery gold mannequin hands wearing black nail polish clutching the chest area. And it was not actually from Turin, but from London. It was by David Bowie in 1973, singing ‘The Jean Genie’ on The Midnight Special during his 1980 Floor Show. (What ever happened to the censored third hand?!)
The fishnet outfit was adapted for Bowie by designer Natasha Korniloff from Ballet Rambert’s performance of Ziggurat in 1967. Ballet Rambert is Britain’s oldest dance company, formed in the 1920s. For the Ziggurat performance, the dancers crocheted their own costumes. (The dance moves of the cob-webbed dancers in the song ‘Time’ during the 1980 Floor Show closely resemble the choreography of Ziggurat.) The fishnet outfit was also inspired by two costumes in the film Barbarella; one worn by Jane Fonda and one worn by Anita Pallenberg as the Black Queen, designed by Jaques Monterey.
The outfit was positioned next to my other favorite Floor Show Costume. The red vinyl Burretti bodice with black / red sequins and black feathers is called Angel of Death. It’s surprising that the legs are shorts, which are covered by Bowie’s tall boots. This outfit was so nice that Bowie wore it twice! During ‘I Can’t Explain and in his duet with Marianne Faithfull, ‘I Got You Babe’. It was missing one feathered wristband and most importantly, the lace-up stiletto thigh high boots. But nonetheless, it was breathtaking! I envisioned Bowie smiling as the feathers grazed and tickled his face as he shimmied in this wacky creation on the show.
In Toronto, I reveled in the absurdity of it all, recalling memories of family and peers scoffing at Bowie on TV, asking, ‘Who is this freak?’ and having no one to accompany me to Bowie concerts in the early 70s. Now his entire career has been elevated to high art – presented behind Plexiglas. Young and old strolled through the exhibit, taking notes, shuffling by in varying degrees of human decay – with walkers, in wheelchairs, lots of old folks looking confused, some humoring the Bowie fans they’d accompanied in an array of his different guises. I wondered what each person was thinking. All I know is that nobody was laughing. My god – if this is not hilarious, what is?!
The preview reception last night in Brooklyn lacked the excitement of true fans being present. There were no Bowie clones. We saw the old standbys; producer Tony Visconti escorting Kristeen Young, Carlos Alomar, Geoff McCormack, photographers Mick Rock and Bob Gruen, Ziggy’s hairdresser and wardrobe mistress Suzi Ronson (the late Mick Ronson’s wife)… Otherwise it was a typically subdued NYC VIP crowd who seemed more interested in watching the videos on display (which Bowiephiles have seen thousands of times) rather than basking in the glory of the multitude of artifacts surrounding us.
Another fantastic (previously hidden, now uncaged) Kansai creation, Space Samurai, the quick-change costume in which Bowie opens the Floor Show is one of Kansai’s many pull-away pieces with silver snaps down the sleeves. The magnificent quilted triangular costume is made of shiny metallic black, red, and blue quilted material. It has a short black turtleneck, and the long-sleeved blue and black arms. A thick red triangle runs down the middle of the chest, splitting off to each leg diagonally. The colors along the legs alternate in black, red, blue and black. The extremely flared legs are based on hakama – traditional Japanese men’s trousers worn under kimono.
In Brooklyn, it is resplendently lit with red and white light – and at eye level! Simply stunning.
One of many dramatic theatrical devices used by Bowie (especially with the Kansai Yamamoto costumes Tokyo Pop, Space Samurai and the kanji cape) was Hayagawari (早替 ’quick-change technique’). Hayagawari is used for characters who remove disguises to reveal their true identity, and for hengemono, dances in which a single actor plays multiple roles. Removing outer layers of clothing revealed new costumes for the next role.
In a technique called hikinuki (引抜?), the outermost layer is held on with only a few threads, stage assistants called kuroko (黒子‘black person’ / ‘black clothes’ ) appear on stage and pull these threads, allowing the outer costume layer to fall off quickly and easily. Bowie’s two wardrobe mistresses wore the customary black leotards and Japanese face veils acting as kuroko – to remain hidden onstage, with only Bowie in the spotlight.
The keyhole leotard with pink satin keyhole, (inspired by the German Cabaret Voltaire movement’s Dadaist designer, Sonia Delaunay who created many of Tristan Tzara’s outfits) is the reveal once Space Samurai is pulled off. This costume was not present at the exhibit.
However, the shoes worn with the keyhole outfit were there! I gasped when I saw size 13 lavender wedge platform shoes – from Pelican Footwear, New York (a deliberately mis-matched pair – black and pink satin ribbon, one open-toed clog and one sandal with ankle straps). These were worn during ‘1984/Dodo/You Didn’t Hear It From Me’ on Floor Show.
It was a nice surprise to see the Size 13 yellow, red and green satin shoes with palm trees carved in their wedges, also from Pelican Footwear! David wears these during ‘Everything’s Alright’ with yellow pedal pusher trousers and purple satin blouse (which were not on exhibit). It is not mentioned that Bette Midler urged Bowie to buy the wedge platform shoes with tropical motif, but she was too late – Cyrinda Foxe had previously taken him to the same shop and he already had bought them. Bette told Bowie, ‘With those shoes, and that chicken on your head (referring to his red Ziggy hair) you’ll take Manhattan by storm!’
Also new to the exhibit is the purple satin Burretti blouse worn under the colorful beaded bolero jacket (which is shamefully absent). It is displayed in one of David’s travel cases along with a selection of his books.
Some of the costumes which were hidden behind dark mesh screens in the video room in London & Toronto were now out of their cages! The striped ‘Space Oddity’ suit by Freddie Burretti is made of heavy, stiff metallic silver fabric with stripes in hot pink, silver and electric blue. Burretti’s zip-up jacket and matching trousers descend from his design of Ziggy’s iconic ‘Starman’ suit (on Top of the Pops) made of quilted rainbow patterned fabric.The sleeves have brightly accented sculpted shoulders, with thin orange and silver stripes alternating with thicker lime green stripes. Stripes also adorn the thick pointed collar. The wrist and waistbands of the jacket are elastic for a tapered look. Capri pants with wide stripes in hot pink, blue, and thinner silver stripes complete this bomber style suit, which Bowie wears tucked into knee-high red patent leather platform boots by London footwear designer Stan Miller.
The white Burretti suit with white satin lapels and gorgeous flared pointed sleeve cuffs from the1980Floor Show (‘Sorrow’) is no longer hidden behind a screen in, but is included in the display with the other Floor Show costumes! Bowie wore the stunning Burretti suit with a white satin tie. He accessorized with an upside-down white carnation pinned to the lapel, and matching white acrylic fingernails. Bowie performed ‘Sorrow’ , singing to Salvador Dali’s muse Amanda Lear, (also Roxy Music’s cover girl on For Your Pleasure, walking a panther on a leash). Amanda was billed as ‘Dooshenka’ for the performance.) With a long pole wrapped in tinsel, she manipulates cobwebbed, dancers, meant to represent the passing of time, on a giant chessboard using the squares of a parquet floor. A dancer’s outfit is also included in the Brooklyn exhibit!
The curators are oblivious to the fact that in the same display case is a Mick Ronson stage suit! A short sleeved black jacket with lightning bolts on the lapels, black velvet pants and a black feathered waistband.
Instead of showing the actual 1980 Floor Show, the video screen displayed the ‘John I’m Only Dancing’ video on a loop next to the Floor Show costumes, followed by Polaroids taken from the TV screen during a Japanese broadcast!!! They could have at least displayed Terry O’Neill’s photos from his book When Ziggy Played the Marquee.
I will also address the first object on view at the exhibit although it is not worn in the Floor Show – Kansai’s iconic Tokyo Pop. The snap-off break-away (hayagawari) sculptural monochrome vinyl jumpsuit with bright pink lining (in Toronto) was shown with the famous red patent leather platform boots (by London footwear designer Stan Miller), now scuffed and worn. However, in Brooklyn someone has got some shiny new boots! It’s sacrilege! I gazed upon Tokyo Pop, quivering for at least 30 minutes. Like all of the other costumes, it is tiny. Bowie had a 24-½ inch waist. I had seen the original Tokyo Pop at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Rock Style exhibit in 1999/2000. The leather was cracked, but here it looked perfect. This was very likely a reproduction. Kansai produced a very limited edition Tokyo Pop shirt for the exhibit when it travelled to Japan in 2017. I was lucky enough to get one!
Also missing from the 1980 Floor Show was the asymmetrical ‘Time’ jumpsuit, which was sold in April, 2007 via Christies in London for 10,800 pounds ($21,500) to the Hard Rock Cafe. (Blue ground with silver nylon thread weave appliqued on the body and leg with a flame design in orange, red, yellow, gold and pink). The costume was discovered by chance by a New York stylist, who scoured costume shops and flea markets.
I hope that they fly these costumes in separate planes during the exhibit’s travels. It would be a disaster if the plane should crash into the ocean and we lost all of them. If that happened, some sea creatures would certainly be looking fabulous! Many of the captions read ‘Made from 1930s furniture fabric.’ My boyfriend lovingly and sarcastically told me that he is going to have a suit made from his grandma’s couch! ‘It’ll be the next big thing! It will be culottes!’ This is why I adore him!!!
I never imagined that I would live long enough to see these Bowie artifacts all in one place. Who knows what might happen if I stay alive for another fifty years! My boyfriend said that if I live for one more year, I will see his couch suit!
As Bowie rests in peace, his career is still on tour! After opening at London’s V&A Museum, it travelled to Toronto, Sao Paulo, Brazil, France, The Netherlands, Australia, Italy Barcelona, Japan, Chicago and now New York (last stop)!
Exclusive vinyl for Brooklyn Exhibit: