Angela Bowie – The Prettiest Star

By Madeline Bocaro ©

(Quotes from Angie are excerpted from an interview we did in 2014 for my book, which has yet to materialize! Angie has always been gracious to me, and truly a joy to hang out with).

Our most fondly memorable image of the glamourous Angela Bowie is backstage on the night that her husband killed off Ziggy Stardust – July 3, 1973. In D.A. Pennebaker’s film of the final Ziggy concert, she vivaciously bursts into the dressing room sporting elegantly cropped blonde hair as Pierre Laroche is applying David Bowie’s makeup for the concert. Angie, acting out a scene in a starring role in her own private movie, boasts about her own makeup. When Pierre critiques her lip liner she replies with the air of a cheeky superstar, ‘I’m just a girl, what do I know about makeup!’ Angie leaves the men to their task of primping as David shouts after her, ‘Go on star!’ Then, with a ‘Bye bye, see you later!’ in a mock English accent, the wife of David Bowie floats out the door to greet and chat with his lookalike fans outside the Hammersmith Odeon. Some are even dressed as Angie!

It was in fact Angela Barnett Jones, David Bowie’s former wife who liberated the shy young musician and gave him the push over the top that he needed. Angie introduced David to many unconventional people and ideas whose style and influence helped shape the various personae he soon adopted. She set up a safety net and a whirlwind of energy and creativity around him. Angie was the first to outfit David and his band the Spiders From Mars, designing and sewing all the costumes for his shows at the Roundhouse. The Hype’s Roundhouse debut is considered to be the very first night of Glam Rock. Marc Bolan was in the audience. Angie engineered David’s crucial management move from Ken Pitt to Tony Defries – and the rest is history!

Angie had an extremely keen marketing sense, and artfully designed the dramatic stage lighting for Bowie’s performances. David’s song about Angie, ‘The Prettiest Star’ appeared on his album Aladdin Sane (1973).

It was obviously a loving and mutually supportive relationship at the start. When it ended prior to their divorce in 1980, there was much debate and speculation about their bitter split. Angie’s history became increasingly ignored by David and regrettably, she was virtually erased from the worldwide exhibition DAVID BOWIE IS.

But one thing is certain:

No Angie – No Ziggy.

 Her philosophical feminist reaction:

 “Famous men frequently do that when they feel threatened by a woman’s influence. They like to be thought of as the sole genius. God forbid that any woman helped them to get where they did. Picasso did the same thing to his women — he tried to write them off as insane.”

Angie was born on the island of Cyprus in 1949. She moved to England in 1967 to attend Kingston Polytechnic. As a vibrant and brilliant 19-year-old working for Mercury Records in the U.K., Angie was partially responsible for David’s record deal for his album The Man Who Sold the Worldin 1970. (They were allegedly sleeping with the same A&R man).

After a long-haired hippie style phase while recording Hunky Dory(1971) David and Angie began experimenting and sharing each other’s clothing. When the two were seen out in public in astounding complementary garb, their fashion police considered them double trouble! This glamourous gender-bending couple of kooks married in 1970 and had a son named Zowie Bowie*.

*Zowie later changed his name to Joe, and then adopted his middle name as film director Duncan Jones. In April 2018, he announced the name of David’s second grandchild (a girl); Zowie Tala Mabsie Jones.

If reality television existed at the time, we could have glimpsed the most excitingly surreal and colorful portrayal of life. Set in a now demolished Victorian mansion called Haddon Hall in a suburb of London, the Joneses (a.k.a. the Bowies) lived with a cast of flamboyant and interesting characters – David’s band-mates, gorgeous friends and clothing designers. David and Angie’s escapades, their open marriage (sharing bisexual lovers) with an amazing soundtrack of Bowie songs that would become his iconic album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (mostly written at Haddon Hall – their one stop superstar workshop) would have been the ‘best-selling show’!

After seeing photos of Kansai Yamamoto’s models (and also of early supermodel Veruschka) with shaved eyebrows, Angie did the same and David was soon on board. Ziggy Stardust was born, and quickly began his rise and fall. In early concert films we can see Angie dancing wildly at the front of a near empty venue, hysterically screaming for Ziggy and generating a buzz which soon caught on like wildfire.

Guitarist Mick Ronson’s future wife Suzi helped create Ziggy’s bright red hairstyle and tended to Bowie’s wardrobe on tour. Angie and Suzi shopped for fabric and accessories at Lester’s and Liberty’s with an unlimited budget from the record label. Suits for David and the band were made by Freddie Burretti (nee Burrett). The material, selected by Angie was fancy, shiny, glittery (and usually very itchy) curtain and upholstery fabrics bought at Liberty’s, Lester’s and at Indian street markets. At the end of 1972, she frequented Tommy Roberts’ City Lights Studio boutique in Covent Garden, where members of Roxy Music were also customers. (Bowie wears a brown City Lights suit on the back cover of his Pinups album).

Suzi Fussey Ronson: “Angie and I would take a limo and shop all over London with great fanfare only returning when the car was loaded down and groaning. I was in charge of cleaning, pressing and repairing everything. Replacing silver tights in Kansas was a challenge. So was finding feather boas in the Midwest.”

Lester’s

Lester’s fabric company was formed in 1964, by designers Charles and Patricia Lester. They initially made clothes from existing fabrics, but due to the boring nature of what was available, they added texture and color to silks and velvets. Hand painting and pleating became their signature and their fabrics were sold in prestigious stores worldwide. They also designed costumes for operas and films.

Liberty

The shop opened in 1875 selling ornaments, fabric and objets d’art from Japan and the East. The store was the most fashionable place to shop in London. Iconic Liberty fabrics were used for both clothing and furnishings. Liberty clientele was exotic and included famous members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. In 1884 Liberty introduced the costume department into the Regent Street store. In 1975 Liberty celebrated its centenary, heralded by a major exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

I shopped at Liberty and at Brick Lane in the East End for fabrics. For David’s clothes, I went to Sloane Street and places in Chelsea, New York – a clothing store called Vintage Hallowe’en and Paradise Bootery.

 – Angela Bowie, Daily Mail Feb. 10, 2013

The costumes for David and the band were sewn by Angie, Daniella Parmar (David’s designer Freddie Burretti’s girlfriend) and by their neighbor Sue Frost in the basement of Haddon Hall. Up to three copies of each outfit were made. As Ziggy became increasingly more popular, his clothing was torn to bits by fans during performances.

Angie was kind enough to share her fashion sense with me…

Angie: Pierre Cardin was the biggie for me. (His quote) “The clothes I like best are the ones I invent for a life that doesn’t yet exist; tomorrow’s world.” Also, City Lights Studio (Michael Fish, Ossie Clark), Mary Quant and Andre Courrèges* (who both claim to have invented the mini skirt). Courrègesbuilt his dresses rather than designed them in geometric shapes; squares, trapezoids. He used plastic, metal and PVC materials in his collections. The colors were primary; metallic, white, red, yellow. At the time, fashion houses had catered to mature and older women. Courrègestargeted the younger crowd.”

 

*André Courrèges(9 March 1923 – 7 January 2016) was a French fashion designer. He was known for his streamlined 1960s designs influenced by modernism and futurism exploiting modern technology and new fabrics. Courrèges created the go-go boot and along with Mary Quant is one of the designers credited with inventing the miniskirt.

Angie also admired the models Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and the ‘It’ girls Marianne Faithfull, Cher, Martha Hill, Sylvie Vartan, and Francoise Hardy. “I admired the style of certain movies… Katherine Hepburn and her glorious embrace of trousers to the horror of male studio executives.”

For herself, Mrs. Bowie sometimes preferred a European princess look – Hermes, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Ann Golon’s Angeliquefilms.

Angie:

I studied ‘couture’ at school. That’s dressmaking as you know!!!! I also repaired his favorite Stirling Cooper jeans/trousers when the knees or butt came out with patches. We all acted a little Godspell— patch wise there for a year or so!!!

At first, the band members were quite resistant to dressing up.

If they thought they were not going to wear costumes, they were wrong and they knew that! It was just a question of how much they were entertainers and how much they were journeymen musicians and I made that very clear especially about the make-up. Because I came from theater and had spent time with Lindsay Kemp, I had the trick switches for David’s understanding to get the guys to get on with it. There were no arguments or disagreement about presentation…unless they thought it was not a good idea to broach me personally!!!!

–Angela Bowie 2010

“When they realized how many girls they could pull when they looked so outlandish, they took to it like a fish to water”

– David Bowie

The costumes represented each ‘superhero’ in the Hype.

That first Hype gig at the Roundhouse, where we decided to dress up, was the precursor of glam, there, amongst the audience, was Marc Bolan resting his arms on the edge of the stage watching us, he wasn’t into his glam thing yet, we were! David was Rainbowman, dressed in Lurex, pirate boots and with diaphanous scarves pinned to his clothes, I was Hyperman in a mock Superman costume with a white leotard, crocheted silver knickers and a big red cape, Mick Ronson in a gold lamé double breasted suit and fedora, was Gansterman, John Cambridge, in a buccaneer’s outfit, was Pirateman… 

– Tony Visconti, Mojo Classic, 60 years of Bowie

 Tony Visconti’s street clothing was stolen during the Hype’s performance, so Hyperman had to make his way home in his cape and tights!

Lou Reed credits Angie for creating his Transformer album cover look. The infamous shot by Mick Rock was taken when Lou performed at London’s King’s Cross Cinema.  It was Angie who selected his black velvet Spanish style diamante sequined suit.

Angie’s keen eye for theatrics went way beyond dress-up. She looked after the band members and controlled the impressive stage lighting as well.

Angie: Block illumination of the costume and pinpoint light on face and hands playing an instrument or caressing a microphone. I wanted all aspects of the performance that were sexy or memorable to be seen. For this purpose, we went to the expense of assigning follow spot operator duties to anyone who wasn’t tied down doing something else.

It was all in the context of theatre, in the context of costuming… Do you want to be onstage looking washed out or do you want the lights bounce off of you? Look, I’m going to use colored lights. Do you want to look like a blue blob or do you want to look like a reflective fabulous piece of pearlesence?

Angie Clones:

Angie: The Mary Quant lamé T-shirts in every color were available at any department store. Strangely enough, I received my greatest compliment at this time. David’s manager Tony Defries noticed that many of the girl fans were copying the way I dressed. One night, he said: ‘We’ve got seven or eight Angies sitting out in the audience.’ I was astounded. And so was David. I caught sight of one girl. A platinum-haired teenager who was very pretty and had got herself a dark-green woollen dress like the one I had been seen out in only a week before. Even her hairstyle and make-up were identical!

Angela Bowie On Kansai:

Kansai was one of Japan’s top avant-garde designers. David loved his costumes and insisted on several for the Ziggy tour of Japan and Europe in 1973. David’s shows were received ecstatically everywhere we went, which was wonderful for him, but very hard on the costumes. After every show, they had to be rushed back to Kansai’s studio and painstakingly repaired and beads re-attached. The hand painted black-and-red leather short-legged jump suit was a big favorite of David’s. (Kansai’s Woodland Creatures costume).

Costumes have a short life and David needed 30 pairs of trousers and as many jackets at the start of his tours and sometimes even that wasn’t enough. Shirts were lost by the hundreds. The fans would take everything they could. Even David’s pair of Peruvian bangle wedding bracelets which he wore on his wrists, were often taken from him.

In 1974 Angie auditioned for the role of Wonder Woman in the ABC-TV film. In 1975, she bought the television rights to the Marvel Comics characters Black Widow and Daredevil. Her plans to develop a television series featuring the two characters never materialized. However, there are some fabulous photos of Angie as both Wonder Woman and Black Widow!

After a bitter divorce from David in 1980 and their earlier separation, Angie made several recordings and performed live. She has written many books including Free Spirit (1981) Backstage Passes (1993) Lipstick Legends (2012) and POP.SEX (2014) and Bisexuality (2002). She later became a writer on gender issues.

David & Angie on their wedding day:

 

 

 

At Haddon Hall:

 

 

 

AngieHaddonHall-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Front Row with Kansai Yamamoto / With Iggy, Lou and Suzi Fussey:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dressing David for the 1980 Floor Show

 

 

With the Jaggers:

 

 

A Kiss from Lou:

Lou&Angie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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