Cover Stars


How fashion saved Lady Gaga's life

Lady Gaga

Photography by Max Abadian

In a sea of fashion-oblivious pop starlets who wear predictable, stylist-prescribed outfits, Lady Gaga is changing the world one sequin at a time. In fact, this is the 23-year-old singer’s mission statement—one she repeats in almost every interview. Just keeping track of the amount of blogs, vlogs and tweets debating on whether she is a couture original or a fleeting faux pas is, in and of itself, a full-time job.

Yet, behind the web-induced fashion frenzy that is El Gaga, lays a spirited trajectory fit for a Hollywood biopic. Formerly known as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, the New York–native has become the third artist in history to have three No. 1 singles from a debut album on the Billboard chart. Her first disc, suitably titled The Fame, has made her a fortune, selling four million copies worldwide and reaching triple-platinum status in Canada. The monster success of her debut even prompted Gaga to head back into the studio to record eight more tracks for its re-release, a two-disc affair re-titled The Fame Monster.

This new project, which hits iTunes and stores on Nov. 23, precedes Lady Gaga’s North American tour—a clutch of concert dates she originally planned to headline alongside rapper Kanye West. Wisely parting with West after his scandalous Swift outburst at the MTV Video Music Awards, Gaga announced she was hitting the road alone.

Fittingly crowned The Monster Ball, Gaga’s tour, which kicks off in Montreal on Nov. 27, has Gaga’s fan message boards buzzing—and betting—the Lady will weave her latest extraterrestrial inspirations into her set list. Gaga has been inspired by design for as long as she can remember. One of her earliest childhood memories is watching her mother, Cynthia, rifling through a family closet stocked with Valentino and Ferragamo; designers that reflected her parent’s Italian origins. “It was a marveling experience watching her get ready for the day,” Gaga recalls. “She always looked so much more pristine than all the other mothers. I have a lot of her in me.”

Soon enough, Gaga experimented with her own wardrobe, discovering herself through various guises and garments. “I went through periods where I was very sexy, then I became a hippie girl with ripped jeans and then went into a leopard tights and leotards phase… which I’m still in,” she laughs quietly. “Fashion saved my life,” she later admits. “When I was young, I was laughed at in school because I dressed dramatically.”

“When I moved downtown…” she continues, likely thinking of when she left her family home in the Upper West Side to rent an apartment in NYC’s core, “…it was complete liberation. I found all these shops on Eighth Street and I integrated fashion into my life in a healthy way because it made me feel powerful, ambitious and much more resilient.”

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga

Jacket, Jaiden Rva James. Mask, Edward Fong. Earrings and rings, Gaga’s own.

Eventually, she found herself in a right-time, right-place moment in 2006 when she was offered a job penning tracks for artists such as the Pussycat Dolls. She saved a few songs for herself, performing them at local bars and was soon signed by Interscope Records and paired with producer Rob Fusari to work on The Fame.

What followed was the most mammoth makeover pop music has ever seen. With the help of a hand-picked team of avant-garde-loving stylists (a tribe christened the Haus of Gaga), her Donatella Versace-meets-Liberace look was born. Starting with her now-iconic, mirrored disco-ball bra top, Gaga’s Haus dressed her in risk-taking and headline-making styles. Even during FLARE’s photo shoot, Gaga insisted on channeling “Marilyn Monroe’s darkest moments” in a studded mask rather than emulate a typical celebrity portrait.

Although minimalists regard her as a fashion assassin of sorts, her visual philosophy has seeped into the minds and hearts of many stylish VIPs. So the question remains: when is Gaga going to create her own collection?

“At some point, I will,” she says. “Right now, I’m more concerned with using my fame to promote young designers such as Gary Card, an artist who designed a piece I used on stage.” When pushed on why she thinks her public wants a Gaga-driven clothing line, she doesn’t flinch. “There hasn’t been a commercial artist lately that has embodied avant-garde and couture so insistently as myself.”

However, Gaga’s own ambitions aim to please and challenge her fans, as well as herself. It’s a mandate she feels is necessary for her main goal: bridging the gap between pop star and pop artist. “You could say I’m both,” she says. “I don’t really know how people view me, but that’s how I view myself.

Hair, Peter Savic []; makeup, Billy B, Art Department; styling, Anna Trevelyn; art director, Tanya Watt.

“World Gone Gaga” has been edited for; the complete story and where-to-buy appears in the December 2009 issue of FLARE.