Twinkle, twinkle, big rock star

Marc Bolan was the king of glamour. But designers are still inspired by the eye-kohl, feather boas and lame jackets of his magnetic style.
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The Independent Online
Marc Bolan would have been 50 in July this year; whether he would still be wearing feather boas and platforms doesn't bear thinking about. But his glam-rock legacy lives on. This autumn, rock legends from T-Rex to Patti Smith have been inspiration for designers from Anna Sui in New York to People Corporation in London. Feather boas, heavy eyeliner and all things that glitter are all you need to shine out as a fashion star.

Only youthful narcissism could have compelled Marc Bolan to become the most sexually magnetic rock star around. "Let's face it", he boasted once, "I'm unique - nobody wriggles their bum the way I do."

The original 20th Century Boy, Bolan invented glam-rock. In the creation of an androgynous, rakish, electrifyingly beautiful persona to make pubescents scream, he was the first to recognise the international, trend-setting power of the rock celebrity on youth culture. Having seen his childhood hero Elvis Presley make much-adulated comebacks in bejewelled jumpsuits, he understood that only flamboyance would get you noticed, and longed to emulate the King. "It was really an ego thing," a former business insider recalls. "He loved himself, and he loved to be worshipped."

Throughout his life, Marc Bolan sought to mythologise himself to extraordinary heights. His flair for poetry and music crackled like lame with paparazzo skirmishes, million-pound record deals, groupies' tears and good old-fashioned magic. He even styled his band, Tyrannosaurus Rex (later T-Rex), as the greatest rock group on earth.

For one cursory period in the early Seventies when teen rock adulation winked at him, Bolan blew us away. A rock supreme being with luxurious, hot-chocolate curls back-lit into a messianic halo, he stood pulsating in his gold lurex jacket as a deliverer of "Hot Love": "Well she ain't no witch/and I love the way she twitch a huh-huh/I'm her twopenny prince/And I give her hot love..."

Although "Hot Love" was his second Top Five hit, it typified Bolan in his prime. He discarded his embroidered kaftan for shimmering, rapier- sharp jackets that accentuated his affected regal contempt, prettifying himself with feather boas and eye-kohl.

His style evolved from self-styled mod to sub-Dylan beatnik to mystic hippie. When he combined elements of each of his phases, it exploded in a blaze of glimmering flair that was truly unique.

Part of Bolan's appeal came not just from the lame jackets he wore, but the insouciance with which he wore them. Crumpled checked shirts, lace scarves round his neck, a stout top-hat, deliberately mismatched textures - all gave him an air of effortless savvy that prevented his hermaphrodite tastes looking absurd. If you saw him in a sumptuous, ankle-length fur- coat, that style made you think not, "What a pansy!" but "What a rock- star!"

Sadly, pre-eminence proved only too brief for Bolan - it lasted only two years but it was intense and ambiguous enough to generate wide-ranging imitations to this day. Without Marc Bolan, could punk, the New Romantics, Eighties new wave and stadium rock have emerged? Narcissism had always been at the core of rock image manipulation - and rightly so, given its interactive relationship to youth culture and fashion - but only Bolan could have thought of exploiting it, consciously and ironically, to its fullest. Only he could have demonstrated that it was all right for men to wear make-up.

Today, girlish men and boyish girls in bands like Placebo and Skin are nothing new. Male film stars think nothing of painting their nails with dark varnish. Louche androgyny, velvet suits, platform shoes and glitter make-up are all just part of fashion's rich vocabulary. By 1976, glam rock had been replaced by punk rock and Bolan had taken to wearing ripped T-shirts and jeans in punkish mimicry. Could it be that only eye-kohl, a boa and a lame jacket could cultivate all that Hot Love?

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