Gwen Stefani's style has been copiously copied but rarely equalled

Fiona Sturges on the singer whose visual sense is more than just surface, 46 today

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The Independent Online

It may seem vaguely insulting to a musician who has maintained a career for nearly 30 years to suggest that her appeal lies in her ability to throw an outfit together. But in the case of the US singer Gwen Stefani it is truly a compliment. Because while many pop artists dabble in different styles with varying degrees of success, Stefani long ago nailed an Old Hollywood aesthetic that leaves most of her rivals looking a bit, well, tatty.

Stefani's outré outfits and platinum-bombshell hair – think Jayne Mansfield after a visit to the tattoo parlour – are as distinctive as the ska-inflected pop-punk that has seen her mega-selling band No Doubt showered with Grammys.

While Stefani's magpie instincts have got her into trouble – a video in which she wore Native American clothing was pulled following scores of complaints – her otherwise sharp fashion sense has led to cover shoots for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. Meanwhile her vintage-starlet-meets-rock-chick look has been copiously copied but rarely equalled. Miley Cyrus's double buns at the Video Music Awards? Modelled by Gwen 20 years ago. Rihanna's bleached ripped jeans? Sorry, RiRi, Gwen got there first.

It's no wonder Stefani was one of the first frontwomen to bridge the worlds of fashion and music with her own clothing line, L.A.M.B. (the name is an acronym of her debut solo album Love. Angel. Music. Baby), which has grown from an operation run from her kitchen into a global enterprise. Behind that densely lipsticked smile is a keen businesswoman, a factor doubtless helped by her early struggle to get a record deal, and the fact that she and her bandmates endured a full nine years of grafting before their first hit, “Don't Speak”.

If Stefani's solo albums, which have dabbled in R&B, hip-hop and dance music, have been patchy, the sales have been respectable and her presence as a cultural force has been constant. The singer has proved both resilient and quietly adaptable. Long may she reign.