David Bowie was not only a music inspiration, he was a fashion chameleon who during the seventies inspired young folk. (including me).
Many hairdressers I personally worked with at that time were followers and admirers of his hairstyles and his music.
Early Bowie hair styles
Bowie moved from the short mod look along with many others of the mid sixties to growing his hair into the long unkempt hippy style. This was the hairstyle he had when he first performed “A Space Oddity” in 1969.
Little did his early followers know the way he would change his own fashion and makeup to evolve into the David Bowie so many loved and would emulate. Bowie was a big step for fashion of the time. The acceptance of his androgynous look was a new awakening for many in the gay community. Young creative hairdressers of the time wanted to be like him and also show their solidarity with his music and life choices. Bowie was definitely an icon!
A video of Bowie standing up for men with long hair in 1965 :
Even during the Sixties he flitted through many styles of fashion and hair. Musically he was a member of many groups in which you can see his identity and love for individuality being developed at this early stage.
Bowie scared of haircuts
(read full Article here)
Back in 1968, Taggart star Alex Norton found himself about to film a small role in the new movie, The Virgin Soldiers.
“At five in the morning, a coach collected my fellow virgin soldiers and me from outside the Hammersmith Odeon and ferried us out to Bury St. Edmonds to start work on the film.
“Since it was a stipulation in our contracts, we knew we were to be given authentic 1950’s army haircuts, and as much as the prospect of losing our sixties style manes dismayed us all, it seemed to absolutely horrify Davy, the modishly dressed young lad sitting next to me.
“He had clearly spent a lot of time and effort on his flame-coloured hairdo, which looked like it would have won first prize in a topiary competition.
“Arriving at Bury St Edmonds, we were taken two at a time into the make-up room and shorn with electric clippers. When I finally plucked up the courage to take a peek at myself in the mirror. I looked like I’d just got out the jail!
“My anguish was nothing though compared to trendy Davy’s. His pleas to the hairdresser to fake a short back and sides by gelling his hair down flat and concealing it under an army beret, fell on deaf ears.
Davy recovered from his hair loss. And he and Alex became pals.
“When we discovered we were both musical, Davy and I would bring our guitars to the set and play during meal breaks in the dining marquee.
“I quickly realised he was way above my standard, but he generously took time to show me a few new licks and tricks.
“One memorable night, he asked me if I knew any Jaques Brel songs. I told him I had never even heard of Jaques Brel. Davy picked up his guitar and sang In The Port Of Amsterdam.
“When he finished, you could have heard a pin drop. The usual noisy chatter had tailed away as the entire marquee listened in awed silence to his interpretation of Brel’s masterpiece.
“I remember wondering why someone with a talent like that wasn’t pursuing a career in the music world rather than taking on small parts and scraping a living running an ‘Arts Lab’ in Beckenham. “Although we exchanged phone numbers and I promised to come and visit his Arts Lab, as so often happens given the transitory nature of the business, we were really only buddies for the duration of the shoot.
Ziggy Stardust is born (see full article here)
In the early 1970s Suzi Ronson was working as a hairdresser in the London suburbs when a conversation with a client set her life on a very different path…
Suzi helping David with a costume change on tour, 1973
I was born a few years after the Second World War and lived with my parents in a nice house in Bromley, Kent, a suburb southeast of London. My parents got married after the war simply because that’s what everybody did. The government gave a generous allowance for children; we got free milk and great lunches at school. Both my parents worked: my father was a long-distance lorry driver, delivering meat, and my mother was an assistant at a dress shop in Beckenham. I don’t think my parents expected too much from me. I think they thought I would leave school, get a job, possibly get married and live around the corner.
Well, the Swinging 60s changed all of that. It was a great time to be a teenager in London. We had the best music – the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; the best fashion – the miniskirt; and we had the pill. The model of the day was Twiggy. She was tall, slim, with a flat chest and flat hair. I was challenged. I mean, I was completely out of style. I had thick, frizzy hair I couldn’t do anything with, and even thicker glasses, and a waist and hips. I wasn’t good at school, I didn’t like school, and by the time I was 15, I’d had enough.
So I left and enrolled at the Evelyn Paget College of Hair and Beauty in Bromley. I wouldn’t say that hairdressing was my dream job, but with my education it was my best option, and as it turns out I was quite good at it. At the end of my course I was transferred to Evelyn Paget’s flagship salon in Beckenham.
It was here I met Mrs Jones. Mrs Jones was my quarter-to-three shampoo and set on a Thursday afternoon. Once in a while she would have a trim, and every now and again a chocolate-kiss rinse. As I was doing her hair she would talk to me about her son David.
She would say, ‘He was such an artistic child,’ and, ‘He’s a singer in a band.’ She was so proud of him. I would nod and smile and listen, as you do, but it wasn’t until she mentioned ‘Space Oddity’ that my ears kind of pricked up. I said, ‘“Space Oddity” I’ve heard that song on the radio.’ It was a hit. ‘Are we talking about David Bowie?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I’m his mum.’
David as Ziggy performing ‘Starman’ with Mick Ronson (right) and Trevor Bolder on ITV’s Lift Off with Ayshea, 1972
There was a buzz about David in Beckenham. He played the local pub, the Three Tuns – albeit folk music – but he’d had a top-five song in ‘Space Oddity’. It had been a while ago, though, so I thought he might have been a one-hit wonder.
The first time I actually saw David, he was walking down Beckenham High Street in a dress with this girl who had these skinny black trousers on. I met her – Mrs Jones brought her into the salon. It turned out it was Angie, David’s wife.
I liked her immediately. She was so cool and confident, and she looked great – she certainly didn’t shop in Beckenham. She talked to me a little bit about her life. She did lights for David’s shows, and they would hang out all night in London at the clubs and just have the best time. It all sounded so glamorous.
The next time I saw Angie, she was coming in for an appointment. It was Christmas week – well, every self-respecting salon is full Christmas week. I took her to one side and said, ‘I can’t do your hair here, but here’s my telephone number, give me a call. I’ll come to your house.’
Off I went to Haddon Hall. It was about a mile out of town, one of those huge mansions divided into flats. David and Angie had the middle floor. It wasn’t the sheer size of the place that was overwhelming, it was the way it was decorated: a midnight blue carpet, midnight blue walls and a silver ceiling. There wasn’t much furniture: a couch, a couple of chairs, a long, low coffee table, tons of album covers all over the place, and a guitar in the corner. David and Angie were sitting in the middle of a bay window discussing the merits of cutting his hair short – he had this long,
blond, wavy hair at the time. They asked me my opinion.
I said, ‘No one has short hair’ – because nobody did. ‘You would be the first.’
David Bowie with the iconic Ziggy haircut, left, and Suzi in the early 1970s
He walked over to show me a photo in a magazine. It was of a model for fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto with short, red, spiky hair. He said, ‘Can you do that?’ As I said yes, I was thinking, ‘That’s a little weird – it’s a woman’s hairstyle. And how am I going to actually do it?’ Inside, however, I was excited – this was a chance to be very creative. David was rock-star thin with white skin, a long neck, a great face – if I could pull it off, it would look fantastic.
It took me about a half an hour to cut, and when I finished, his hair didn’t stand up. It kind of flopped. I looked at David, and he was panicking, and I wasn’t feeling too bright. I said, ‘Listen, David, the second we tint your hair, the colour will change the texture and it will stand up.’ I prayed I was right.
I found the colour, Schwarzkopf Red Hot Red with 30 volume peroxide to give it a bit of lift. There was no ‘product’ in those days to help me make it stand up, so I used Gard, an anti-dandruff treatment that I kept for the old girls at the salon – it set hair like stone.
David with Angie after their wedding, 1970
The second David saw himself in the mirror with that short, red, spiky hair, all doubts disappeared. Angie and I looked at him in awe, he looked so good. A huge wave of relief washed over me: I’d done it! I hadn’t known it was going to work until I felt the texture changing in my hands as I was drying it, and it stood up. He looked amazing. I started gathering my things together to leave, and Angie said, ‘Oh, how much do we owe you?’ I think I said, ‘£2, please.’
A week or so later Angie called me and said, ‘The band are playing in London, why don’t you come and see them?’ I replied, ‘I’d love to.’
It was at a college, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I walked in and the place was sold out – completely full. I stood, the lights went down and some music came on. It was a real ‘Oh My God’ moment.
When the band came on the stage, David was in full make-up, his red hair blazing in the lights. He’d turned himself into Ziggy Stardust. The band were all in costumes that looked like curtain material: flat pastel velvet tucked into lace-up boots. They looked incredible. And when they played, the place rocked, it was so good – so unbelievably good. I went home thinking, ‘That wasn’t folk music!’ I hadn’t known what to expect, but it wasn’t that.
David outside his rented home, Haddon Hall, Beckenham, 1971
Angie called the next day and said, ‘Did you like it, and will you come to Haddon Hall again?’ And off I went. I met Freddie Burretti, a friend of David’s who helped design the costumes. He was so fabulous – he minced and lisped and was just gorgeous. I was fascinated – I’d never met a gay man before. Sometime during that evening, David leaned over and kissed Freddie full on the lips. I didn’t know which way to look.
Angie was laughing, and suddenly I felt completely out of my depth. I wasn’t like these people. I didn’t know who Nietzsche was. I’d never heard of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground or Andy Warhol. I’d certainly never seen two guys kissing before. I was from Beckenham!
Later that evening, Angie took me to one side and said, ‘David and I have been speaking, and we’d like you to come and work for us full-time. Go to the MainMan offices [David’s management company] and sort out your wages.’
Off I duly went, heart in mouth. I met David’s manager, Tony DeFries, and by the end of the afternoon I’d got the job. It wasn’t until I was driving home that I realised my life was going to really change. ‘I’m going on the road with a rock and roll band!’ I was so excited.
Angie with Warhol actor Leee Black Childers, 1985
I went to Evelyn Paget’s the next day to give in my notice to my boss, and he looked at me and said, ‘You know, Suzanne, you should think twice before giving up a well-paying, secure job.’
I said, ‘Yeah, I have.’
Of course, after that my confidence knew no bounds. I took the drummer [Mick Woodmansey] and turned him into a blond Ziggy, and chopped Trevor’s [Bolder, bass] hair off and made it spiky on top with silver sideburns. The only holdout was Mick Ronson, the guitar player – he didn’t want to look like David.
I started doing shows with them. We did Top of the Pops – David played ‘Starman’, and when he draped his arm around Mick during the chorus, I think it shook Britain to its core (it certainly shook my parents). Nobody did stuff like that in those days.
David was always thinking of the next thing to do – he was very ambitious – and he wanted to do rock and roll theatre. So we hired a theatre in Finsbury Park, North London, and he built a set with scaffolding, lights and dry ice. It was amazing. We were all working 18 hours a day to put this show together, and he was saying, ‘Don’t talk to anybody, don’t tell anybody what it’s about, no recording equipment, no cameras.’
Suzi with husband-to-be Mick Ronson, 1974
Of course, the more you make of these things, the more interesting it becomes, and we opened to a fanfare of press. All the celebs came. Kids came with Ziggy haircuts, and it was a great show. I think the only person who didn’t like it was Elton John. He walked out halfway through, saying, ‘This isn’t rock and roll.’
But it was, because we were running up and down England in buses, and shows were being added, the gigs were getting bigger and everything was selling out. And I was with David and the boys all the time, doing everybody’s hair, looking after the costumes, doing the dry cleaning, making sure everything was right.
There were many costume changes, so David would come to the wings where I would be standing with a glass of red wine and a Gitanes cigarette and, while Mick was wailing his guitar ten feet from me, I would change David’s clothes. We got good at it.
We went to the US. In New York we stayed in the Plaza, an amazing hotel. We had a great advance team: Cherry Vanilla, a famous groupie, and Leee Black Childers, a Warhol actor, would go to the next town, to the gay clubs, and create fervour. It was a really good idea, because it got the kids coming to the gigs.
I met Iggy Pop in California. We stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Iggy wanted me to dye his hair blue, and I obliged. I said to him, ‘You know, you might want to wash that a couple of times before going in the pool.’ Of course he paid me no mind, and by the end of the afternoon there was a blue streak from one end of the hotel pool to the other. (He was asked to leave after that.)
We went to Japan, where I met Kansai Yamamoto, and I picked up some more wonderful costumes for David. It was exciting. Suddenly I was cool: the girl with the thick hair and the thicker glasses was in a world where everybody wanted to be.
I went back to Beckenham, and I walked up and down the high street, looked through Evelyn Paget’s windows – my God, it seemed so small, I was so glad I wasn’t there. Nothing had changed in Beckenham, nothing had changed at home, but I was so changed – I was a million miles from there.
Suzi Ronson today. She lives in New York, but swears she’ll return to London one day
The last time that David appeared as Ziggy Stardust was at Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973. He stood at the front of the stage and said, ‘This…is the last show we’ll ever do,’ then played ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide’.
I was sad to say goodbye to Ziggy – I think we all were – but I didn’t go home. I fell in love with Mick Ronson, the guitar player, and moved to London with him.
I’m so grateful for my luck. I’m grateful I met Mrs Jones and Angie, grateful I gave Angie my telephone number – otherwise somebody else might have been living my life. I’m thrilled that I met and married the late, great Mick Ronson and had a lovely daughter with him.
And, of course, I’m so grateful to David. He took a chance on me, changed my life completely. My haircut is on British currency now – the Brixton £10 note.
Now, who would have thought I could have done that?
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Suzi Ronson has worked as a household manager, music producer and consultant for private clients in New York, the Hamptons, Florida and the British Virgin Islands. She is a singer-songwriter who performs for friends, and a horse enthusiast. She lives in New York, but swears she’ll return to London one day.
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This is an edited extract from The Moth: All These Wonders, a collection of stories about risk, courage and facing the unknown, edited by Catherine Burns, published by Serpent’s Tail, price £12.99. To order a copy for £9.74 (a 25 per cent discount) until 18 June, visit you-bookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15
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- To find out more about David Bowie’s Beckenham go to inziggysfootsteps.com
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When his amazing change to Ziggy Stardust happened it was a look that many young people of the time wanted to have. The Titian red mullet was an unforgettable statement style with chopped and vertical on top with long back sections that moved alluringly with him as he performed.
The Ziggy name happened due to friendship with Iggy Pop – a clever addition a Z!
The look was inspired after seeing Honey magazine where Kansai Yamamoto the Japanese fashion designer used a catwalk model with this hairstyle and shaved eyebrows.
The shaved eyebrows were another part of the look that he wore to great effect to give an alien look.
He also used clothes with knee-high, lace-up, zip-sided boots the idea was taken Stanley Kubrick’s film version of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.
The continual preparation for concerts was the main reason that David dropped the Ziggy style and moved on to my personal favourite Bowie years of “The thin white duke” where he dropped the spikey mullet style and moved to a more traditional fifties pompadour with blonde and red combinations.
His Station to Station album is among my favorites – an unforgettable moment of teenage angst. Memories of parties and
music sharing with other fellow Bowie acolytes. Albums listened to time and time again !
The styling and colouring for this Bowie style classic needed serious bleaching.
I remember one of the stylist in the salon I worked having their head blistered by using the (now illegal) high levels of peroxide used to get the blond Bowie look. No pain no gain was the motto!
Bowie did a collaboration with Mick Jagger “Dancing in the street” in my humble opinion this was a mistake and dented his fashion credibility. So me being a non hardcore fans I moved on to other music styles.
Punk music was evolving and a lot of legends became not “street cred” Amazing to think I stupidly added Bowie into this category !
His 90`s delve into Tin Machine and German Electro rock further alienated me to his music. Until his last and final brilliant album re awakened me to his genius.
A particular favourite is “tis a pity she was a whore” which I can hear influences of Billy Mackenzie and the Associates . Whether Bowie was the influencer or the inluenced I don’t know ! I just know that Bowie was back.
Then he Dies!!!! How could that happen, just not fair on him or us.
Thanks for the memories David.
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower – Albert Camus