While George Michael is remembered for his extraordinary skills as a songwriter and singer, his sartorial choices were pretty damn fabulous! As the official George Michael account tweeted, “George knew how to turn heads.”
On top of his vocal talent, George Michael always had a knack for style. Celebrating his legend also means acknowledging his talent for crafting a fearless and totally timeless image. Yes, George Michael was a pop superstar and a musical genius, but he was also a fashion icon.
George understood the power of the image, starting from his Wham! days — with his ‘tough yet tender’ leather-clad look to the bubblegum wholesomeness of pastel beachwear, hot shorts, highlighted hair, and neon colors. The style and look of Wham! pushed them to stand out from other bands in that era and made George Michael a heartthrob.
Whether good or bad, George knew that clothes really mattered. He may not always get his style right as he thought — e.g. saying one of his embarrassing moments was going to an award show looking like Colonel Sanders — but George had this immense talent for understanding style and looks, and how it all builds up to a charismatic image that can sell records. Take for example the whole raw sexuality and masculinity of the ‘Faith’ style and image, which George said was all him:
The whole “Faith” image was all me. I came up with the leather jacket and everything else. I didn’t use a stylist—I don’t think I could have afforded one!George Michael Interview in People Magazine (2010)
His sexy image in the Wham! and “Faith” videos most certainly contributed to his success. George knew that an artist’s image should portray their personality and style, and who they are, their individual uniqueness. What an artist wears, their attitude and their music tell a story about them and creates their unique image.
Even when his image became a burden for him. In an interview with Calendar Magazine, George said,
The rest – the whole video image – was just a creation … something I wanted in the beginning because of all the childish fantasies about [craving] love and attention. The truth is, it all got much bigger than I ever imagined – and much harder to control. Ultimately, I wasn’t comfortable with that kind of visibility and power. Once I became more confident as a writer, I realized I didn’t need all that other bolstering.”George Michael: The Reluctant Pop Star (Calendar Magazine, Sept 1990)
So he decided to be invisible and not appear in his videos. But by doing so, he created the Freedom ’90 video which is still celebrated today as THAT musical moment that brought fashion and pop culture together. The image of the top supermodels of that time — Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Tatjana Patitz — lip-synching to his song proved to be a total gamechanger that intertwined fashion and music together.
George has struggled with the idea that people found him attractive. In a 1988 interview, he said
I know that people find me attractive which I used to find very difficult to cope with, but I cope easily now because I’m more comfortable with myself. I now accept that people find me genuinely attractive, apart from the fact they find the idea of fame attractive, so I’m much more confident now and that in itself makes you more physically attractive because people can see it instantly.George Michael: The Glummest Man in Pop? (Star Hits, March 1988)
So hearing him talk about self-acceptance of how he looked back then is kind of comforting. In his last interview — the Red Line interviews aired on BBC2 Radio in November 2017 — George did seem that he has become “more comfortable with himself.” When Kirsty Young asked him about his image, he responded:
KY: Thinking about Faith, I’m thinking about the imagery. And I’m thinking, looking at all again before I came to talk to you. Just shocked at how fresh it still looks. And you said that you’re not somebody who’s comfortable with selling yourself as an image. But I mean, goodness knows that was a very strong and powerful image. Was it one that you dreamt up from within or was it one that some highly paid record company stylists came to you and said: “Put on the jacket; put on the boots; stand like this with the sunglasses”?
GM: No, nobody ever directed me as to how to look and what my image should be. Strangely enough, the photographer who took that strange picture where I look like I’m smelling my armpit … and I think the photographer probably understands it’s the composition of the picture that I love. But it does look I’m smelling my armpit; it’s a bit strange.
But those were the clothes that I wear and no one ever told me to buy this, buy that, look this way, look that way – I chose all of that myself. And to me, the vital thing was the sunglasses; because with the sunglasses, then I could hide. Sunglasses meant that there was only so much scrutiny that could be paid to my face. And as a 53-year-old man, I’m like, my God, you were gorgeous, you know, cuz I didn’t think it at all at the time. I still suffered terribly with insecurity about my looks.
Yes, George, you were gorgeous then, up to the very end. And we remember you not just for your amazing musical gifts but for being a fashion icon.
- ‘Souled Out: George Michael’ Published in Interview Magazine (1988)
- George Michael: The Lone Star State Interview on Q Magazine (June 1988)
- Wham! Teen Dreams Come True (NME, 1983)
- ‘George Michael, Seriously’ from Rolling Stone Magazine (1988)
- George Michael: The Glummest Man in Pop? (Star Hits, March 1988)