Beyoncé’s lookbook on the exhausting and fabulous era of fashion

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The world witnessed Beyoncé’s seventh coming in the form of her studio album “Renaissance.” The 16 tracks are the expression of her moods and her desires at the height of the pandemic when she decides to record music that allows her to dream and escape, as she writes on her website. She also noted that her intention was to create a “safe space.” A place without judgement. A place to be free from perfectionism and overthinking. And the music’s loose lyrics and grooves are testament to that. From flashes of Donna Summer and Honey Dijon to glorious house beats, half the tracks call for remixing into one-on-one mini dancefloor marathons and others immediately conjure up images of sweaty bodies bouncing off each other in pre-pandemic happiness. The lyrics and the rhythms tickle the imagination and release emotions that have, for so many people, been stifled: joy, abandonment.

Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’ is made to last forever

The photographs on his social media aim to evoke these emotions in concrete terms – in the form of jumpsuits, disco balls, hologram horses and dazzling saddles. While the music is an homage to uninhibited movement, the stills are steeped in fashion history, demanding glamor and perfectionism – perhaps not the old-school version Beyoncé eschews in her missive but exacting rigor nonetheless.

There is a lot of work in these looks.

To start: There are bodysuits. But of course there are bodysuits. Has there ever been an extended Beyoncé moment that didn’t have one? No there is not. They are his signature. His uniform. They should be renamed Bey-suits.

There are sequined ones and molded ones and one that is really just a bit of silver chain and rhinestones. In one portrait, she is seated with her legs akimbo in a black lace Alaïa bodysuit, her gaze directed towards the viewer and her lips slightly parted. It is also a signature. In virtually every photograph, she gazes at her audience with her mouth slightly open. This default expression gives each photo a similar emotional tone.

Beyoncé in still images is not as interesting as Beyoncé in motion. His silence does not say a lot. She doesn’t communicate that much in a look caught in the click of a shutter. It doesn’t matter whether she’s holding a broken bottle as if pushing away an unruly barmate or raising an old-fashioned glass as if waving at a waiter to chill her drink. She gives the look of Beyoncé. But whatever. It has always been more than enough.

There’s more Alaïa on display in the form of a custom acid green lace dress with Mongolian lamb trim. There is also a Gucci silver satin velvet dress with winged sleeves and a red puffy short jacket from Dolce & Gabbana. There are western hats and red-soled stilettos, corsets and a silver-horned Mugler bustier reminiscent of the entire 1992 “Too Funky” video on which designer Thierry Mugler collaborated with George Michael, who may well be one of the seven peaks of fashion and music collaborations.

The clothes, with their broad shoulders and skin-tight lines and unapologetic sexual provocation, recall the 1970s to the early 1990s, when fashion shifted from a kind of disturbing sexuality to giddy ostentation. The clothes send the spirit reeling with Grace Jones’ shrewd confidence and Madonna’s sexual titillation. The intense glamor evokes drag balls and drag queens. The posture is reminiscent of the fashion photography of Helmut Newton and Jean-Paul Goude.

Beyoncé posing on her knees with a gold saddle on her back echoes Newton’s “Saddle I.” The image of her in the silver Gucci dress with an almost exposed breast is reminiscent of her portrayal of Paloma Picasso wearing a dress revealing Karl Lagerfeld’s breasts. And there’s a disco horse. Beyoncé sits on it wearing chains and spikes and brandishing a white hat; it brings to mind the pop culture moment of 1978 when Bianca Jagger rode a white horse through Studio 54 and helped cement the nightclub’s reputation as a club of the day. Not anymore place of decadence and debauchery.

There’s a total commitment to the twinkling joy of that time – or at least the hazy memory of it. At the time, the fun was bubbling despite — and perhaps because of — dire circumstances. The dance has endured in the face of the AIDS epidemic, homophobia, economic perils and dire crime statistics. There was a lot to fear. So after a pandemic lockdown, civil unrest and an attempted insurrection, Beyoncé delivers bubbly, happy music. And after years of sweatpants and yoga pants and dressing only from the waist down, she’s also presenting her audience with fashion that’s revealing, spit, cinched and exhausting. She works hard in those corsets and stilettos.

It would be politically correct to say that she is showing strength and female empowerment with her nipple pasties and sewn stockings. After all, Beyoncé has educated the culture and the music industry on what it means to embrace her success and her power. Her lessons have particularly resonated with some black women. But there’s no denying that these images also express a delight for the male gaze – as well as the female gaze, the genderless gaze, and the gaze of anyone who would like to look.

The clothes tell the chaotic story of a time in pop culture when people were determined to have a good time. And when they did Have fun. Nevertheless.

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