Destiny's Child, Sequin New Horizons
Friday, June 17, 2005
This week's announcement on MTV News that Destiny's Child plans to disband after finishing its world tour in the fall portends a sad goodbye to Bedazzled fashion. The group's three members -- Beyonce Knowles, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams -- built their image on the sequined hot pants, studded miniskirts and fringed tunics that Ann-Margrock might have worn for a "Flintstones" butt-shaker at the Hollyrock Bowl.
Descended from all the girl groups of the 1960s, such as the Supremes and the Shirelles, Beyonce and friends have always dressed in coordinating costumes all cut from the same bolt of fabric. Their stage clothes can be as simple as three variations of a pair of teensy-weensy hot pants and a cropped top. They have riffed on black leather pants and halters. They have played mix-and-match with crystal-studded bras. And at the Grammys a while back, each wore a slightly different version of a green sequined cutaway gown. They looked like Disney little mermaids tangled in a thicket of sea lettuce.
From the beginning, the group was famously styled by Beyonce's mother, Tina Knowles -- and managed by her father, Mathew. This caused all kinds of consternation in the early days, a time during which members were coming, going and suing at a steady pace. Yet even after the personnel problems were smoothed out (and long before Beyonce released her solo album and was transformed into a single-named star with a milkshake to rival Jennifer Lopez and Kelis combined), she was the de facto Diana Ross of the group. Beyonce was regularly posed in the center of the trio with her golden tresses and her splendidly curvaceous figure one Oreo away from being scrutinized by the tabloid weight police.
The singers have always assured us of their friendship, deflecting rumors of catfights within the group. But it is easy to understand the public's suspicion that all could not possibly be so blissful in the company of three women dressing like triplets, with one always managing to look better than the others. Even when dressed like Vegas bridesmaids, Beyonce always looks a little less appalling. Mother knows best; she cannot help but to look out for her baby.
While Destiny's children never dress any more provocatively than other pop singers -- and on some occasions are decidedly old-fashioned in their luxuriously draped gowns with saucer-size brooches -- it is always disconcerting to know not only that Mom is okaying the gold hot pants or the lapis go-go dancer ensembles, but that these frocks have sprung from her very own imagination. It is no more reassuring to think back to their breathless crawl from the sea in the video for "Survivor" wearing chiffon rags -- not because the shredded bits of yellow and coral fabric were particularly revealing, but because they were essentially rags.
(One wonders about the breakfast table conversations that might have preceded Beyonce's solo video efforts. While wearing earrings the size of Calder mobiles, she sings about being "Crazy in Love." Her boo Jay-Z blows her up in a car. Seconds later, she canters back into view wearing stiltlike heels, tight bloomers and fur pelts. What's the aesthetic philosophy here, Mom? Dad?)
The costumes worn by Destiny's Child reflect contemporary pop star rules; they never test them. Their style pays homage to the past with color coordination, complimentary silhouettes and perfectly calibrated titillation. The costumes suggest a Motown level of control over the amount of sexuality put on the selling block. Under Berry Gordy, Motown singers such as the Supremes were taught poise, etiquette and discipline. They learned the skill of selling dreamy romance with the help of evening gowns and bouffant hair. This is a different, more sexually charged era, but Destiny's Child dresses with no less attention to staying on-message: This is a delightfully entertaining and raunchy party, but it is not a strip show.
Destiny's Child is committed to selling sex, but without delving into the "Dirrty" realm of Christina Aguilera or the snake-dancing provocation of Britney Spears. Beyonce, Kelly and Michelle have positioned themselves as the popular girls -- chased by all the boys, admired by the other girls -- who concern themselves with such quaint notions as safeguarding their reputation. They style themselves as teasing pinups with flowing hair, sequined minidresses and cropped tops that ultimately reveal nothing but suggest everything. While other performers were talking about feeling empowered by their sexuality and taking themselves and their washboard abs so seriously, the Destiny's Child girls were singing about their "jelly" and being "Bootylicious."
There is a premium placed on toughness and urban edge, and so Destiny's Child uses costumes to suggest a passing acquaintance with the rough-and-tumble life. There has been judicious use of bandannas. An occasional dabbling in black leather. And more than a few hemlines that looked as though they had been gnawed by an aggrieved rat.
Finally, there is their insistent philosophy of matchy-matchy. Besides announcing the obvious -- we are a group -- one imagines that it is intended to serve the same purpose as school uniforms. Superficial equality. No divas.
Of course, this premise did not work with the Supremes and it didn't work with Destiny's Child. The girl group may not have been conceived as a competitive sport, but Beyonce is clearly Miss Alpha: solo performer, actress, entrepreneur.
This fall, she and her mother will launch a ready-to-wear collection called House of Dereon. It is named after Beyonce's grandmother, who was a seamstress. Tina Knowles promises that the collection will reflect Beyonce's street edge, her own interest in couture and their family history of dressmaking expertise. These will not be stage costumes. So presumably the Bedazzler, along with Destiny's Child, will go into retirement.