The Flesh Machine
Surveying the Indubitable Style of Iggy Pop
Archival Photos by Mick Rock
Iggy enjoys a tender moment with a companion at his home in Miami, 2012.
Some people might ask: What does a guy who’s been shirtless for at least two-thirds of his life have to say about fashion? If you’re one of them, this interview is not for you. Read it some other time, after you’ve listened to The Stooges, Raw Power, Fun House, Lust for Life, and The Idiot and realized that Iggy Pop’s animalistic physicality has informed style for decades and will continue to do so well after the last time he writhes and slithers across a stage.
Iggy’s ubiquitous uniform—pants so tight they could have been spray-painted on, a sinewy bare chest that didn’t start aging until his 60s, and Beatle boots or bare feet, depending on his mood—undoubtedly looks at least five times better than whatever you’re wearing right now. It was also carefully calculated, like a sleek, stripped-down hot rod built with the single-minded goals of efficiency and speed.
A thorough perusal of archival photos and video of Iggy reveals that he took the same care in his appearance offstage, where he tends to wear a bit more clothing; almost every outfit seems iconic in some way, but also natural and unforced. As far as I can tell, over the past four decades he hasn’t worn anything that could be considered embarrassing or dated in 2012. I’m not sure there’s anyone else on Earth—save menswear designers who never stray from suits—whom you could say the same thing about.
But Iggy’s not just a historical figure. In the 21st century, he has worked hard to revitalize his name, with Stooges tours, records, and collaborations with various clothing brands. His argument for participating in these unabashedly commercial enterprises is that the Stooges never got the recognition and the sales they deserved in their brief lifetime. So if this is the way to finally achieve some payback, he has no problem jumping on board.
As far as I could tell, no one has interviewed Iggy explicitly and exclusively about fashion, so that’s precisely what I did.
Iggy in his silver leather pants, which he wore for special occasions, 1972.
VICE: Do you remember the first time you understood the concept of fashion or at least being cool?
Iggy Pop: When I was in elementary school, I saw two older boys who were dressed in the 50s delinquent look—jackets with the collar up, dark blue Levi’s with the cuffs turned up, and winkle-pickers—and they were leaning against the wall of my school for some reason. They were too old to be there, and one of them said, “Shit.” I’d never really heard the word, but it sounded bad. I wouldn’t say I thought they were cool, but there was electricity in the air at that moment. Let’s put it that way. Then they disappeared, and I thought, “Oh my God, what are the implications?”
When I was about the same age, my great-uncle George Osterberg came from Chile to visit my father, and he brought his daughter with him, who looked and dressed exactly like a male greaser. She had the greasy pompadour, like a young man, and spent a lot of time just lying around, sneering at everything. On a woman, I thought, “Woah, she’s bad. That’s cool.” I was very impressed; I found it attractive.
How about the British Invasion? Did it influence your sense of style, or were you more into American trends?
I always liked Charlie Watts’s look. I’d go to thrift stores and try to buy suits so I’d look more like him. I was a drummer at the time, so I liked that almost Savile Row look very much, which he’d taken from American jazz players. The others had a good look, too, and there was this store in New York called Paul Sergeant that imported most of their stuff from London. It was a good place to shop.
There were two chains for shoes in America at the time: The best was one called Cancellation, which was where black people went in the inner city to buy their cheap, flashy Italian models. And then there was something called Flagg Brothers. I didn’t know this, but there’s a new film out about William Burroughs that I participated in where they mention Flagg Brothers, so I guess it was also a place where… Anywhere with good style is where boys tend to meet boys. A lot of that went on.
During the early days of the Stooges, would it be fair to say that your look was a lot more put together and less raw than it came to be?
Well, I was careful about what I wore. From our second gig on, I looked a lot more like what I’ve looked like, on and off, since: no shirt, a pair of tight, slim jeans, bare feet, and I had permed hair and a white, painted face. By the third or fourth gig, I lost the perm and the white face, and I started wearing this same pair of shoes that you can see in every photo of the Stooges from mid-’69 to the end of ’71. They were these authentic Anello & Davide Beatle boots. Dave Alexander had brought them back from England because he and Ron [Asheton] had skipped their senior year of high school to go to Liverpool and see what was going on. I used to wear them over and over, and they had holes in the bottom, like a cartoon hobo.
Then, as I began doing more gigs, these flimsy pants I wore would start to rip, and I left the rips in. I thought it looked right. It was the thing at the time for people like P.J. Proby or Jackie Wilson, or even James Brown, to leave loose basting instead of proper stitching in the crotch of the pants. Before the end of the show they’d rip onstage, and that was part of the gig. But I was the first one to just come out with the rips, as far as I know.
Some perceived your style as machismo, but you weren’t particularly macho onstage.
No. I actually think there shouldn’t be any genders. Male dogs smell each other’s dicks and stuff, and then they jump female dogs and do everything to everything. That’s the way humans really are, but there have been elaborate codes adopted to weed out parts of behavior that don’t match whatever gender or social group you want to belong to. And I think that actually cuts both ways, straight and gay—each cuts out or emphasizes certain bits. It’s sort of like using hair spray on your personality. But no, I never wanted to look particularly macho. For one thing, I realized the girls don’t really go for it. [laughs] I think ideals of beauty in our society are dictated by those who identify themselves as feminine, at least in their thought processes. Whether those are gay people, or women who are thinking in a particularly devious, savage, amoral manner, which is how women think when they really get down to business. And that’s where the bread is buttered, so I wanted to look kind of smooth, slinky, and super forward.