CHER ON FASHION

Cher on the cover of Love magazine: Queen of chiffon and sequins is the ultimate fashion icon
Celebrities copy her, the designer Marc Jacobs is inspired by her – and next week, she’ll be on the cover of the achingly hip ‘Love’ magazine. Fashion editor Alexander Fury salutes the camp, timeless style of Cherilyn Sarkisian.

We’ve always seen plenty of Cher through fashion. Only now it is figuratively, not literally. In the past, we’ve seen Cher through sheer panels of Bob Mackie chiffon and fishnet; through nude illusion that was, frequently, no illusion; through the body-stocking she wore in the video for her 1989 single “If I Could Turn Back Time”, the one that resembled two strategic strips of duct tape and a pair of tights hoicked up too high.

And now? Well, in the past three months, we’ve seen Cher at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Gala, in Marc Jacobs, with Marc Jacobs. And we actually saw her in Jacobs again, when she fronted his autumn/winter 2015 advertising campaign.

Granted, Cher is just one of a litany of Jacobs’ stars, including the director Sofia Coppola, the actress Winona Ryder and Willow “Daughter of Will” Smith. But she attracted all the attention. The latest example of the fashion industry’s current embracing of Cher to its bosom is her place on the cover of the autumn/winter issue of Love magazine, a biannual bible of cool whose editor-in-chief, Katie Grand, is accepted as high fashion’s premier harbinger of hip. (Full disclosure: I edited Love, under Grand, for a year. It was as cool then as it is now – down to her, definitely not me.)

“We’ve tried for her before,” says Grand – meaning Cher – but apparently, in the past schedules conflicted and the star couldn’t make it. However, this time around, “Cher happened within about three days. It was one of the easiest things I’ve ever commissioned.”

For example, although neither the stylist Joe McKenna (who works with designers from Azzedine Alaïa to Victoria Beckham) nor the author and journalist Derek Blasberg (who interviewed her) were due to be in New York around the time of the shoot, they both instantly agreed and rearranged.

“Everyone I spoke with was obsessed with her,” says Grand, by way of explaining why she put Cher on her cover. But Grand didn’t count herself among them, to be honest – at least not at the beginning. “You know, when someone around you is obsessed, it begins to rub off,” she says, laughing. “Marc is, and so many people I know… and we’d already looked at her as inspiration for a number of collections.”

Grand is referring to the designer Marc Jacobs, with whom she works as a stylist – at Louis Vuitton until 2013, and ongoing at his eponymous label. She recalls how she and the then head-of-studio Peter Copping (now creative director of Oscar de la Renta) once hid Jacobs’ copy of Cher’s The Greatest Hits at Vuitton, after incessant late-night looping of the tracks. “Then the cleaner found it… so it was obvious that someone had hidden it…”

It’s strange to read names like these going quite so gaga over Cher. “Working with her was a dream come true,” gushes Marc Jacobs to me, from Paris. “She’s been an inspiration to me since age nine, when I started watching her weekly on The Sonny and Cher Show.”

That’s a long-standing fixation – and Cher’s influence can be traced back through Jacobs’ fashion designs: not just the obvious, like the beaded peekaboo gowns and feather head-dresses of his final Vuitton collection for autumn/winter 2014 (a fairly direct facsimile of Cher’s spotlight-stealing 1986 Oscars outfit); but also subtler stuff. Jacobs’ signature low-riding kick-hem trousers of the Nineties, for instance. They had a Seventies flair, those flares, and remind you that Cher was the first woman to expose her navel on network TV.

“If you want to talk about firsts and belly buttons, you can look at Claudette Colbert or Cleopatra,” says Cher in the interview accompanying her Love cover, shot by David Sims. “The generation that came before mine were people I could not relate to at all. Doris Day? Sandra Dee? I had no idea where they were coming from and I thought they all dressed terribly. I was appalled at all that crap: cookie-cutter suits and little pillbox hats.”

Maybe that’s the source of Cher’s appeal right now: we ourselves are coming out of a period of relative fashion conservatism, itself a reaction to the crass excesses of the early Noughties. A little glitz, a bit of glamour, a sliver (or several) of naked flesh are no longer looked on as bad taste. But is Cher’s style looked on as bad taste? Probably – even when it’s being lauded. (In 1999, for instance, the Council of Fashion Designers of America recognised Cher for her influence in fashion.) “I think she’s been a fashion victim and I think she’s learned a lot from that,” says the then-CFDA president Stan Herman. “That almost gave her her sense of style.” But I don’t think Cher is a fashion victim. She’s always known exactly what she wanted to achieve. She’s never worn something to be fashionable, regardless of whether is suited her or not – indeed, she’s been happier to be out of fashion. Example? Bob Mackie, the fashion designer most associated with her look, and with whom she is most associated. She still sports his clothes today.