Paul J Macdonald, Chrysalis Theatre, Bletchley, The Man Who Sewed The World, Freddie Burretti, Lee Scriven, musical, theatre,
Poster for Lee Scriven’s new stage musical

A forthcoming musical about Freddie Burretti is due to open for a limited three-day run next month in Milton Keynes. One of the unsung designers, Burretti was responsible for some of the bold glamour that launched Bowie and his Ziggy creation into the zeitgeist. Based on the rarely seen documentary film, Starman: The Man Who Sewed The World this new live show will hopefully add more texture to one of the British fashion creatives. His collaboration with Bowie must be one of the most successful in rock music and one that resonates with fans worldwide especially since Bowie’s death.

The predictable surge in  media interest celebrating Bowie’s  lasting legacy, his multi-faceted style has seen many of Burretti’s costumes back in the spotlight. Hipster skateboard sneaker company Vans just last week released their limited-edition range of Bowie-inspired footwear line (that includes a few T-shirts and caps), amongst them the Hunky Dory/Ziggy sneakers. The voracious appetite of social media platforms led by Instagram have pushed Bowie’s trademark looks into the millennials’  feeds no  doubt offering some inspiration along the way. Few however will probably have heard of Burretti which is a shame, his work ignited the imagination and gave us the prettiest star. As a reminder, here’s my review of Lee Scriven’s biopic when I reviewed it after a preview screening in November 2015 …

ANDY POLARIS REVIEWS STARMAN THE MOVIE 2015

Starman: The Man Who Sewed The World gives a fascinating insight into the relatively unknown life of fashion future legend Freddie Burretti. This working-class lad had a creative mind able to absorb everything he loved about Mod fashion, having taught himself to make his own clothes at an early age. With enough dedication and focus to learn tailoring as well as the youthful dynamics of the dancefloor, he was obviously adept at observing styles and reworking looks to his own vision.

A chance meeting at the disco lead to the serendipitous collaboration with Bowie and the singer’s as yet not fully realised Ziggy Stardust wardrobe. These bold textured prints and coloured jumpsuits were, and are, extraordinary for capturing Bowie’s otherness at that time. Aladdin Sane prints that looked like Liberty worn by the androgynous male rock star blew our tiny minds back then.

pop music, David Bowie, pop music, Freddie Burretti, costume, designer,Daniella Parmar
Bowie’s designer Freddie and It-girl Daniella Parmar in about 1971: striking a pose that David and Angie came to emulate

What I loved about the movie was seeing the genesis of Freddie’s glamour vision in a mundanely drab landscape played out with the innocence of his mainly, it appears, female friends notably Wendy bf and Daniella protégée. Wonderful to hear their counterpoint stories of that inner circle involved in Bowie’s creation of Ziggy with Freddie’s ascendant talent and confidence.

The pairing of Freddie and Daniella wearing his clothes is groundbreaking. Looking at those photos we see the androgynous beauty of Freddie (like a still from James Bidgood’s 1971 cult movie Pink Narcissus) teamed with Daniella’s Asian complexion and short spiky blonde crop. They had already created David and Angie’s classic image before the rest of the world saw it!

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Curious magazine, 1971: Bowie wears his Michael Fish “man-dress” and plans to create a band called The Arnold Corns to showcase Freddie as “the next Mick Jagger”. In the studio, it turned out that Freddie couldn’t sing

In fact, Daniella also anticipates Ava Cherry singing with Bowie in Young Americans several years later when we note the similar styling – how did that happen?

From my own black perspective, a brown or black face was something I would immediately zone in on, seeing someone like you up there on a stage and hanging out with the stars. Marc Bolan having the black Gloria Jones as his wife was a big bloody deal to some black kids, for sure.

Freddie’s whole look seems to have been adopted wholesale by David Johansen of the New York Dolls, so the influence of this young British designer can today be recognised rippling out into the wider pop culture although it probably wasn’t acknowledged at the time. Maybe a parallel could be drawn between Freddie and Alexander McQueen – both gay and from working-class backgrounds – though McQueen came to work with Bowie as an established star, whereas Freddie created an image that made Bowie a star. Today it is unreal to imagine any designer could achieve such pivotal pop success without a massive team behind them.

* Burretti: The Man Who Sewed The World runs at the Chrysalis Theatre, Milton Keynes MK15 9JY on May 16–18, 2019. Tickets cost £15 by calling 0333 666 3366 or by booking online here

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