Although David Bowie’s reputation in the music industry preceded his abilities as an actor, it is no doubt that Bowie had a deep fondness for art and theatre. Right from his performance in the bizarre pantomime Pierrot in Turquoise (later televised into a film called ‘The Looking Glass Murders’), to his role in the theatre production The Elephant Man and on to his on-screen appearance in The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie’s interest in showbiz has always been evident. Even though the Starman reached the highest point in his career with music, drama has remained as in an integral part of his image throughout his life. Even during his time as a full-time musician, doing shows and making records, Bowie incorporated much of his influences from his knowledge of drama as a spectacle into his musical performances on stage.
Between 1972 and 1974, after a period of experimentation with Space Oddity and so forth, Bowie came up with his now-iconic character of Ziggy Stardust; an androgynous figure, extremely flamboyant and sometimes balancing on the fine line between lively and chaotic. Singing songs on stage, to him, was a performance; a dramatic enactment and Ziggy Stardust helped him achieve precisely that. From some of the most glamorous outfits to an elaborate make-up, Ziggy Stardust’s character really came to life.
With a face recognisable the world over, Bowie once gave a detailed account of his make-up for Ziggy Stardust. He took utmost care of every single feature of his face and enhanced them. For any make-up enthusiasts out there, here’s a detailed account of how the face of Ziggy Stardust is born.
Most of Bowie’s make-up was imported with coloured powders from Rome and creams from India. Basic essentials including white rice powder from Tokyo, and Indian kohl in black for his eyes, smudged on the lash line, of course. He also used a light liquid base at times in pink or yellow, or even white when on stage. For the gold circle on his forehead, he used a German gold base in cake form that he bought at New York’s Makeup Centre. For that extra glossy effect on his lips and eyelids, he used the Eight-Hour cream by Elizabeth Arden, and for his eyelashes, he went back to the old-fashioned mascara. In his last few concerts, Bowie also painted lightning streaks on his cheeks and upper legs. Oh, and for the record, he said he didn’t like using too much glitter because it always fell into his eyes, and just didn’t look soft enough. And with the bright red mullet, his look was complete. Apart from that, off-stage Bowie didn’t put up much make-up at all, just the base and on occasion the white rice powder during interviews.
The Ziggy Stardust character became quite well known after the single ‘Starman’ gained popularity, followed by the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars which was also highly credited by the audience and critics alike. However, later in his career, Bowie mentioned how Ziggy Stardust’s character was overpowering his own and to perform as Ziggy was slowly affecting Bowie’s own sanity. He said, “(Ziggy) wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour…My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.” Bowie finally decided to let go of his Ziggy persona with a dramatic and abrupt on-stage “retirement” at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973.
David Bowie’s character of Ziggy Stardust was certainly revolutionary- popularising an androgynous figure with gaudy costumes and make-up as means of self-expression and individualism and creativity, that too in the 1970s was no big feat. It certainly paved the way for the future generations to explore these realms more by acknowledging where their true passions lay.