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The only time I saw Tina Turner up close, the survivor and star received a standing ovation without uttering a single throaty growl or shaking a bead of fringe.
During Milan Fashion Week in February 2011, Turner walked into Nobu restaurant within a complex owned by Giorgio Armani and immediately silenced the room full of chattering Italians and gossiping editors, fresh from the front row. Within moments the crowd rose to their feet and the pin drop silence was replaced by ecstatic applause.
Eighties Tina Turner. The denim jacket and leather mini-dresses with teased wigs became the singer’s enduring style signature,Credit: Getty
It was a moment that could only happen in the movies or Milan.
Turner, who died on Wednesday aged 83, was loved by the fashion community, having attended the Emporio Armani show earlier that day, where she received the same applause.
That love was expressed through a Vogue cover for the magazine’s German edition in 2013, when she was 73 years old, at the time the oldest woman to appear on the front of the title, and the countless runway collections inspired by her energy and aesthetic.
The same year Turner attended Emporio Armani’s show, designer Massimiliano Giornetti dedicated his collection at Salvatore Ferragamo to the singer, with a soundtrack of her signature black stilettos clacking against the pavement, providing the sonic backdrop to leather trenches and slinky dresses.
When searching for photographs that capture the spirit of the seventies, eighties and nineties, Turner’s catalogue is a safe shortcut.
During the seventies and her troubled marriage to Ike Turner, she wore floor scraping furs and fitted gowns, with her hair smooth and flattened, yet to rise triumphantly into its spiked eighties glory.
Tina Turner in 1979 performing in a flame dress created by Bob Mackie originally for an appearance on The Sonny and Cher show. Beyoncé wore a replica of the dress to pay tribute to Turner at the 2005 Kennedy Centre Honours.Credit: Getty
“When I look back, I can see the story of my life through the clothes I wore,” Turner told NBC News in the US in 2020, while promoting her book That’s My Life. “The opportunity to sing with Ike in the early days was like something out of a fairytale for a teenager whose dream was to perform onstage.”
“I felt so elegant in my gown, like a princess. But that gown was a prison, just like my marriage. I wanted to move, so my skirts got shorter and less constricting because freedom was important to me, onstage and in life.”
Tina Turner on the cover of Vogue’s German edition in April 2013. The singer was 73-years-old, making her the oldest Vogue cover model at the time.
Liberation initially came in the stage outfits designed by Bob Mackie, following her divorce from Ike. Turner wore Mackie’s yellow and red sequinned dress with a strip skirt created to resemble flames beside Cher on The Sonny and Cher Show in 1977. Versions of that dress have since been worn by Wonder Woman Lynda Carter, drag performer Ru Paul and Beyonce.
Turner moved on from Mackie in the eighties, only to return to him for her farewell tour marking her 50th anniversary in 2008. During the break from sequins she defined hard-edged eighties glamour in a denim shirt, worn with fitted black leather outfits and stilettos that showcased her constantly moving legs.
With her honey-blonde wig teased to perfection and fishnet stockings, this look from her 1985 Private Dancer tour became as recognisable as Michael Jackson’s solitary glove and early Madonna’s ra-ra skirts.
Tina Turner wearing the Versace dress sold as an NFT in 2021, at Melbourne Park on her Wildest Dreams tour in 1997.Credit: Jason South
Many of the rough and ready-to-wear looks were crafted by master couturier Azzedine Alaia, who frequently worked with Turner, memorably creating a gold-beaded mini-dress and silver mesh dress that frequently tour in exhibitions dedicated to the late Tunisian-born designer.
Chain mail was cemented in her visual vocabulary after starring in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985, transforming into sequin trims in the nineties on lingerie-inspired mini-dresses that challenged age limits to sexiness.
In 2021 an NFT of a Versace mini-dress worn by Turner on tour in the nineties was auctioned at Miami’s Art Basel.
It was an unlikely pairing, according to her former stylist Wayne Scot Lukas, who also worked with Janet Jackson. “Tina hated Versace! She was all about Armani,” he told the New York Post.
In 2011, Armani and the rest of Milan was all about Tina.
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