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Aaliyah: fashion originator of athleisure and health goth

The late singers fashion style, from midriff-bearing androgyny to grunge, was big in the 90s and is booming right now

When someones style is described as timeless, its a rather flat, eye-rolling description. You think of the likes of Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn, whose fashion has been picked over so endlessly that it has become a meaningless byword for taste.

Its tempting to use that word to describe Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash 15 years ago this week. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that her fashion sense was deeply prescient. Her short career from 1994 to 2001 saw her pioneer trends that have become woven into the fabric of 2016s fashion vocabulary. Unlike Madonna or Bowie, she wasnt chameleonic about her reinventions: they felt organic and gradual. She incorporated elements of previous styles into her next looks, not a fashion 360 but a natural evolution.

Aaliyah
Aaliyah in 1997. Photograph: Fotex/Rex/Shutterstock

The look on her debut album, 1994s Age Aint Nothing But A Number, glowed with multiple meanings. She was the shy but feisty girl next door. The clothes she wore were a mix of the tomboy (boxer shorts, vests, Timberland boots) and homegirl-ish (wraparound shades, bandanas). It presaged athleisure in the way she mixed sportswear with more everyday items. Heavily logoed clothes meshed with denim (baggy jeans, dungarees), and she bridged the gap between off the track/court and the street. It was fresh from the basketball court chic.

Aaliyah
Aaliyah on stage in 1997. Photograph: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

Gigi Hadids recent collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger drew very heavily from Aaliyahs own collaboration with the brand in 1996, featuring bra-tops worn with wide-legged Hilfiger trousers. That was around the time of her second album, One In A Million, where her look incorporated leather and lots of black with sportswear. She basically invented the health-goth look that is influencing labels from Ivy Park to Alexander Wang. In Lil Kims video for Crush On You, she wears an oversize Hilfiger jacket in Sonic-the-Hedgehog blue and high-vis yellow, which feels very current (see Cara Delevingne on the cover of Vogues September issue with an oversize Balenciaga jacket the jacket of next season).

By the time of her final album, Aaliyah, in 2001, there was a look of monochrome sophistication about her. She incorporated Sades less-is-more style but also, as in the We Need A Resolution video, lots of black sheer and subtle cut-outs, nodding to past looks but also elegantly transitioning from her previous looks.

As with fashion, her influence on pop culture is as current as ever (Drake has a tattoo of her on his back, Beyonc posted a throwback Instagram) and its tempting to wonder what her style would have been in 2016.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/aug/26/aaliyah-fashion-originator-athleisure-health-goth