by IAN PARKER
Mick Jagger on tour calls for a bit of color.
One afternoon last month, Mick Jagger was standing in front of a full-length mirror in a windowless room in downtown Toronto, plucking at the cloth of a pair of narrow black satin pants that had been made for him by Hedi Slimane, the designer at Christian Dior Homme, in Paris. "They're a bit, a bit—for want of a better word—feminine," Jagger said, in the over-enunciated, borderline-camp accent that honors distant roots in post-war British show business: a world of variety acts and Soho drag queens. Looking at the pants from one angle and then another, he said, "They're all right to wear for pictures and that. But I don't like the way they fall." They fell straight: Jagger in the flesh is surprisingly slight. One fashion stylist who worked with him says that he has "the hips of a Spanish waiter." "If you use thin material, it doesn't have a flow," Jagger said, his mouth making enormous movements. "It's too flimsy." Then, with faux impatience that did not quite disguise real impatience, he said, "O.K., what else?"
What does a fifty-nine-year-old lead singer with a twenty-nine-inch waist wear on a stadium stage? The Rolling Stones, preparing for a world tour that begins this week in Boston, have spent the summer rehearsing five evenings a week in Toronto's Masonic Temple, a shabby gray building on a busy intersection. The other day, a few orderly fans were standing outside in the sunshine. Inside, in the basement, Jagger was trying on a rack of stage outfits with no more fuss than marks a change of government in a small country. He had asked for his dressing room to be cleared of all but what he called "the minimum number of people—the minimum": I joined a publicist; a hair stylist; the film director Michael Apted, who was making a Rolling Stones documentary; Apted's cameraman and sound recordist; Jagger's fashion stylist, Maryam Malakpour; and Malakpour's assistant.
Malakpour, an Iranian-born woman in her early thirties, was wearing white jeans that had a small heart on the left knee, drawn with a pen. She worked on the last Stones tour, in 1999, and has also styled Jagger in his solo career. She forms a link between him and the fashion industry, although her client has his own fashion contacts and judgment, and uses the fashion term "piece" to describe an expensive item of clothing. For this tour, he wanted to commission pieces from Slimane, at Dior, whom he had met socially. He had also been struck by the handsomely weathered T-shirts made by Buddhist Punk, a London company. Malakpour had had the task of calling these designers, adding ideas of her own, seeing the European menswear shows, and then, in June, arranging a presentation and fitting session in Paris. At strict fifteen-minute intervals—in a fairy-tale scene that lacked only a small boy pointing an impudent finger—designers or their representatives laid out costumes for the approval of the newly entitled Sir Mick, and a London tailor who works with Alexander McQueen took his measurements. Jagger ordered a hundred or so items, most of them versions of next year's summer collections but made in stretchier fabrics or brighter colors or with extra crystals, to catch the light. (A rock star has roughly the same fashion priorities as a six-year-old girl.)
The clothes had begun to arrive in Toronto, where, during this second fitting, Jagger had the manner of an easy-going but hurried customer being shown real estate on his lunch hour. He was due any minute at rehearsal upstairs. To change, he stepped into an adjoining bathroom, and reappeared, saying, "Is the neck too scooped?" or "We are as red as red!" or "It's itchy, too itchy, very itchy, super-itchy." He tried on a sleeveless Buddhist Punk T-shirt that had a variation of what Rolling Stones people call the "classic tongue" logo, and two Dior shirts studded with crystals, the crystals spelling out "Mick" on one, and, on the other, forming a classic tongue against a black background. He tried on a pair of black leather Nike Air Essential III sneakers, explaining that he has the soles doctored for him. "All these sneakers are made to grip more than I really need," he said. He has to be able to spin. "We grind them down, polish the surface."
"In the end, it's all about the pants," Malakpour told me. According to Jagger, his perpetual problem with stage pants is that he expects them to have some give—allowing him to run around on stadium stages like a teen-ager—but he wants them to be properly cut trousers, not mere leggings. "You're in them a lot, more than anything else," he said. "They've got to keep their shape. And the trouble is, stretch fabrics start to bag. Round your bum or wherever, it all starts bagging, and you're endlessly pinning." He went into the bathroom and came back in a pair of loose, dark pants by the young German designer Dirk Schönberger. Turning from the mirror to Malakpour, Jagger said cautiously, "These are baggy enough to move about in. I might be able to wear them onstage. But they're a bit dull, aren't they? He could do other ones, in different colors apart from gray, he could do—"
"Exactly," she said. "Red."
"Blue. So it would be a bit more swishy."
"Yes, electric blue."
"Yeah, he could do an electric-blue silk tattered stripe, couldn't he?" Jagger asked. "I don't know, make it not so . . . subtle. I mean, this would be all right for maybe indoor shows, or a small theatre. But if you're doing a really big show, a bit of color."
Jagger has been dressing for the stage for forty years. The band's first manager, Andrew Oldham, was a "clothes fanatic," Jagger told me. "He loved clothes, and that's what managers did then—they dressed up the lads. One of his greatest pleasures was to take you to the tailor. We'd have our street clothes made and our stage clothes, and that was that." In the sixties, Jagger wore suits and thin ties (briefly), then mod shirts and corduroy jackets, then scarves and devilish frills, and the Uncle Sam hat and the black "omega" T-shirt at Altamont. ("I still have that. I don't know how that managed to survive," he said, adding that his daughters like to take things from his wardrobe.) Later, the eyes of the fans were directed with more force toward the Jagger crotch—in embroidered, unzipped Ossie Clark jumpsuits and in tight-laced knee breeches, during Jagger's sporty, gay-quarterback phase.
Throughout his career, some fundamentals of Jagger's look have remained constant: a hard male core—tightly covered Nureyev abs and crotch—that is teasingly revealed beneath a layer or two of something more feminine. There are similarities between Jagger's recent stage costumes and, say, his celebrated outfit for the Hyde Park concert in 1969: a white "dress," as the newspapers called it, over white pants. (Jagger described it to me as "a funny flouncy thing. It wasn't a dress. It was a sort of peasant blouse, gathered here." He was pointing to his upper thigh.) On this tour, as before, Jagger is likely to take the stage in a three-quarter-length coat, then do a gradual striptease during the first songs; later, he will leave and reappear in a more ornate coat, creating a moment of fashion drama. "It's for one number at the end, and the audience goes 'Ooooh,' " he said. Jagger and Malakpour call this all-important piece a "fantasy coat." One fantasy coat had been ordered from Dior; others were coming from the Italian label Costume National and from Body Worship, a New York company, and two from Alexander McQueen.
Sliding into a long Hedi Slimane coat made of red satin which had four lengths of fringe sewn horizontally into the lining (so that when he moves the fringes show), Jagger said, "Da da da!" and then bent his elbows and waved his arms up and down in a familiar flapping dance. It was a gesture of due diligence, not exuberance. Jagger's coats all have extra material under the arms to make this kind of movement easier. "A gusset," Jagger said, enjoying the word.
By now, he could hear Keith Richards singing "Heart of Stone" upstairs. He went to join the rehearsal. A few minutes after he left, I passed Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones drummer and a famously enthusiastic clotheshorse, in the corridor. I told him I was writing about Jagger's stage clothes. "That will keep you busy for half an hour, that will," he said, with feigned scorn.
Two weeks later, on the last day of rehearsals in Toronto, Jagger was again with Malakpour in his dressing room, now modelling his fantasy coat by Body Worship. Constructed from a dozen pairs of shredded jeans, scraps of leather, and silk printed with design motifs from previous tours, and featuring the new tour's logo—a Jeff Koons rendition of lips—the coat was a history of the Rolling Stones. "We could put Miss Venezuela across the back," Jagger said, with a fractional movement of his eyebrow, making apparent reference to the patchwork complexity of his personal life, and his former relationship with Vanessa Neumann, the Venezuelan known in the British press as the Cracker from Caracas. "Twelve pairs of jeans?" Jagger said, smiling. "Makes me sound fat.
"Only in the very early days of working in clubs did I not have something special to wear onstage," he said. "Part of the process of going onstage is to become a stage person. And even if I wore these trousers"—he had arrived at rehearsal in a T-shirt and Dirk Schönberger pants—"on the day that I put them on for the stage they're stage trousers. Getting dressed. Any actor will tell you the same."
The only time Jagger performs without first dressing the part is when he is drawn into the modern rock ritual of the impromptu guest duet. "My first worry is 'What am I wearing?' Say I go and see Lenny Kravitz or Sheryl Crow, there's always a great danger of them asking you. They may not. You never ask, 'Can I sing with you?' You wait until you're asked, and then if you're wearing the wrong thing you're in trouble." He laughed. "The clothes are important. Guitar players always think it's about what they play, you know. Lead singers have another attitude."
He looked in the mirror and said to Malakpour, "More crystals?"
"I would say, don't you think?"
"Yeah. A bit. Just a bit more sparkle."