How U2 Can Look Like This

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Sunday Telegraph, August 1997

How U2 Can Look Like This

They're no ordinary models, he's no ordinary designer - U2 and a half-Belgian, half-alien are fashioning history, finds Julia Robson.

HE'S big, he's bearded and he's Belgian, and he is about to make his mark on frock-and-roll history. Since launching his cult, clubwear label "W & L. T." (Wild & Lethal Trash) on the Paris catwalks three years ago, Walter Van Beirendonck has become the patron saint of the fashion victim.

Beirendonck's designs - padded, pocketed, space-age PVC workwear, with a hint of sci-fi cartoon hero - coupled with his son et lumiere Ridley Scott-style shows, have also set a new precedent for fashion productions. But it is his current project, swapping Paris catwalk for 74,000-seater stadium, and male models for supergroup U2, which may prove his most prestigious collection to date.

The story began last January, at the W. & L. T. fashion show, where U2's resident stylist, Sharon Blankson, sat in the front row taking notes. She was attending the menswear shows on a mission, to find clothes suitable for U2's forthcoming "PopMart" world tour. Her task, until the show, had proved fruitless. Hurrying back to Dublin, she played the band a tape of the show.

A week later Walter was summoned, shown a "virtual reality" impression of the PopMart stage set and asked to come up with sketches, pronto. Beirendonck, the unlikeliest-looking fashion guru, (Rasputin meets Jolly Green Giant), reveals how it was a toy that inspired him to think big.

"My brief was to come up with clothes that blended in with the stage set and PopMart theme. The band wanted something totally different from the usual leather 'rock' costumes. I came up with the idea of Action Man'. By using a muscle print as the base on every costume, I then played on a cartoon-hero theme, personalising each costume and basing them on the individual characters of U2."

Walter transforms Bono into "Bonoman", "Muscleman", "TV Man", "Walking Target" and, finally, "Fly 2000". Bass guitarist, Adam Clayton becomes bright orange, bionic "Popman". Guitarist, The Edge, is "Electric Cowboy", complete with huge 3ft plastic stetson, designed by British milliner Stephen Jones. Drummer Larry Mullen beats out his rhythm in a "Hitman" ensemble of Action Man khakis.

This week British fans will see his costumes come to life, as U2 begin the four-date UK leg of their sell-out tour. On Friday night, as Wembley Stadium shudders to several million watts of power and singer Bono struts down the 100ft runway, under a 100ft glowing arch and out of a 40ft high self-propelled mirror-ball lemon, the ultimate "gasp factor" remains, courtesy of Walter.

"The way U2 are constantly experimenting with graphics and art, as well as music and sounds, is similar to my approach to fashion. You'll find something aggressive next to something poetic on their album - the same happens in my collections.

"I found them totally down to earth, professional and human," says the designer, who in the past has described himself as half-Belgian, half-alien. "Bono, particularly, knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted to be involved with every aspect of the design. He performs through his clothes."

Even those sitting at the back will witness the spectacle of the set and clothes thanks to a 56ft-by-170ft screen, the world's largest-ever video backdrop. This also will show computer animation created by musician/performance artist Brian Eno.

"The time limit was the most nerve-racking factor. I'm used to working to deadlines, but getting everything finished within six weeks (the time allocated) was a miracle. "At the final rehearsal in Las Vegas I could see the muscley body-print worked incredibly well. When Bono took off his jacket he looked nude, but "even better than the real thing" - like U2's song.

"I finally got to see the show last month in Werchter, Belgium. Bono shouted to the audience that the show was 'made in Belgium' because the stage had been built there, not just the clothes. He dedicated the last song to me, One, which is my favourite. The crowd roared and I felt fantastic."

Copyright © 1997 Sunday Telegraph. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on August 1, 1997 9:11 PM.

Liam, Noel, Bono - and me was the previous entry in this blog.

Excerpts from HOT PRESS magazine interview with Bono is the next entry in this blog.

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