Billie Eilish in British Vogue: What the Cover Means


Billie Eilish wants you to know that she is responsible, bold, and confident enough to destroy the subtle image that helped her attract a world of fans to something more … adult.

She’s vamping on the cover of British Vogue this month, a portrait of artistically crafted provocation. The singer, who was once recognizable by her head of green hair, has become blonde and full of bombs and has swapped her trademark for a style that is more domme than deb: pink Gucci corset and skirt over Agent Provocateur Skivvies, equipped with latex gloves and leggings.

The choice fell on herself, wrote Edward Enninful, editor-in-chief of the magazine, in the June issue. “What if she, she wondered, wanted to show off more of her body for the first time in a fashion story?” Mr. Enninful remembered. “What if she wanted to play with the bodice and enjoy the mid-20th century pin-up aesthetic that she has always loved? It was time for something new, she said. “

To that end, Ms. Eilish embraced the worn garments of feminine attraction, offering the camera a nod to the sirens of the Golden Age of Hollywood and a few newer vintages among them, with no apparent irony: Taylor Swift, Cardi B, and Megan Thee Stallion among them.

And she owns her eyes. As an icon of body positivity who once covered her curves under neon tracksuits and hoodies, she seems to be done with it all. “My thing is, I can do what I want,” she told journalist Laura Snapes, disarming potential haters with a pre-emptive strike.

“Suddenly you’re a hypocrite when you want to show your skin and you’re just and you’re a slut,” Ms. Eilish said in the interview. “Let’s turn it around and become empowered in it. Showing your body and showing your skin – or not – shouldn’t take away any respect. “

Indeed. “Her pushback was her agency in this area,” said Lucie Greene, trend forecaster and brand consultant. “After all, like many of her Gen Z colleagues, Eilish has a sophisticated understanding of visual language and representation. She has built a following for sure to undermine beauty codes. And she puts the same trust in it. “

Still, some may question their agency and ask if Ms. Eilish at 19 has the sense or the ingenuity to weather the possible fallout. Think Tavi Gevinson, the fashion blogger who became a writer and actress and was once known for her bulky layers and granny glasses. When Ms. Gevinson wrote in The Cut recently, she described doing a photoshoot when she was 18. When asked to pose on her bed, she wore a skimpy romper suit, “pouting,” she recalled, “with heavily padded eyes and straight blonde hair.” Sure, she was anxious to improve her image. And she wrote: “If someone told me that the whole setup was my idea, I would believe them.”

Ms. Eilish seems similarly inclined to present her metamorphosis as a clever brazen, self-determined update. Some fans cheer. “She looks just as good now as she does in oversized clothes,” said Karin Ann Trabelssie, a 19-year-old student from Jelina in Slovakia, via text. Like Mrs. Eilish, she once escaped control and hid what she described as curvy under loose shirts and pants. She was delighted with the new image of her idol and wrote: “I very rarely see someone with a body type similar to me who does something like this. It strengthens. “

Others feel betrayed. “Before: unique, different, in a class of its own,” wrote Stewin @jetztissesraus on Twitter. “After: mainstream, interchangeable, smooth and polished. Why?”

This question had to be asked. In an earlier phase of her career, Ms. Eilish was able to claim the award as a one-off. She insisted that a stylist had no place in her life. “I could just be like that, you know what, you will choose my clothes, someone else will develop my video treatments, someone else will run them and I won’t have anything to do with it.” she said in a profile in the New York Times. “But I’m not that person and I’m not that artist.”

For Vogue, however, she fully relied on a team that happened to be led by Dena Giannini, the magazine’s style director, with contributions from top designers like Alessandro Michele from Gucci. Her transformation seems to suggest that Ms. Eilish these days is content to ditch her once-outsider stance in favor of a fetish-tinctured bombshell look that seemed trite as Madonna as a girl. If reinventing them poses a risk, it is just becoming another cliché.



Robert Dunfee