One of the things that states most clearly that Rock & Roll is as much a visual as an aural experience is the expression, “I’m going to see a band.” If we just wanted to hear a band, we could sit at home with headphones on and enjoy the band at its technical best. Yet although albums sell millions of copies, we want more. Even a ‘live’ album cannot truly recreate the excitement generated at a concert. The band is up there on stage and can be seen making their music, we want them to put on a show, be flamboyant—larger than life. Creating this image for maybe 50,000 people doesn’t just happen—it involves far more people than the musicians on stage. The following is taken from conversations with Steven Tyler and Francine Larnis, the woman who, with him, has created so much of his image over the past four years.
Francine first met Steven Tyler at the end of 1971 (prior to Aerosmith’s first album) in a small club in Boston. Although she had no formal training as a designer, other than making clothes for friends, she and Steven developed an immediate rapport, which is not surprising as they are very much alike and were even born on the same day. At this time they were both just getting started and Francine began to make stage clothes for Aerosmith. Soon the band was being recognized as one of the country’s hottest new acts and Steven’s image and his stage clothes became more important than ever. Francine began working exclusively for him—they both feel that the friendship and close working relationship that grew between them is very important. They work together so well that her clothes interpret his ideas perfectly.
Even when they first met, Steven had his own basic style—only back then the ragged bits were there from wear and tear rather than design. Also his clothes have always reflected the raw, raunchy quality in Aerosmith’s music. Most people, including Steven and Francine, refer to his clothes as ‘rags.’ This is not an insult, the flowing banners and trailing scarves are carefully designed to flow like rags in the wind. Steven’s appearance on stage is a composite of everchanging images—one moment looking sulky and seductive, then the next instant like a street corner fighter; and his clothes which have no clearly defined sex identity, follow through by looking in turn soft and flowing to raw and ragged. The ideas for his clothes come from his feelings for Aerosmith’s music and Francine works around them using her own ideas, which come from such varied sources as old movies and dreams. Although Steven’s clothes appear to be flimsy and ragged, the mechanics of constructing stage clothes must ensure that in fact they are about as tough as combat gear. Because the outfits are so tight, they must act like a second skin—up on stage Steven leaps and spins as though possessed by a demon speed-freak. The clothes have to be able to stand this kind of punishment show after show and for that reason nearly everything that he wears on stage is of stretch fabric.
Before Aerosmith was drawing the enormous crowds they now attract, the venues they played were smaller and more intimate, so the problem of being seen did not arise. But, as Steven says, when he is playing Madison Square Garden, he has to make sure that even the people way up at the back know what’s happening on stage. Consequently, most of Steven’s clothes are bright with lots of stripes or contrasting colors. Even his famous black lace jumpsuit shows so much skin through it that the effect is highly visible.
In the same way that Rock Stars seem to lead glamorous lives—the idea of being personal designer to one of the brightest of them sounds like the Rock equivalent of ‘Beer & Skittles.’ It isn’t, however, all champagne and chauffers. Most of what Francine does is simply hard work and work that most people don’t even think about. Although, as she says, the satisfaction of standing on stage in Madison Square Garden and watching the crowd go wild and screaming, ‘Hey! Steven, we love your rags!” is incredible. Aerosmith works about ten months out of the year and when touring, often for two-three months at a time, there arc always deadlines to meet. Even though the hours are never a routine 9-5, there are times when all Francine does, even if she is touring with the band, is sleep and sew. As she said, when you have to finish an outfit for a gig you can’t say, ‘Sorry I’ve put in 8 hours and I quit for the day.’—The time of naked Rock & Roll has not yet arrived ■