GAGA, LYKKE AND LETO’S STYLE WEAPON INTERVIEWS HER FASHION HERO, THE SUPERSTAR GLAM ROCK DESIGNER WHO LIVED IN EUROPE’S GARAGE.
Lina Österman set up her own jeanswear brand Pudel while still at London’s St Martins and is one of the forerunners of the current stud revival. She also runs a high-end own-name label, dressing a crazy lineup of pop idols in inventive stud-and-leather looks for maximum onstage appeal. When we got in touch to interview her, she did one better by suggesting she speak to her idol Ray Brown. Brown dreamed up the looks for pretty much every legend from the golden era 70s, making rock stars look like rock stars before the concept of stylists existed. His work with Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, Cher, Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest not only re-invented the tough, flamboyant look now synonymous with hard rock, but soon trickled down into high street and youth culture – and stayed there.
You are originally from Australia, why did you first move to London?
I had a couple of clothing shops and I just felt like I’d done as much as I could there, so decided I wanted to go walkabout, that is what Aussies do. I’d never been to London, and I knew nobody there. I started making hand-painted Western shirts out of home and selling them on the Kings Road. But I wanted a space for a workshop. A guy told me about a room to rent at the Rainbow Theatre and I rented a room there.
And then you started to manage the Rainbow?
Well, I got the job as manager because there was a break-in during a Rastafarian show. It was a Bob Marley gig and they stole an order of hand-painted shirts that I was about to ship to Germany. I complained about the security there, and got the job as the caretaker. Which meant I lived in the flat at the top of the Rainbow. Every band you could name played the Rainbow because it was such an iconic place, When I was there I saw Bowie, The Clash, PiL, Adam Ant, Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow, John Cougar Mellencamp, Queen, Patti Smith, The Stranglers, Generation X and loads more.
And you hung out with the Sex Pistols?
Johnny Rotten was raised in the tower block opposite The Rainbow and I used to drink in the pub across the street, the George Robey, with him and the rest of the Sex Pistols. It got to the point where they’d pissed off so many people that they couldn’t get gigs and that’s when I let them come and play the Rainbow.
After the Rainbow days, you went to move to California, to LA.
The Rainbow was getting ready to close down and I didn’t want to wait around until the final days. My girlfriend at the time wanted to go to American and California was the cool place to be.
How did you start working out there?
I had very little money when I arrived there and got a job in dry cleaners, pressing clothing. I then rented a sewing machine and started making jeans for people. The first rock person I made stage clothes for was for Bon Scott (AC/DC) right before he died. The first rock band I worked with was Styx. I made some jeans for a guy called Jerry Kramer who was a video producer. When I went over to his studio to drop them off, there was a guy there called Tommy Shaw from a band called Styx. He was quite small like me and he talked about how he could never find clothes that would fit him for stage, so I made a red jumpsuit for him. About a week later I had a call asking if I would come out on the road and dress the whole band. It was the ‘Paradise Theater Tour’ and they picked me up in a limo, and rented a room for me with a sewing machine in it. They gave me a limo at my disposal to go out and get fabrics and I was really, really scared. I didn’t want to go, but my roommate pushed me out the door and I started dressing Styx. It went on from there; I got Ozzy Osbourne, Motley, Judas Priest, and then it just went crazy.
Tell us about Mötley Crüe because they were the center of the west coast scene. You knew Tommy Lee before he had tattoos. You were at his wedding?
I made the white leather suit he wore at his wedding to Heather Locklear. That would have been the Theater of Pain album days. They had the same management as Bon Jovi. I did Theater Of Pain, Girls Girls Girls and Dr Feelgood. Style-wise it was interesting because it was glam look on Theater Of Pain, then they went out and bought Harley Davidson bikes and started hanging out with girls from strip clubs, a couple of them even married girls from those clubs. That was where the whole Girls Girls Girls thing came from. They’d wake me up revving their bikes outside my place when I was trying to take a nap!
Do you know the band Europe?
Yes of course. We lived in this little tiny house in LA by the beach. The garage in the back was my workshop. [[[[[[[[[[[[PULLQUOTE[[[[[[[[ In one week, I had Motley Crue, Bon Jovi and Europe all visiting my house, pulling up in their limos. The workshop was so small the bands couldn’t all fit in together. They’d sit in my tiny back yard and come in one at a time. The neighbors couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. There was a time when I’d made my son a go-cart and Tommy Lee and Vince Neil were out on the road racing it.
What about music videos?
I did so many, including all the early Bon Jovi video shoots. I wasn’t called a stylist. I was just the guy that did the clothes. They’d always have hundreds of fans there and they were spectacles. They were shot in big locations to give the vibe of being in an arena and the queues of kids outside wanting to get into these videos was crazy. I remember the Bad Medicine video in Long Beach and thousands of kids turned up. Also worked on a couple of Priest videos ,including one in a power plant near Long Beach
A lot of young designers like myself are doing the rock look at the moment. Doing the studs and stuff and that’s all come to the high street. What do you think about that?
The rock thing has been going strong for about five years now. It’s probably the most specific trend that has come out for many years. Rock music has always had a strong influence on street clothing – like when you go back and look at The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Ozzy’s very early styles that moved to the high street. [[[[[[PULLQUOTE[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[Big designers now have picked up on the whole 80s rock thing. Specifically Judas Priest with the pyramid studs, which up until five years ago was considered to be an extreme look. Many big fashion houses did collections to revamp their image, Burberry in particular, with the armoured look. It was basically stuff taken from rock clothing, in particular, Judas Priest. ]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]] Then the high street got a hold of it and what happened – as happens with all fashion trends – is that it diluted down to where it’s not about a cool garment that’s studded any more, its about a garment with studs thrown on it just because studs are trendy. Unfortunately it means the essence of the original design has been lost, but that happens all the time. This trend in particular is so prevalent because I think people have realized that everyone loves rock. It flatters a lot of people . Your stuff Lina, has the rock feel to it and its been done tastefully. You’ve captured the rock vibe very tastefully. I don’t believe in designing for the sake of being different. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s good. You’ve captured the true spirit of stud-dom! You definitely get it.
I see you as an unknown fashion legend. A lot of people in the music business know you but not so much in the fashion business – why do you think that is?
It’s my own fault. I’m not the sort of person who ever thought about publicizing my work as I went along. I had always just thought of myself as ‘the clothes guy’ and never called myself a designer. It’s only in the last 3 to 4 years that I’ve started using that term. One day I realized, ‘Shit, I really have dressed a lot of bands!’
You have your clothing at the Hard Rock Café and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, right?
My stuff is in about 27 Hard Rock Cafés around the world and at least 6 pieces in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame but there’s probably more. I’d have to go and count!
Any personal stories?
Do you know Randy Rhoads? He was a legendary guitarist who played on Ozzy’s solo project, songs like Crazy Train. The day he died I was driving home in Los Angeles and I had some of his clothes on the back seat of my car. And there was an announcement on the radio that he’d been killed in a plane crash. I remember looking back at his clothes on my back seat and it felt very strange.
What about the man himself: Ozzy? What was he like to work with? And what did you do with Randy’s clothes?
Ozzy, contrary to the wild, crazy man stories, was just very normal and nice. He always asked how my small children were doing, every time I saw him. As for Randy’s clothes, my wife ended up wearing a lot of them – he was so small with a 26” waist and they would only fit a woman!
Which outfits are you most proud of or are most memorable to you?
Because I make each one by hand from start to finish, I have a personal relationship with every item of clothing – so they’re all memorable to me! But the ones that are most significant are probably Jon Bon Jovi ’s skull coat (now with the Smithsonian in NYC), Alice Cooper’s nail jacket, Rob Halford’s chrome coat, the bejeweled biker jacket in Spinal Tap (now in the Hard Rock Café in Vegas). And some of the recent suits I have made for Matt Bellamy of Muse.
One of my particular favorites is Alice Cooper’s nail jacket. Tell me about that one.
That came about because he had a song called Bed of Nails and Alice said, “How about making a jacket with nails sticking out of it?” I said ‘OK, I’ll figure out how to do it.’ It was a shiny reptile black biker jacket and I went to Home Depot and bought nail plates. These are metal plates used to secure the corners of wooden buildings. I put nails through the holes, glued them in and pushed the nails through the jacket from the inside on the shoulders and arms. I then riveted the plates in place, and that was the nail jacket! I remember when I was packing it to send it from Arizona to Los Angeles and a couple of nails broke through the box, but I shipped it anyway. I got a complaint from Fed Ex that the driver had scratched himself on the nails.
Now you’ve moved back to London, seeing as you’ve not lived here for 25 years, how do you like it?
I love it. The reason I left America was because London’s a much more creative place. Fashion trends keep changing. The whole vibe of the place is great as far as creativity is concerned. For someone who is in the fashion business you can’t really get any better. I didn’t want to keep working for the same bands I wanted to try some newer British bands so I thought the best way was to move here. And also now I am working on my own clothing line and this is the best place to be.
Why haven’t you gone into the fashion business before?
It’s only now that I’ve seen what designers have done to a lot of my rock clothing designs, that I thought, you know what, I’m going to put together my own line: a rock clothing line by someone who has actually dressed rock stars, what a concept!
Have you got any secret tricks of your trade?
I have a fabric I use that is the best faux leather on the planet, I have it made exclusively for me. You can just stick in the washing machine. I call it Rock Leather and it is what Judas Priest and loads of other rockers have used for years. All the guys from Guns n’ Roses had fake leather pants, except Slash also liked real leather pants as well.
By Amy Leverton
Photos Sanna Charles
For JUKE Vol.02