The Taylor Swift trajectory has unfurled with the cheery and ironclad inevitability of a Taylor Swift song. Like you or I, Taylor Swift was once 15, an age when (as documented in her song “Fifteen”), she was a lanky outsider “laughing at the other girls who think they’re so cool” promising “we’ll be outta here as soon as we can.”
Swift, whose public persona has veered from gawky to lovelorn, is now, at 25, the cool girl (albeit one very willing to poke fun at her own dance moves). Her rise has been steady over the course of a decade, but in 2014, she has soared to new heights.
She deaccessioned her twang, slipped the bonds of country music and traded her Nashville home (where America’s songbird sometimes received visitors in a human-sized birdcage, a décor touch ripe for analysis) for a loft in Tribeca in New York. She released a best-selling album, took on Spotify, performed at the Victoria’s Secret show and turned a tabloid reputation for man-trap desperation on its head, emerging as a single-and-loving-it cheerleader for girl power.
The young woman who wrote, not long ago, about idling unappreciated on the sidelines, passed over by the would-be boyfriend in favor of the proverbial cheerleader, has become both the most popular girl around, with a clique of BFFs – including Karlie Kloss, Lena Dunham and Lorde – in her corner.
“That’s sort of how women live now,” Leive said. “Everyone’s getting married later, but they don’t necessarily live close to their family. Your girl-pack, your posse, is much more important than it might have been five or 10 years ago. I think she’s tapped into that in a really powerful way.”
Swift was by no means unfamous or unloved before – winning armfuls of Grammys and Country Music Association awards and topping charts – but the world is crowding to her party now. Rolling Stone touted “The Reinvention of Taylor Swift.” Time magazine paid tribute to “The Power of Taylor Swift.” For BloombergBusinessweek, she is nothing less than the music industry itself.
Fashion, despite its habitual readiness to rally around a pop star, may be the one latecomer to Swift’s party. Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga have all been courted by megabrands, seated front row and dressed in custom creations on tour. The Council of Fashion Designers of America crowned Rihanna and Lady Gaga fashion icons; Puma announced Tuesday that Rihanna would also be its women’s creative director.
By contrast, Swift has generally kept her own counsel (and that of her longtime stylist, Joseph Cassell).
Her patronage has been a boon for smaller labels.
“She’s appealing to a broader range of people now,” said Jordana Warmflash, the designer of Novis, an upstart New York label, whose block-plaid Kandinsky coat immediately began generating press and selling on her website when Swift wore it. “I don’t think that the teen population is really buying $2,000 coats.”
For the red carpet, Swift has returned time and again to J. Mendel, whose luxurious image is somewhat at odds with her former country image. Gilles Mendel, its creative director, dressed Swift and took her as his date to the Met Gala in 2011 and 2013. (At this year’s Gala, Swift attended with Oscar de la Renta, who custom-made a gown for her.)
Both Warmflash and Mendel said that her style has evolved in recent years. Swift and Cassell have endeavored to make it “a little bit more fashion-forward than it had been before,” Warmflash said. (“I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say this,” Warmflash added, “but I didn’t really realize how big of a deal she was.”)
“Her direction has been very, very inspiring in many ways,” Mendel said last week, at a presentation of his prefall collection, where the model in the accompanying photos bore a more-than-passing resemblance to Swift. “Even though we live in a different world and people from the outside say ‘Taylor Swift?’”
Would the rest of the fashion world soon be playing catch-up? “Absolutely,” Mendel said.
In December, at the Billboard Women in Music Awards luncheon, where she was celebrated as the magazine’s Woman of the Year, a Vogue reporter was seen trailing Swift, in apparent preparation for a profile. (When Swift made her only appearance on Vogue’s cover in 2012, the magazine promised “A Cool New Look,” suggesting a bit of necessary style rehab.)
And Michael Kors, who dressed Swift for the American Music Awards in November in a gown that honored her signature style predilection – to bare her midriff but not her navel – recently cited her as one of the muses of his pre-fall collection. It included a very Swiftian polka-dot bikini, revealing that same tasteful slice of lower rib cage.
“I think that in general it’s probably a little bit harder for an American pop star who originally comes from country to get taken seriously in the fashion world,” Leive said. “But at this point, she’s got nothing left to prove.”