Music has always been the engine of the alternative fashion and it has been music that stood behind it from the very start. I guess as soon as the first professional musician in history took his instrument (whatever it was, probably just two sticks and a stone), his second intention was to find a way to look different from anybody else. The elitists could tell you if you’re good you wouldn’t need any special drag, but… hey, it’s showbiz after all, there’s no real reason to improve your music skills and ignore the show aspects. Nobody has ever died from being an awesome-looking musician 😉 Still KISS could be a tough subject to discuss, in the first place because many people would just ignore 100+ million records the band has sold worldwide (21 million RIAA-certified albums among them!) and say the only reason KISS is still there is their show. Such a relief to say we’re not going to speak about KISS music today and just stick with their unbelievably huge, monstrous, tremendous input into the alternative fashion of this planet.
KISS has come from the world of the early glam scene ruled by Alice Cooper, Slade and New York Dolls, but managed to take the whole idea to the limit unreachable even for the most music stars of our time. First of all each of the band’s members chose a character for himself, a character representing him on- and to some extent off-stage too. Gene Simmons became Demon, a hellish blood-spitting and fire-breathing creature with a thunder-like voice. Paul Stanley’s character was named as Starchild, he was a mystic lover with a star around his right eye. The lead guitarist Ace Frehley got the nickname Space Ace and represented an alien from the planet Jendell. And finally the drummer Peter Criss chose the image of the Catman, half-man half-cat. Though it could be inaccurate to say the band created everything all alone: the guys came up with the initial ideas behind their characters, but it was a professional and highly enthusiastic team (mainly their manager Bill Aucoin and often named as “the fifth KISS” Sean Delaney) who helped them a lot to develop their image, come up with their original stage movements and the overall show.
As you might guess, the KISS costumes weren’t created overnight, it was always a path of trials and errors, paving the way for others. For example in 1974 the first material choice obviously fell on leather… until everybody recalled KISS were supposed to play and move in those hard and inflexible things 🙂 Still the first couple of band’s costume versions were mainly from leather, even though it was giving a lot of headache to the musicians (first because of lack of ventilation and second because of, oh yeah, stench). Starting from their 1975’s “Alive!” era costumes the band starts using black spandex or lycra more and more. It was a perfect choice since it was very light, easy to wash/clean and and also air-/sweat-permeable. The famous Gene’s dragon boots and the “Destroyer” / “Rock And Roll Over” era armour were crafted from a very special kind of plastic called Kydex (also used for the US police armour) which was convenient due to its lightness and because it could be painted to look like metal, stone or anything else. The same material was probably used for designing other Gene’s costume he was wearing in 1979-1980. The costumes for Paul, Ace and Peter were also designed to express their original features: lycra, jewels and feathers for Starchild, silver fabrics and at some point even a bunch of mirror pieces for Space Ace and fur for Catman. Every new set of KISS costumes looked “larger than life” and was usually delivered with additional 2-3 copies (in case they’d be damaged on the road), being worth thousands of dollars. Later, as you might know, Peter Criss left, Eric Carr took his place behind the drums and Ace Frehley was replaced with Vinnie Vincent. The new members were given their own characters (The Fox and the Egypt Warrior respectively), their own make-up designs and stage costumes, thought their story was pretty short since in 1983 KISS took off their make-up and continued as a very good but ordinary looking rock band… Oh well. The image standards they set are inapproachable to this very day (Lordi came close, right?), but if you look around you’d most definitely see a lot of KISS heritage practically anywhere in music business, at least in anything related to image and looks. Whether you like metal or pop, country or R&B, goth or disco – looking on stage you’ll probably see something that wouldn’t be there without KISS and their hard-working team, it’s a fact.
In conclusion I’d like to say this article wouldn’t be complete without the names of the people who were creating all these magic costumes and luckily at least some of them are known. For example, a famous designer Larry LeGaspi is rumored to create the “Destroyer” era outfits while the boots were crafted by Pasquale DiFabrizio. The most flamboyant “Dynasty” costumes were designed by Pete Menefee. Still the most famous KISS costumes designer is Maria Contessa who made pretty much all the other band’s outfits used during 1974-1976, 1977-1979 and 1981-1983 tours, of course including the costumes for Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent. What a legend!