When news of legendary musician David Bowie's death on January 10 first emerged, the world reacted as it does whenever we lose an icon of such enduring talent and far-reaching influence: shock, sadness, grief and reflection. Bowie will always be remembered as a singer-songwriter, whose musical legacy has touched everyone from Kanye West to Pharrell and Madonna, with a decades-spanning stretch of classic hits that continue to stand the test of time—songs like "Changes" and "Fame," "Life on Mars" and "Heroes"—becoming the types of pop standards that you know even if you don't know you know them.
But along with his musical legacy, David Bowie will forever be associated with his ever-changing, genre-defying style. He could be androgynous in heavy stage makeup, he could be dapper in a pinstripe suit, and he could be everything in between. He was a muse to Hedi Slimane and inspired looks by Givenchy, Dries van Noten and countless others. He could do it all because he truly harnessed and embodied his sense of style—and, as he told Complex in a 2003 cover story, he drew a very clear distinction between style and fashion.
"I never really had much of an interest in fashion," he told writer Ben White in a Q+A alongside Mos Def (before he was known as Yasiin Bey). "You can take it to a philosophical level: style is about the choices you make to create the aspects of civilization that you wish to uphold. I will buy a chair for my house. What style of chair are you gonna buy? Everything we look at and choose is some way of expressing how we want to be perceived. I mean, why bother choosing a chair because it looks a certain way? Because there's gonna be something about that chair that says something about you...And it applies to everything you do. Not just the chair, not just the pair of socks, but it applies to the woman that you choose to be with. It applies to people who say, 'I gotta live in the country,' not because they are 'country people' - I mean, were they born with different genes that make them 'country people?' No. There's something about the style of living in the country that they feel, 'This is what represents me.' So style is about the philosophy of how we create our civilization."
Considering he gave this interview to Complex nearly 13 years ago, Bowie's thoughts on the effects of a consumer culture that sees style as a commodity seem just as relevant as ever in the era of flexing on Instagram and the instant gratification of impulsive, one click shopping.
"I never thought when I was a kid that things would turn out like this," Bowie said. "Finding a shop that sold decent shit was half the adventure - just tryin' to find this place that had these certain shirts." He continued, "Now I can't get away from them! I mean, where I live, there must be seven skateboard shops within a hundred yards. If I were a kid, I would have been searching those places out if I were into skateboarding. You know what I mean? Now, it's like it's so there for you. It's the excess, the availability. It's not just the availability - that's nice when things are available - [but] it's like people don't get a chance to think, 'Why am I a consumer?' Because the decisions come at them so fast and furiously, they're not [even] given time to think, 'I am a consumer.'"
Click here for the complete David Bowie and Mos Def August/September 2003 cover story.