Some days ago I published a post I had wanted to write since the early 1990s and today I’m removing another stone from my shoes, figuratively speaking. In the early 2000s I was out of university; after some years spent working in the world of fashion marketing, I decided to go back to university to attend a post-gratuate school to become a teacher. In those years I started listening to Christina Aguilera, I fell in love with her voice and I even wrote my final essay on her music videos from the Stripped era. Among those, Fighter has always been my favourite. Directed by Floria Sigismondi , it showed a darker and more mysterious side of Christina, thanks a very peculiar imagery and dramatic costumes.
Last November I had the chance to speak about those costumes with Merlito Pabatao, who asked me if I knew who made them. After finding out that Carol Beadle was the stylist who worked on that video, I contacted her. I can’t tell you how happy I was when I received her reply: she explained everything in detail, which I can’t wait to share with you. Eleven years have passed since then, but I’m pretty sure there are other people like me who are still excited about learning more about it.
The video, whose concept was inspired to the life cycle of moths, is about transformation. Sigismondi said: “It’s basically about coming from a very poisoned place to an empowerment, a place of strength.” This obviously referred to Aguilera’s decision to break free from her previous teen pop princess persona and let her more complex and grown-up self come out. Three are the stages through which the moth Christina through, each of which has a specific outfit.
The first one features a black cape worn with striped tights and black boots. Christina’s hair is long, straight, with bangs and it is styled in braids and a sort of soft top bun. I was pretty sure the cape was an Alexander McQueen design from the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious fall/winter 2002 collection, but Carol explained that cape served as source of inspiration: “The black cape with green dotted lining is an original design of my own. Floria had wanted a pin cushion effect and the large billowing cape encased a backpack structure that held the pins you see her throw. The tights are Wolford: I had a fascination with all the Wolford graphic tights back then and used them on many projects. It is possible it reminds you of something of Alexander McQueen as we were enamoured with him back then, but it was an original design and is more referenced by kimono than anything else.” That’s true: the kimono vibe is totally present, especially in the sleeves.
The “moth” dress is probably the most iconic of the three outfits. Christina wears it in the central scene of the video, where she is standing on a wall surrounded by flying moths. She is turned into a moth herself: her hair is white and fluffy like cotton candy and her dress is ragged, romantic and ethereal at the same time; it includes feathers and butterflies. Furthermore, her make-up adds fuel to the drama: the cloud of black dots around her eyes is a touch of magic.
Many sources have reported the dress to be the famous Oyster dress by Alexander McQueen from the Irere spring/summer 2003 collection, but it was not. It was used by Jeremy Scott and Trish Summerville as a source of inspiration for the shredded tulle number worn by Christina. At the time, Summerville was Christina’s stylist; even if she wasn’t in charge of the video costumes, this dress was her contribution to it.
The last outfit is red and black and symbolizes the final metamorphosis of Christina into a fighter, an idea reinforced by the motif painted on her forehead and by her cuff bracelets. In this scene she sports a very complex updo, an elaborate version of the first look: bangs and braids are paired to a Japanese-inspired top knot. The story behind this black jacket and red skirt is really juicy: “The red shredded skirt I tied and knotted myself in my hotel room the day before the shoot, having found nothing to pair with the vintage jackets and ruffles I’d sourced from Palace Costumes in L.A.”, Carol said. “Thankfully it worked. It’s literally just strips of red chiffon knotted to form a skirt.”
You may remember there are three Gothic ballerinas in the first part of the video, too: Carol spoke about their outfits as well. They “were made literally in set with myself, a seamstress and a mannequin with a bag of black vintage dresses I’d grabbed from one of the local vintage clothing shops”, she told me. “Often in videos, there’s not enough time to shop and you have to come up with an alternate plan.” Many are the details that can be considered trademarks of Sigismondi’s style and the ballerinas are among these: they walk on shoes which look kind of distorted and move like puppets on a string.
This video never gets old, doesn’t it? I guess the way in which a piece of art resists the passing of time shows its true quality. Many things have changed in Christina’s life and career and in the world of pop music since then, but sometimes I wish Christina went back to the dark imagery (and black hair) she experimented with in 2003. The results and the impact would surely be different, but such a change would be much welcomed by more than one fan.
 At the time she was famous as the director of Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People music video, characterised by creepy atmosphere and disturbing imagery.