In memory of a style icon


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Olivia Newton-John died last week at the age of 73 after years of battling breast cancer. The Australian singer, actor and activist, who gave many chart-topping hits such as Physical and Have You Never Been Mellow, will be remembered for not just her music, but also her massive influence on ’70s and ’80s pop culture with her sense of style and iconic looks — which are relevant even today.

Tributes poured in from around the world actor Rebel Wilson and her A few best men co-star called her the “the most gorgeous lady inside and out,” and a “a true Aussie icon.” Singer Dolly Parton wrote, “I know her voice is singing beautifully with the angels.” Back home actor Kareena Kapoor Khan thanked for “the songs,” Priyanka Chopra Jonas wrote, “Your legacy will always shine.”

While she was a popular singer already, it was Newton-John’s role as Sandy Olsson in the chartbuster musical, Grease (1978), that elevated her to newer heights of stardom. In the film, Sandy undergoes a style transformation from a sweet, innocent high school student, who wears conservative frocks with tiny puffed sleeves and ribbon-tied ponytails, to a red-lipped, raunchy girl, sporting leather pants, off-shoulder tops, leather jackets and a big curly head. The looks made Newton-John a style icon and gained immense popularity, which has stood the test of time. In fact, models Gigi Hadid and Hailey Beiber transformed as Sandy for Halloween on different occasions over the past few years.

A still from the musical Grease, in which she can be seen in a black off-shoulder top and leather pants

Describing the all-black look, which became synonymous with Newton-John’s style, as “iconic”, stylist Isha Bhansali says, “She embodied femme fatale with the tight leather pants and bright red lips. As a kid, I was always inspired by her sense of style. It helped in my perception of feminine style — that it doesn’t have to be that of a weak, shy girl or just a seductress, it can be both.” Stylist Akshay Tyagi, who shot a campaign inspired by Newton-John’s style from the song You’re the One That I Want from Grease, agrees with Bhansali on the “roaring success and impact of Grease on fashion choices in the ’70s and ’80s.”

It wasn’t just her on-set looks that left their mark on the fashion industry. Through her music videos and public appearances, Newton-John is also credited with making bodysuits and leotards popular. The singer showed up at a Grease party with John Travolta, her co-star in the film, in a bodysuit with a square neckline. For her appearance on the television show Hollywood Nights, she wore a full-body fuchsia bodysuit with tassels all over it, which ended up becoming the most talked about dress from the show. Calling her style “timeless”, Tyagi says, “Bodysuits and leotards were a rage in the ’80s, and that style is back again. It is all still very relevant.” Celebrities such as reality TV star Kim Kardashian and singer Dua Lipa are often seen adorning these looks.

The singer-actor in a fuchsia tasselled bodysuit for her appearance on a TV show
A still from her music video Physical, in which she sported the iconic white leotard look
Newton-John helped popularise athleisure-wear in the ’80s

Beyond clothes, Newton-John’s influence could be seen in the trending hairstyles of the time. She was always seen sporting front bangs in different hairstyles, be it a bob cut or soft waves. “The bangs, headbands and the excessive curls from the movie were a rage,” adds Bhansali.

Newton-John in a black ruched dress and a sequinned cover-up (Photo: Shutterstock)

Interestingly, the singer’s personal style, as seen in her off-stage and off-screen looks, was always “understated”. For instance, she opted for a black dress with a sequinned cover up for G’Day USA Australia Week Black Tie Gala in 2010, and a black blazer with leather pants for her appearance on the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Stylist Ankur Pathak shares, “She was mostly seen in monochromatic chic tailored pieces. Her personal style has always been quite understated and poised.”

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