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Killers’ Brandon Flowers: Style Icon or Just Insane?

When Brandon Flowers took the stage for the Killers’ Saturday Night Live appearance, I think I spoke for most viewers when I gasped: “What is he wearing?” A black tuxedo jacket festooned with huge plumed epaulettes? What is that? Taxidermy chic? Showgirl cool? The next day, I couldn’t remember the songs they played. I couldn’t remember if guitarist Dave Keuning even wore pants. All I could think about were those two downy shoulder pads, slung like pheasants over his body, fresh from the kill. Clearly the man was insane.

Then again, I thought, it’s probably a one-time thing. A momentary indiscretion. He probably wants to forget about it as much as I do.

But just as my bird nightmares were subsiding, the jacket returned: this time in the video for their first single, “Human,” as a sort of sartorial rhyme to a soaring vulture the camera follows across the sky. A couple of weeks later, he wore it for a show at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. Then the jacket made its overseas debut at the MTV Europe Music Awards — after which sixty-six percent of readers on understated things by merely proclaiming it a “Don’t.” Don’t indeed. But he did again a few days later — rocking Berlin in Der Icarus coat.

I started to get mad. Why would someone on the short list for Hottest Guy in Rock instead vie for Worst Dressed?

I thought back to all his previous style mishaps. The coal-lined eyes and jewel-toned velvet blazers of Hot Fuss. The colonel ties and Lucifer facial hair of Sam’s Town. The gold lamé suit with sequined cuffs and collar from Glastonbury. The marching band uniform from TRL. The pink tuxedo from numerous club dates. I replayed them in a kind of mental slide show until slowly things started to change. Then, all of a sudden it hit me: Brandon Flowers is the best-dressed guy in rock.

Let me explain.

For the majority of guys in rock bands, the most important element of style is to look like you’re not trying. Which means they all end up looking like they’re not trying in exactly the same way: the standard rock uniform of dirty skinny jeans, plaid shirt, and Converse (vintage-inspired military jacket and fedora optional).

Brandon Flowers, on the other hand, looks like he’s trying. Hard. He’s putting on a show. He’s getting into character. The way he sees it, if you’re gonna pay for a buffet you should get the prime rib — or even caviar. And for that, I must applaud him. He doesn’t want to be Bruce Springsteen. He wants to be Elvis, Bowie, Kanye.

He recently explained his fashion reasoning to a reporter at The Guardian: “We were these poor kids and the whole idea of being a band was to put ourselves out there as this glamorous thing. Almost the opposite of the Strokes — these wealthy kids who are these dirty rock ‘n’ rollers. Instead of dirtying it up, it was about excess and overindulgence and names and Gucci. It’s almost a hip-hop thing. Bling — that’s kinda what it was like.”

The New York Times recently called Flowers “one of the most controlled front men in rock” and they didn’t mean it as a compliment. On stage and in videos, he’s rigid and reserved — moving his body like he just threw out his back, his face offering little more than a blank, wide-eyed stare. But the costumes — and they are costumes — transform him and heighten the music. Feathered epaulettes draw on the soaring synths and searching lyrics of “Human” and a gold lamé suit brings out the exultant glossy sheen of “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Depending on what Flowers is wearing, we hear the songs differently. I’d say better.

For Flowers, the music is married to the look; we shouldn’t dissect his clothes outside of the performance and judge them by conventional fashion standards. They’re not meant for the mall or a lookbook or even a runway show. I was looking at it wrong before. Or, really, I wasn’t hearing it.

But now I get it. Bring on the feathers.

Watch: The Killers, “Human”
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