Meet The Woman Behind The Spice Girls’ Iconic Style

Gabriella Slade, the costume designer behind the Spice Girls tour explains how she took on the challenge of re-working the bands iconic aesthetic with a 2019 twist

Spice Girls

by Guy Pewsey |
Updated on

How do you reinvent the wheel? This was the job faced by costume designer Gabriella Slade when she was brought on-board to design the stage outfits for the long-awaited Spice Girls reunion tour, which is currently in full swing. One of her first tasks? Reimagining and recreating THAT Union Jack dress worn by Geri Halliwell (now Horner) for the BRIT awards in 1997.

Gabriella tells Grazia that the brief was to create a grown-up version of the iconic Spice Girls-style of the ’90s. Making a mature version of the crotch-skimming dress, which sparked a thousand fancy-dress costumes and cemented Ginger Spice in British fashion history, was a tall order. The result, worn for the performance of Spice Up Your Life, was a Tudor-esque gown in red, white and blue. ‘We thought about how we could reinterpret the dress and came up with this regal, Anne Boleyn look,’ Gabriella says. ‘It felt right to go full length. It gives it another edge, and it’s fabulous.’

When Geri, Emma, Mel B and Mel C took to the stage for their first, long-awaited performance as a four-piece, the pressure was on to not only deliver a banging set full of pop history, but to serve up jaw-dropping looks. ‘I was a huge Spice Girls fan, they are iconic, and wonderful, wonderful women,’ Gabriella says, ‘I absolutely adore them.’ Gabriella, who started her career as a costume designer in the theatre, was first approached at the start of the year, after she was nominated for an Olivier Award last year for her work in Six, a rocky musical about Henry VIII’s wives. She knows how to dress strong women who also need to be able to move around a stage for hours on end.

The initial brief came from Lee Lodge, the tour’s creative director, and Gabriella delved into the group’s archives and consulted the girls on what they wanted. They were, she says, ‘very much involved’. Geri, for example, is reported to have expressed a desire to be more ‘age-appropriate’. Indeed, the women have, quite obviously, grown up since Wannabe was released in 1996, but acknowledging the past was crucial. ‘It was a process of looking back at the ’90s, through that nostalgic lens,’ says Gabriella. ‘You’ve got their iconic style, and you want to make sure their aesthetic is present, but with a contemporary twist.’ And so their outfits from the 1996 Wannabe video got a 2019 upgrade (in ways that would show up well on the thousands of phones snapping from the crowd, says Gabriella). The orange and blue tracksuit worn by Mel C in the video was reimagined with sequins and sparkle, while this time around Geri’s deep red playsuit was jewel-encrusted.

‘They’re so fun and the sequins really elevate them. That was an early idea that we stuck to: it’s all about fabric and the colour, elevated with texture and sequins and diamantés.’ Gabriella and her team worked tirelessly for eight weeks to create 100 costumes (for the band and their dancers), which required one million Swarovski crystals. It’s about impact, she explains, but also practicality: ‘I knew that they would be outdoors, so we had to keep that in mind too.’ Indeed, Geri and Emma donned ponchos when rain fell during their Manchester show last week.

Of course, it’s vital that the Scary, Sporty, Baby and Ginger personalities were easily identifiable, even from the nosebleed seats. In one fairy-tale-themed section of the show, Geri and Emma wear sparkly dresses and tiaras, but Mel C is dressed like a prince, with military-style epaulettes. And the main stipulation from Mel B? ‘She had to wear leopard print,’ Gabriella says. She wouldn’t be Scary without it.

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