From Lady Gaga's fantastical creations to Katy Perry's tongue-in-cheek costumes - today's female pop stars are in competition to top the charts for outrageous fashion. So what happened to elegant red-carpet styling? And, asks Alice Fisher, how much more bizarre can their outfits get?
In the old days, if you wanted to look at the beautifully ridiculous, the conceptual or the just plain silly, fashion shows were your best bet. Awards ceremonies, by contrast, used to be elegant oceans of pretty, colourful gowns by Valentino, Marchesa and Versace. They were so sedate that, in 2001, when Bjork wore a swan dress by fashion designer Marjan Pejoski and laid six eggs on the red carpet at the Oscars, she was lampooned for years.
In 2011, a decade later, nobody would blink if Bjork had taken off and flown to her seat. This year, at the Grammys, Katy Perry sported angel wings, 10-year-old actress and pop star Willow Smith turned up in 20cm platform trainers, American singer Nicki Minaj added leopard-print highlights to her pompadour hair to match her leopard-print dress and Lady Gaga arrived in an egg, carried like a Roman emperor.
The designers' most outrageous creations were papped on celebrities at red-carpet events rather than at the fashion shows. In fact, the most talked-about turn on the catwalk this season wasn't by Kate Moss, Lara Stone or any other model - it was Lady Gaga's début at the Thierry Mugler womenswear show in Paris.
Something odd is happening with celebrities and style. The stars are becoming more daring, more avant garde than the designers.
Nowadays, the biggest female names in music don't particularly set themselves apart from their predecessors through musical style - most of them create surprisingly traditional pop - but the way they look is a whole new world. Mainstream pop stars have typically had mainstream styling. (This trend is mainly centred on music - film stars are rarely extreme in their style choices, perhaps because they need to be believable in a versatile range of personas.) The Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Kylie, Girls Aloud, even Madonna - all the platinum-selling female acts of the past decade have fitted within received ideas of fashion and femininity, be it sexy, pretty or cool. Singers typically wore clothes that were easy to sell or easy to copy for the high street: trainers, hot pants, hipster jeans.
Professor Mathieu Deflem is a sociologist who teaches a course called "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame" at the University of South Carolina. He says Gaga's fashion is a change from that of other pop stars. "Lady Gaga reassembles and restyles familiar items in an unfamiliar way. Her sense of style and sex is different. It is artistic, not commercial. Her fashion is the goal, the expression, not a means."
The new generation don't go out without a carapaced catsuit, flame-throwing bras, dresses made of cupcakes or flowers or Muppets, and hair that defies logic and gravity. Singers such as Rihanna, Jessie J and Paloma Faith choose to look kitsch, theatrical or even warrior-like rather than follow a standard idea of beauty. Not only is their style a break from tradition but it's impossible for fans - or retailers - to recreate their looks, well, at least without the aid of a mechanic and a pastry chef.
These new stars have unique relationships with the designers. Traditionally, when performers forged partnerships with labels, they were equal. Kylie works with Dolce & Gabbana, an Italian label that shares her often kitsch and flamboyant style. Julien Macdonald is known for pretty dresses and so are Girls Aloud. No one blinked when he created stage outfits for them. But when Giorgio Armani dressed Lady Gaga for the 2010 Grammys, the partnership seemed crazy. The designer is synonymous with restraint and the colour "greige"; Lady Gaga likes wearing a lobster on her head. Armani completely abandoned the style he has developed over 36 years to dress the pop star in spangles. "It wouldn't be possible to give Gaga a look from the collection because she wears pieces of art," a spokesperson admitted.
This year, Armani dressed Katy Perry for the Grammys and gave her a custom-made, winged, crystal-encrusted gown. Gaga, meanwhile, went to Hussein Chalayan, who is known as an creative and experimental designer, but it was Lady Gaga who convinced him to make her an egg.
That so many of these new pop stars wear custom-made clothes from established names, clothes which differ wildly from the labels' signature looks, marks a shift in the fashion status quo. These pop stars are inspiring designers to change. Particularly with the Gaga/Armani collaboration, it didn't feel that Armani dressed Gaga - more that she inspired him to rethink his idea of a dress.
The fashion designers haven't always been so fascinated by these stars. Nicola Formichetti is creative director of the Thierry Mugler label and has worked as a stylist at magazines such as Dazed & Confused, Another and American Harper's Bazaar. He is also Lady Gaga's fashion director, the man responsible for finding the meat dress, the veils and the dildo she wore on the cover of Q magazine. He has said that labels weren't always keen to work with the singer.
"At the beginning, fashion designers didn't get her. Nobody would lend her anything. I had to lie and say I needed it for my editorial work."
Chalayan cheerfully admits he wasn't a fan of Gaga or her dress sense until he saw her perform. "I wasn't interested in her at all until I went to see her in concert. She's likeable and warm and makes an effort with everyone - I hope she doesn't change. I think what she's doing is a regurgitation of the past, but it's fresh packaging."
Being snubbed by the fashion establishment has meant these stars and their stylists have worked hard to find their fantastical looks. Whether the singers are underground or transgressive is debatable; the fact that they've brought new fashion talents into the international spotlight is not.
Formichetti tweets the credits for all the clothes Gaga wears, and being worn by Beyonce or Rihanna is now as important as being name-checked by US Vogue's Anna Wintour. Designers such as David Koma, Gareth Pugh and Francesco Scognamiglio have achieved international reputations in part from working with pop stars.
The Blonds, David and Phillipe - otherwise known as David Trujillo and Phillipe Rollano - are a rising New York fashion duo who have made their reputation dressing stars such as Fergie, Rihanna and Katy Perry in sculpted, outrageous outfits. "Over-the-top glamour is our speciality," says Trujillo. "The 'Blond' aesthetic and themes hark back to a time when women dressed to kill, like the golden age of Hollywood. Now there is a real need for fantasy and escape from the everyday, and elaborate costume plays a huge role in this. Life is theatre for us and we want to bring a bit of that into everyone's life."
The Blonds believe the charisma of the new wave of pop stars is about more than their clothes. "Stars like Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry understand the impact of how they present themselves and we believe that comes from within, because without these women the costumes don't have life."
The new stars do seem to be more humorous and self-aware than their pop predecessors. When Jessie J won the Critics' Choice at this year's Brit Awards, she wore a Vivienne Westwood minidress.
"I look like the evil queen from Snow White," she told reporters. "I just need to go and find my dwarfs now." Similarly, when asked about her big-cat Givenchy couture at this year's Grammys, Minaj described her outfit as "miraculous meets her cub meets ferocity meets fabulosity meets the runway".
Perry is more pragmatic. "We're all unique. That's why we all win and we all can exist. People don't just want vanilla. They want 31 flavours. I couldn't do what Rihanna does. I couldn't do what Gaga does. They can't do what I do."
What these stars do is create a break in the monotony of style that has smothered culture of late. Trends used to wash from catwalk to stage to club and pavement unhampered. They may not be of vast cultural significance, but these new celebrities' style is vivid and fun. We have come a long way from laughing at a star for laying eggs on a red carpet to applauding one for arriving in an egg. It's going to be entertaining to see how much further we can go.