David Bowie's Perv Pants from Labyrinth
Happening now, EMP's Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic exhibit has some great costume artifacts from 1986's Labyrinth, a heavily puppeted fantasy film starring an adolescent Jennifer Connelly as Sarah and David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King, who takes a certain fierce pleasure in menacing her. A couple of the masks extras wore in the ballroom scene are on display, though during the movie you probably overlooked them to watch Jareth instead. He was especially dolled up for the ball, with glimmering coral lipstick and glitter spilling down his jacket's shoulders. In other on-screen moments, Jareth passed the time singing and prancing, tossing a baby high, or simply just looking on wanly. "One feels that he has rather reluctantly inherited the position of being Goblin King, as though he'd really like to be, I don't know, down in SoHo or something," David Bowie says of his character in the documentary Inside the Labyrinth, though it's obvious he's actually talking about himself.
Jareth is a strange, thin man with alarmingly snug trousers, a taut backside, and a package so huge, it gets absurd. (Showcasing this ensemble, the EMP's mannequin has a prominent form bubbling from the lower region, though it's awkwardly placed and overly round. The effect both obscures accuracy and provides context.) "Everyone always talks about Bowie's perv pants, but there was a reason for it all," says designer Brian Froud in Nick de Semlyen's Empire magazine article. "He's an amalgam of the inner fantasies of this girl."
As Froud sees her, 15-year-old Sarah is blooming with adult needs, a flowing beauty, and a preoccupation with sexy rock stars, but she's also still gripped by her childhood interests. Accordingly, Froud crammed Jareth's costumes with all the style allusions a middle-aged man trajecting a teenage girl would ever go for. The silvery-purple leather jacket is embedded with carved skulls and rattlesnake tails, representing the "danger of a leather boy" alongside "the armor of a... German knight," says Froud. Details recall Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, he adds—perhaps the blousy top and high boots. And the pants "are a reference to ballet dancers." They're a mid-weight material, tremendously elastic, paler than you'd remembered, and texturized with a leopard-spot pattern too faint for movie cameras to pick up. Seeing them up close brings a mystical and intimate feeling. It's like peering into dreams.
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