Heavy metal has never been seen as particularly cool to non-metalheads, so it's surprising to find so many references to British rockers Motörhead in fashion collections, campaigns, and runway shows. Most of that is down to the enduring influence of the band's hard-living founder and frontman Lemmy Kilmister, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 70.
Described by Salon in his obituary as a, “Mythic merger of biker, cowboy, blue-collar bricklayer, and military general,” his grizzly aesthetic has proven nothing less than inspirational for designers all over, employed as a kind of shorthand for chimerical masculinity and enduring renegade status. In short, Lemmy was cool.
With the announcement of new reissues of the band's records, starting with 1979's Overkill and Bomber, here we look back at the unlikely sonic, visual, and even grammatical influences the metal legends have had on fashion.
Find all you need to know about Motörhead’s enduring fashion legacy below.
The Metal Umlaut
While Motörhead weren’t the originators of the “metal umlaut,” they are widely credited with forging the association between the superfluous diacritic and a faster, tougher form of hard rock, acting as a sort of differentiator from the peacockery of glam rock. In fact, it became so synonymous with the band that guitarists Michael “Würzel” Burston and Phil “Wizzö” Campbell incorporated it into their nicknames.
As Rolling Stone reports, Lemmy admitted in 2011, “I pinched the idea off Blue Öyster Cult. Then Mötley Crüe pinched it off us and it goes on and on.”
The umlaut became a way to distinguish Motörhead, metal, and hard rock from their somewhat softer sonic cousins. It was adopted not only by Mötley Crüe, but also by Queensrÿche, The Accüsed, Green Jellÿ, and spoof rockers Spin̈al Tap. The umlaut or, “dieresis,” has since spread to hip-hop through the likes of Dälek and JAY-Z, with the latter briefly switching to Jaÿ-Z as a nod to the cover art for his debut album Reasonable Doubt and single “Dead Presidents” in 2015.
Elsewhere, Shawn Stussy took the same tack with his clothing label. Over the decades, the umlaut used in Stüssy’s now iconic name has seen the OG streetwear brand be embraced by skaters and surfers in LA, New York’s hip-hop community, and eventually, the world’s fashion community.
Fraktur and the Use of Blackletter Fonts
While Stüssy is a strong example of how the metal umlaut has moved from music to style subcultures, other brands have been more direct in their Motörhead references. NEIGHBORHOOD employed both the umlaut and Motörhead's Fraktur TU EF Bold logo font on a design (below). The word "Motörhead" might not be present, but the Japanese streetwear label's logo flip is instantly recognizable as Motörhead in all its rough and ready glory.
We've seen skate brands Lakai and Vans deploy Motörhead’s Teutonic logo on collaborations, but few will realize just how far back its font goes. The German gothic Fraktur font family is a subset of the blackletter typeface dating back to the 16th century, when Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire commissioned the Triumphal Arch woodcut by German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer.
As Max Berlinger put it in an article about the use of gothic fonts in fashion for The New York Times, “Thanks to its longevity, the typeface has accrued a wide range of cultural associations and the versatility to convey both a sense of reverential authority and rebellion.” In the same piece, Michael Bierut of the Yale School of Art explains, “The message is whatever the word says, and the typeface is the tone of voice.”
In 2016, we saw a proliferation of gothic type in fashion and streetwear. Items such as Vetements’ “Drink from me and live forever” hoodie from the brand's Fall 2016 collection certainly seemed to speak in Motörhead’s “tone of voice.” Sitting front row at the show was Kanye West, whose The Life of Pablo merch featured its own take on gothic fonts the very same year.
Like with the gothic fonts used by BornxRaised and Palm Angels, there is a line to be drawn between metal and West's Cali Thornhill DeWitt-designed Pablo merch. For LA brands, in particular, the font simultaneously references the sacrilege of metal and the religious devotion of the Chicano community.
On the Runway
Metal band tees might have enjoyed favor among models backstage, but few have made it to the runway. Over the years, however, Motörhead have at times provided the soundtrack for various fashion week shows. The band's raucous anthem "Ace of Spades" could be heard at Prada Fall 2011 and Asger Juel Larsen Fall 2016 (with one Larsen look even including a reference to the song's lyrics).
Elsewhere, during his Spring 2007 show, Raf Simons put a school uniform-style blazer and pleated short combination on a model whose bare chest was inked with a tattoo of the band's iconic Joe Petagno-designed snaggletooth logo above the words “Search and Destroy” in a Fraktur font.
But perhaps the clearest invocation of Lemmy's particular brand of masculinity came during SSS World Corp's Spring/Summer 2020 show in Paris. The masculinity seen in the show was described by Vogue as “totally (apparently) self-confident, highly body-conscious, and at least in gesture hedonistically inclined.” In terms of specific Motörhead references, the collection included an “Ace of Spades”-emblazoned shirt and shorts ensemble and a silk robe with an all-over snaggletooth logo print.
Before the show, SSS founder Justin O’Shea said of Lemmy, “His ideology was very much in line with that of Triple S. It’s like, ‘I’m just going to do whatever I want and whatever happens is fine and just that’s the way it’s going to be.’ And that’s a great idea of life.”
Lemmy might have sung on "Ace of Spades" that he didn't want to live forever, but through fashion, it seems his legacy will endure for a while yet.