In the studio

The backing track for ‘Fashion’ was recorded during the Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps sessions at New York’s Power Station studio in February 1980.

Incidentally, this is the only song Dennis played along with a click track. We found a beat we liked on David’s Roland Beat Box which he played along with.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977-1982) book

Bowie sang all the lead and backing vocals during sessions held at Visconti’s Good Earth Studios in London’s Soho in April 1980.

Also drafted in for the Good Earth sessions was Andy Clark, a session keyboardist with whom Visconti often worked in London.

He had some great keyboards, the very latest (now vintage); he was both an excellent sound designer and player… That ‘whup’ sound at the start of Fashion is actually a very uncharacteristic click track from one of Andy’s synths. I added stereo digital delay to it and moved it off the beat, to the upbeat, creating a slight disorientation before Dennis Davis came in…

Andy also added assorted blips and kitten growls (if a kitten could) here and on ‘Scream Like A Baby’.

Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977-1982) book

Chris Porter was an engineer on the album who sang on two of the songs, including ‘Fashion’.

I sang backing vocals. I’m on ‘Scary Monsters’ and ‘Fashion’, and on handclaps. When I’d been doing building work I’d sing along with the radio, so Tony knew I could sing a bit. They needed backing vocals and Tony would have said, ‘Oh come on, we’ll do them.’ Lynn Maitland was a proper backing singer, but as I recall it David, Tony and I did our backing vocals and then we added Lynn afterwards, to add a bit of female colour.
Chris Porter, engineer
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

Robert Fripp had worked with Bowie on 1977’s “Heroes”, and returned to work on several Scary Monsters tracks.

We needed more muscle on these tracks and we were blessed to have musicians Pete Townshend and Robert Fripp living locally. They added British guitar zest to the New York potpourri of musical styles…

Robert Fripp needed longer to give us lots of different parts and sounds for the six songs he played on. He brought a bag of pedals with him. I plugged his output directly into a channel on the Trident TSM. We spent the entire day flying around ideas, spending more time on ‘Fashion’ and ‘It’s No Game’, but all of Fripp’s brilliant contributions made it to the final mixes…

[Bowie] made a composite of Fripp’s multiple guitar solos on ‘Fashion’ the same as he’d done for ‘Red Sails’ on Lodger.

Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977-1982) book

Fripp described his guitar work on ‘Fashion’ as “blues-rock played with a contemporary grammar”, although this fails to adequately convey its glorious dissonance.

The solo on Bowie’s ‘Fashion’ happened at 10:30 in the morning after a long drive back from Leeds gigging with The League of Gentlemen. There’s nothing you feel less like in the world than turning out a burning solo – fiery rock and roll at 10:30 in the morning – just out of a truck. But it doesn’t matter how you feel, you just get on with it.
Robert Fripp
Electronic Musician, June 1987

The release

‘Fashion’ was released as a single on 24 October 1980. It was the second single from Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps, which had come out the previous month.

The b-side in most territories was ‘Scream Like A Baby’, although in Japan it was issued with ‘It’s No Game (No. 1)’ on the flipside.

The single version was an edit which reduced the length from 4:47 to 3:27. This removed most of Robert Fripp’s squalling guitar solos.

‘Fashion’ was most successful in the United Kingdom, where it reached number five. It was also a top ten hit in Norway, South Africa, and Sweden. In the USA it peaked at number 70 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In concert

David Bowie sang ‘Fashion’ during the Serious Moonlight, Glass Spider, Sound + Vision, Earthling, Heathen, and A Reality tours. During the later tours it was often performed as a duet with Gail Ann Dorsey.

‘Fashion’ was also performed at Bowie’s 50th birthday concert in 1997 at New York’s Madison Square Garden, where he duetted with Pixies’ Frank Black.

A performance from the Earthling Tour was released on the 2021 album Look At The Moon! (Live Phoenix Festival 97).

On 4 September 2003, Bowie recorded a two-hour television special for the France 2 channel. The seven performed songs included a duet of ‘Fashion’ with Blur’s Damon Albarn.

The closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics was held on 12 August at London’s Olympic Stadium. Titled ‘A Symphony of British Music’, its creative director and choreographer was Kim Gavin. Bowie was among the performers who, although approached, declined to appear. However, a sequence involving several supermodels parading down a catwalk to a soundtrack of ‘Fashion’ was included, seemingly without irony.

I rarely buy clothes. I wear them well and people give me stuff and I’m quite keen to wear it for public shows and albums and all that. But I’m not interested in fashion. And my wife’s the same. She never goes shopping: she hates shopping with a vengeance. That’s the second thing that drew me to her – the first was that she got up at 5am like me. She can shop faster than any other woman I’ve ever met.
David Bowie
The Observer, 9 Jun 2002