The true impact of Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction is tricky to quantify because there are so many things to factor in. Among these is what his absence will do to menswear. Less a fashion leader and more of a maverick, his style was often overlooked. But while Malik was no Isabella Blow, towards the end of his 1D career he did make some singular style decisions. If we consider them with hindsight, they could be read as small, leather-jacket-sized cries for help, a desire to break free, or possibly semaphore for: “I think we’re done here.”
He is regularly credited for having a leftfield approach to fashion. His stylist, Caroline Watson, helped him cultivate his look, which leaps between APC and Creepers, gold belts and rockabilly. But while Harry Styles’s relationship with the fashion industry has been far more public (he is a regular on the Burberry frow and friends with key industry figures), Malik’s approach has been far more subtle and deviant. This probably helped him win the GQ readers’ best-dressed award in 2014 above all his bandmates.
Simon Chilvers, men’s style director at Matchesfashion.com, explains: “Yes, Harry’s fetish for Saint Laurent has allowed One Direction more edge than their music might, but truly it was Zayn who kept the fashion in the band on its toes. Largely because he was quite chaotic in approach – veering with ease between emo-like all-black ensembles with ripped jeans and brothel creepers, to grungy hipster in slashed-side vests and Caterpillar boots, via swish GQ poster boy in sleek coats styled with polo necks and a side of his finest blue steel.”
When he hacked off the sleeves of a Topman jumper at MTV a few years ago because he was getting too hot on stage, he singlehandedly revived the “sweater vest” trend on men (they are are now a big seller in Topman and HM). Then, continues Chilvers, there’s the hair: “It is impossible to think of someone in recent pop culture who has changed their hair with such fervent frequency since Beckham at his pinnacle.”
We’ve looked back over Malik’s sartorial evolution to piece together his impact on mainstream fashion – and why we probably should have seen this coming.
When Zayn got an emoji tattoo that was actually an homage to US truckers
Zayn’s cross-social-media tattoo, which apparently referenced a good luck emoji in the style of a Facebook hand, was considered an ode to his Gen-Z fanbase. Such an error. As real fans will know, the symbol is, in fact, alluding to the patch seen on long-distance US truckers, which clearly expressed the singer’s desire to break free and finally do that road trip across Route 66. No one tell him that road no longer exists.
When Zayn did his hair like Harry
When Cain copied Abel.
When Zayn wore a waistocat
What with the monk shoes (on point!) and the male jewellery (SS15!), Zayn’s waistcoat seemed a nod to some trend we were unfamiliar with. “Holiday waiter? Why not!” So we went with it. Looking back, it’s now fairly clear that Zayn was not breaking out of his fashion rut. He was expressing a strong desire to abandon celebrity life and become a children’s party magician.
When Zayn did his hair like Alex Turner
Following the Arctic Monkeys singer’s winning transformation into emo rockabilly with drop-down strand and parted lips, Zayn’s makeover was a very conscious decision to turn the singer into something a little bit “now”. “It was all about rockabilly,” explains Watson, “rock and roll, Johnny Depp in Cry Baby” – unaware that she had, in fact, created a monster. It’s no coincidence that according to (admittedly public-thread-written) Urban Dictionary, “The words ‘Zayn Malik’ can be used when describing or referring to something that is perfect.”
When Zayn started wearing a double-breasted jacket
Zayn’s Crombie-style double-breasted blazer became one of his go-to looks on the red carpet. Theory and Acne followed suit, as did Beckham, whose current wardrobe is an efficient lesson in down-suiting. All thanks to this guy.
When Zayn bleached his hair
Bleaching a strip, in the vein of Cruella de Vil, was one of Zayn’s defining hair moments, not least because it made him look a bit wet. But, as Chilvers explains, it was his ability to overcome such challenges – “these almost faultlessly amazing hair changes also always made those clothes work harder” – that set him apart from the others. Because you wouldn’t see Harry do that, would you?