Electric boots, a mohair suit: step inside Elton John’s star-studded closet

Whether donning glitzy jumpsuits or effortless Japanese tailoring, the trendsetting musician has always been unabashedly himself. Elton John’s stylist and close friend, Jo Hambro, talks his ‘Mozart-meets-rock-and-roll’ wardrobe

In the Tony Award-winning musical Aida, composed by Elton John with lyrics by Tim Rice, the tune ‘My Strongest Suit’ seems to have taken a page out of the British legend’s book: ‘I am what I wear and how I dress,’ sings Princess Amneris, confidently declaring her conviction to dress to impress. While John’s rarefied EGOT status and hundreds of millions raised in the fight against AIDS illustrate just some of his ‘strongest suits’, his singular style has undoubtedly proven revolutionary as well.

‘I think style is in Elton’s DNA. He’s fearless. I’ve never known anyone to embrace colour and experiment with clothing the way he does,’ says Jo Hambro, John’s dear friend and stylist since the early 2000s.

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A pair of silver leather tall platform boots, circa 1971. Worn during numerous performances throughout the 1970s. Sold for $94,500 in The Collection of Sir Elton John: Opening Night on 21 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York

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A pair of prescription sunglasses by Sir Winston Eyeware, late 20th century. Worn during a concert performance in London. Sold for $9,450 in The Collection of Sir Elton John: The Day Sale on 23 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York

This February at Christie’s New York, many showstopping looks from the musician’s wardrobe, both on and off stage, will feature in The Collection of Sir Elton John: Goodbye Peachtree Road, including dedicated Versace, jewellery, and closet sales. While the auction series is dedicated to John’s Atlanta residence, which served as his East Coast home base for nearly 30 years, the garments and accessories span his 50-year career and international tours.

Armed with platform boots and a full rainbow’s worth of sunglasses, John has always proudly expressed himself through his eccentric, glamorous garments. Few artists carry such a distinct visual connotation. Given John’s profound influence on performance wear and the fashion industry at large, Hambro likens the musician’s signature accessories to fine art: ‘They’re like pieces of sculpture. You could display them on a table, and they’d hold their own.’

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Left: An ivory and gold ensemble by Annie Reavey, 1971. In June 2018, this set was loaned out to Angel Costumes at Bray Film Studios to recreate for the Rocketman film. Sold for $12,600 in The Collection of Sir Elton John: Opening Night on 21 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York. Right: A beaded neon satin tailcoat and pair of trousers, possibly by Annet Murray, circa 1971. Worn in a photograph by Terry O’Neill taken in Elton John’s dressing room. Sold for $9,450 in The Collection of Sir Elton John: The Day Sale on 23 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York

Amongst John’s earliest performance looks is an ivory, green and gold ensemble from 1971, replete with ruffles and lurex, and joined by a shirt emblazoned Elton John signatures in crayon. Created by the English textile designer Annie Reavey, this set — along with Lot 3, a 1972 ensemble by North Beach Leather, Los Angeles — was loaned to Angel Costumes at Bray Film Studios, who recreated the looks for the Rocketman film.

Another standout from 1971 is a beaded neon-satin patchwork tailcoat and trouser, possibly designed by Annet Murray (his bandmate Dee Murray’s wife), which John can be seen wearing in his dressing room in a photograph taken by Terry O'Neill. Perhaps most illustrative of John’s keenness for a sartorial spectacle are his bedazzled ensembles designed by the legendary Bob Mackie during the 1970s and 1980s.

EJ

English pop singer Elton John, wearing a vest top and satin shorts, at home in London, 1975. John can be seen wearing the circa 1971 beaded neon satin tailcoat in lot 307. Photograph by Terry O’Neill. © Terry O’Neill / Iconic Images

Many looks capture John’s affinity for a well-fitted suit, for example, those executed by Savile Row tailor Tommy Nutter, as well as pieces designed by Keith Gregory Fleming-Haberstroh and made by the LA tailors and designers Mr. Alex and Claire Dallal.

Others are time capsules of 1960s and 1970s London boutiques at the fore of the underground nouveau-bohemian aesthetic — think Granny Takes a Trip and Mr. Freedom, two Chelsea hotspots beloved by stars including George Harrison and Freddie Mercury.

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Left: A blue wool ‘Captain Fantastic’ suit, designed by Keith Gregory Fleming-Haberstroh, made by Mr Alex and Claire Dallal, 2011-2013. This suit was worn by Sir Elton John on multiple occasions, including the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on 22 September 2013. Sold for $30,240 in The Collection of Sir Elton John: Opening Night on 21 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York. Right: A cerise dupion ice-cream jacket by Bob Mackie, 1976, with Cotroneo ‘Elton John’ label. Worn on ‘Louder than Concorde’ tour, 1976. Sold for $7,560 in The Collection of Sir Elton John: The Day Sale on 23 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York

While many of the items offered were worn by John for international tours, residencies, and special events, the more quotidian pieces are not to be missed, from his Atlanta Braves apparel — a testament to his love of the Southern city — to his kaleidoscopic trove of printed silk shirts by Gianni Versace from the 1990s. John’s close friend, Versace also designed some of his stage wear.

‘It’s like the Bergdorf’s menswear department,’ says Hambro of John’s Atlanta dressing room, chockful of avant-garde, luxurious garments. She met John around 2000, when she was the Creative Fashion Director at British GQ, where she worked from 1992 to 2015. Hambro was creating a portfolio on the buzzy Savile Row tailor Richard James and his celebrity clients, which included John, for the magazine.

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Inside Elton John’s closet at his Peachtree Road residence, Atlanta. Photograph © 2023, Visko Hatfield

‘When I met Elton, it felt as if I’d known him forever. There was an instant chemistry, and very quickly we realised we shared a passion for fashion and photography,’ says Hambro, who recalls touring John’s home and gushing over a William Claxton portrait of Chet Baker that she immediately recognised, much to the musician’s surprise. ‘We had so much in common, we just bounced and bounced. With Elton, it’s almost like an unknown dance, but we both knew the steps.’ Years later, John and his husband David Furnish would pen the foreword to her 2020 book, The Power of the Polaroid: Instantly Forever.

As the two struck up a friendship, John would turn to Hambro for insights into the latest fashion collections. One designer immediately came to the stylist’s mind: Yohji Yamamoto and his ingenious deconstructed outerwear. ‘I told Elton that he could wear it all.’ About three months later, he called her and said he’d bought the whole Paris shop, remembers Hambro. John then suggested the celebrated Japanese designer create the outfits for ‘The Red Piano’ residency at Caesar’s Palace. Beginning in 2004, the acclaimed concert series was directed by David LaChapelle and paved the way for a whole new generation of cutting-edge Las Vegas entertainment.

‘Elton had invited me to one of his performances in California, and I watched him very, very closely. I realised that I needed to give him a line. I thought of the deconstructed tailcoat because it would drape beautifully over the stool while he plays the piano,’ says Hambro on finding the perfect, elongating silhouette to complement John’s style, which she describes as ‘Mozart meets rock and roll.’

‘Whereas Savile Row tailoring tends to be stiffer, Japanese tailoring is lighter and effortless. The way the garments are cut, they float around Elton so when he’s on stage, he can move freely,’ says Hambro, who also introduced mesh panels under the arms to give John more flexibility and breathability. ‘My goal is for the people I dress to be so comfortable they forget what they’re wearing and can feel their best, most confident self. After his first performance in the new garments, Elton told me, “you made me fly.”’

While Yamamoto’s collections typically skew towards monochromatic neutrals, with John, he produced some of his most unexpected looks, brimming with artistic references and nods to the musician himself. In a few pieces, such as in this tailcoat adorned with a flaming bird, Yamamoto employed the revered Japanese hand-painting technique yuzen, a laborious resist-dyeing process used to colour intricate patterns on fabric.

A single-breasted jacket with purple, gold and red sequins in overall chevron pattern by Gucci, 2017. Worn by Sir Elton John at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, Madison Square Garden, 26 January 2018 (with rhinestone star embellished boots). Sold for $8,820 in The Collection of Sir Elton John: The Day Sale on 23 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York

‘Elton loves something that no one else has,’ says Hambro. Nearly everything John wears on stage has been created bespoke. ‘Whenever we have things made, there’s always going to be embroidery or an embellishment with a twist to it.’ The stylist says inspiration can come from anywhere, and that the musician is extremely involved. ‘We share all these references, whether it’s fashion history, photography or film. It’s always a collaboration, and I’ve learned so much from him.’

For the epic five-year ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ tour, which concluded during the summer of 2023, Hambro and John worked with Gucci. Former creative director Alessandro Michele’s collections for the house were unmistakably inspired by John’s particular breed of unabashed ’70s glam rock. ‘The wonderful thing about Elton is that he acknowledges the past but also embraces the future. He’s always collaborating with new musicians and designers,’ says Hambro.

Two Louis XIV-style ‘Fancy Dress’ costumes by Sandy Powell, circa 1994. Worn by Elton John, in the cream and gold, and David Furnish, in the blue, to Elton John’s 47th birthday party, held at Porchester Hall, London in 1994. Sold for $16,380 in The Collection of Sir Elton John: Opening Night on 21 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York

Indeed John’s colourful personality and magnetism continue to attract and influence the next generation of creatives visionaries like Michele, says Hambro: ‘Elton reminds me of a modern-day Medici or Louis XIV. He’s a great patron of so many people, whether it’s jewellers, musicians, or artists, and beauty is part of everything he does.’

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