The first sign of a true rock star? When a man named Saul Hudson changes his name to Slash... and it sticks. The second? When said rock star puts two stolen items together and instantly creates a fashion sensation. The former lead guitarist for Guns N' Roses (now with Velvet Revolver) recently chronicled his rise to rock stardom in his eponymous book Slash. I spoke with the guitar legend about how and why he developed his signature style:
Your logo is a top hat. How did that start?
I always had a thing for hats; it really completes a look. Around 1985, early in Guns n' Roses career before we had a record deal, I was down on Melrose looking for something cool to wear to a gig that night at The Whiskey. I didn't have any money so that meant basically [it had to be] something I could steal. So I went to a store called Retail Slut and I saw this top hat and it just spoke to me. And, you know, once you decide that you actually like something, there's no turning back: you just have to get it. I put it on and it looked cool, but then I thought, "How do you steal a top hat?" It's not just something that you put in your pocket. So I grabbed it and walked out of the store and I got half way down the block and no one chased me down the street, so I got away with it. And prior to going to that store I picked up a Concho belt from a store called Leather Treasures...
Did you steal that, too?
Yeah. And I went back to the apartment that Axl and I were living in at the time and the hat was cool, but there was something very plain about it. Then I had the proverbial light bulb moment: I took the concho belt, cut it in half and put it around the hat. And it just became my unsaid signature thing. It serves a lot of purposes: it was a cool-looking hat, it provided me with an escape from public exposure because I can hide behind it, and it is the perfect solution for bad hair days. I've been wearing it ever since.
Did you have another signature look before the top hat?
I tried a couple different hats - I always thought bowlers and fedoras were cool, but nothing that stuck out as being my thing. You have to explore; trial and error until you find your own edge.
Have you always had long hair?
I can count on one hand the number of times I've cut my hair in my whole life.
What was your biggest fashion disaster?
Most definitely in Guns' early days, in the first year we were together, there was a New York Dolls glam rock thing going on. Wearing makeup and also - what's the word I'm looking for? With food it's condiments, with clothes it's ...
Excessive accessories. I didn't feel comfortable in all that and so it didn't last very long. It was a period of trying to find... something.
Who are your style icons?
Keith Richards, certain things that Jimi Hendrix wore were cool - not all of it. Joe Perry from Aerosmith is probably the best dressed rock star. I like simple guys like Malcolm Young from AC/DC who wear simple black jeans and black t-shirt.
Are there professional benefits to establishing a personal look?
Yeah, people know who you are pretty easily with an established look. I think my top hat is more famous than I am! There are benefits to having a look that people can identify with. I didn't see it coming. I did what I thought looked cool, and years later I became instantly synonymous with the top hat and that was a surprise to me.
It's different though than Kiss or Blue Man Group - they are wearing a costume. Although I would imagine that people do think I'm wearing a costume since people emulate it for Halloween.
Do you feel physically different when you put it on?
I feel more comfortable with it on. I'm low-key by nature and not the most outspoken person. As a guitar player, I'm pretty dynamic, and that's where I feel most expressive and comfortable, though I'm still hiding behind the guitar. The hat completed the whole thing and I felt much more comfortable in public and could deal with social situations. More than "becoming Slash," I just feel less insecure.
Do you think a musician's image can detract from their music?
If it's someone who is really an artist with integrity, who puts time and effort into their craft and has something to say, the look becomes part of the personality. A lot of times it accentuates the artist as an artist. Sometimes it's more of a distraction because the individual doesn't have that much depth or the only thing they could come up with was a look. That's the downfall of commercial music: You have a breakthrough artist that has something unique that makes them appealing; and if it's commercially successful it becomes the cookie cutter syndrome where everyone does it because big business is thinking that it's a quick way to make money. It all becomes about fashion at that point. Like the glam rock scene in the 80's is a perfect example - everyone had the look down but no one had a feel for the music.
What are your other signature traits?
I have always collected snakes. And I play a Les Paul [guitar].
What advice do you have for people creating their own logos?
They should do what makes them feel comfortable, something that they find appealing, something that completes their personality. It's so individual. I know how important it is for people to create a visual identity; in the entertainment business it's half the battle. And it has to be original. It's been really important to so many legends in the music and movie business ... sometimes it takes a lot of work; and, sometimes its just personality itself and you don't have to wear anything at all.
"What's My Logo?," a new biweekly Q&A on the Huffington Post's Living section, will address the professional importance of personal style with prominent businesspeople, leaders and personalities. Come back Monday December 24th for the next installment.