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Lemmy was a fashion icon

While it’s hard to imagine what metal’s musical landscape would look like in 2016 without the direct influence of Motörhead, their – and in particular Lemmy’s – impact on our world does by no means stop there. In fact, so towering has Lemmy’s presence been across the last 40 years that the shadow cast in his wake reaches right through metal culture and straight across popular culture itself.

While the band’s first three albums – 1977’s self-titled debut and 1979’s storming double-whammy of Overkill and Bomber – laid down the blueprint that would come to define the future of fast and heavy music, 1980’s hallmark Ace Of Spades didn’t just produce the single that’d bring Motörhead worldwide fame – its cover sparked a bona fide heavy metal fashion revolution. That timeless image of three leather-clad desperados, decked in bulletbelts, cowboy hats and the boots to match, was as striking as it was fucking badass, laying down a look that’d dictate the wardrobe of choice for bands, fans and posers alike for decades to come.

“We had great respect for Lemmy and Motörhead,” says Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford – arguably the only man to match Lemmy in his influence on metal fashion over the years. “We’d known about Motörhead professionally since their inception in ’75, but the first time we actually met Lemmy was in Dingwalls club in London, some time in the late 70s. He was in there with Phil Taylor, getting steadily shit-faced, and we thought, ‘Well, we like this bloke already!’

Rob Halford (centre) in 1978: a man who knows his heavy metal fashion

Rob Halford (centre) in 1978: a man who knows his heavy metal fashion

“Lemmy’s image at that time was serious ‘down and dirty rocker’,” he continues. “Cowboy boots, Levi’s jeans, t-shirt, leather jacket and sunglasses, which summed up him, Motörhead and their music perfectly. And it became a uniform for all upcoming metalheads!”

It’s a uniform which has since been adopted by almost every band to grace our game, from iron-cast heavyweights such as Metallica (bulletbelts), Slayer (bulletbelts) and Guns N’ Roses (cowboy boots) to less obvious off-casts like Immortal (bulletbelts), Fields Of The Nephilim (cowboy hats) and Sólstafir (cowboy hats, leather, bulletbel– you get the picture). Hell, it’d be easier to list the metal bands that haven’t ripped off Lemmy’s style over the years, and as Sólstafir’s own Aðalbjörn ‘Addi’ Tryggvason puts it, it’s a homage many of them are proud to quite literally wear on their sleeves.

Sólstafir: wearing their fashion influence proudly on their sleeves

Sólstafir: wearing their fashion influence proudly on their sleeves

“Hey mate, come on,” laughs the frontman. “First of all, I’ve used a Fender Stratocaster – that is totally Motörhead, classic lineup. I have a bulletbelt, I have a custom carved-out guitar, just like Lemmy’s Rickenbacker and, of course, I wear the hat, and I used to have a beard like him. So yeah, of course, he has influenced me and the generation before me! He has influenced me directly, and his influence has come through other people – he influenced Hetfield, and Hetfield of course influenced a lot [of people] too!”

It is perhaps ironic that the ‘metal cowboy’ look that so many American bands still work today is one that essentially originated with a trio of rough-and- ready Englishmen…

“That’s the funniest thing!” agrees Addi, “There’s no such thing as a ‘British cowboy’, but that’s Motörhead, so I guess we are influenced by British cowboys!”

James Hetfield: bulletbelts FTW

James Hetfield: bulletbelts FTW (Image credit: Jack Lue)

And it certainly doesn’t stop there. You only need look at any high street fashion store to see how far Lemmy’s style has crossed over. Leather jackets, tassels, boots, big belt buckles, cowboy hats – actual Motörhead t-shirts, even – can all be found adorning clothes racks around the world, with that oh-so-retro-chic rawk style, daaaarling being recently championed by everyone from Jared Leto to Miley Cyrus. The ‘heavy metal look’ has become such a mainstream concern that it’s hard to imagine what the man who started it all would have made of it, and yet, somehow, no matter how popular that image is, no one has ever done it better than Lemmy. We reckon it’s safe to say that no one will ever so effortlessly pull off the cowboy-from-hell look from hereon in, either.

Accents Will Happen

The umlaut on Motörhead’s logo is as iconic as it gets. But did you know it came about by accident?

Designer Phil Smee was working in publishing when his friend Ted Carroll, who ran Camden’s Rock On record shop, asked him to design a logo for a band on his new label – Motörhead. Ted took Phil to a squat in Notting Hill where the band were living, and introduced him to Lemmy. “He had this picture of a pig head thing, done by a friend of his. And he said, ‘We wanna use that, and I want you to do us a logo for the name of the band. It doesn’t matter what it is – make it a bit Germanic’,” he remembers.

Phil went home and began sorting through boxes of Letraset – black fonts on a sticky, plastic see-through sheet that were used to set large display type. You would draw a line on a piece of paper, line up the letters on the Letraset, and then press them with a pencil to transfer them on to the paper. Phil selected a Germanic font and set to work.

“All the letters used to have accents above them in case you were setting in another language,” he recalls. “Because it was sticky paper, as I did the second ‘o’, the two dots that were over it came off as well. And I thought, ‘Oh, that actually looks quite Germanic!’ So I left those on there – it was actually a mistake!” Phil also realised that he’d used all the ‘h’s in the set, so he used an ‘l’ and a piece of a ‘w’ stuck upside down. “It was all very amateurish!”

He made a print and turned it into a negative, so the logo was white on black. “They loved it, and they paid me £30 credit in the shop, so I was able to get £30 worth of records!” he laughs. You see people with tattoos, and there was a picture of Madonna jogging in Central Park with a Motörhead t-shirt – it’s interesting to see it over and over again. That idea of putting dots over the ‘o’ forged a template for heavy metal.”

Merlin Alderslade
Merlin Alderslade

Merlin stepped into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He is also probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.