Growing up in gray northern Britain, The Strokes weren’t just another rock band but a breathing avatar of New York City and all the infinite possibilities it contained.
Announcing their arrival with the era-defining Is This It in 2001, here was a band that sounded great and dressed even better, oozing rakish cool in a time when the news was dominated by footage of passenger planes crashing into towers.
We had entered the post-9/11 world, but why dwell on the Iraq War when you can finish work early to get shitfaced with your friends, like the “Someday” video? If music can help us escape, The Strokes existed in a realm where the party never ended. People crave familiarity when faced with the unknown, and there are fewer Western tropes more enduring than the renegade rock star clutching a bottle of Stella Artois. (Or at least, there was.) These days, the threat is weirder and nebulous, impossible to rage against.
As The Strokes descended upon the big time, a designer named Hedi Slimane was ushering in a new way of dressing at Dior Homme. Whereas menswear was previously in thrall to a beefy, gym-obsessed stereotype, Slimane — who would reportedly hang out at NYC club nights literally taking notes with a pad and pencil — ushered in a more elegant, attenuated, and ultimately sensitive aesthetic that took cues from the 1970s punk underground. The Strokes — rough and ready with a “fuck you” attitude to match — embodied the changing times. They had the talent, they had the looks, hell, they even had the names. “At once modish and skanked-out, The Strokes unwittingly forged a new aesthetic out of nothing more than the unwashed clothes they picked up off their bedroom floors and threw on before a night at the local bar,” wrote Spin back in an early ’00s cover story.
The best-looking bands don’t get into costume, they live it, and The Strokes came from the afterparty straight to the stage. They had completed the whole stylishly disheveled thing at a time when Shia LaBeouf was still a baby (remember when he wore a Strokes T-shirt in Transformers?). Before long, their costume de rigueur of sharp suits, skinny jeans, and even skinnier ties would wind its way into Topman stores around the world, outfitting a generation of indie kids with questionable haircuts and low-key drinking habits. The subculture had been absorbed into the commercial fashion system, and when that happens, the end is never far off. Sure enough, the world soon moved on.
Even if, like me, you slightly lost track of The Strokes story by the time the third album came around in 2006, you’ll know they’ve never stopped coming through with big fits. Ahead of their new album The New Abnormal, we take a look back at the period, honing in on each member.
Thought to have more beer than blood in his veins throughout most of the early-aughts, Casablancas — son of John Casablancas, co-founder of the famous Elite Model Management modeling agency — perpetually looked like he’d woken up on his buddy’s couch following a two-day coke bender. Isn’t that how all our rock stars should be? Like the rest of the band, the frontman — 6’1″ and built like a quarterback — was big on thrifting, and could often be seen in a disheveled denim jacket or leather military coat with a crumpled band tee tossed on underneath, all secured from Lower East Side vintage stores. A style chameleon, Casablancas’ tastes evolved over the years to include everything from LL Bean Duck Boots to sneakers, denim vests, and studded leather jackets. We concede it’s not always come off — particularly the dayglo Nike kicks.
“When The Strokes first started playing gigs, instead of getting into a costume for the shows, we talked about how we should dress every day, in real life, like we’re playing onstage,” Casablancas told GQ. “I don’t really care about clothes, but it’s about wearing something that gives you social confidence. Or maybe helps you pick up chicks.”
By 2002, all-round nice guy Fab Moretti was living the dream, playing drums in the world’s hottest band with a Hollywood girlfriend in Drew Barrymore to show for it.
Moretti’s low-key style reflected his status as the band’s no-nonsense workhorse. The drummer was no doubt responsible for a black market sales boom in vintage Coca-Cola T-shirts, which he made a trademark and wore under a leather biker jacket or vintage military surplus coat, with the unvarying drainpipe jeans and tattered Converse on down below. Really, though, it was always about that cherubic hair. What a mop!
In Lizzie Goodman’s definitive account of the New York indie scene, Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City, The Strokes’ publicist Jim Merlis recounts a story that sums up Moretti’s happy-go-lucky charm: “We were [at a bar], and [The Clash frontman] Joe Strummer is there. I’m talking to Fab, and Joe Strummer taps him on the back and says, ‘Hey, great show, mate,’ and walked out, and Fab was like, ‘Cool, thanks, man.’ I was like, ‘You have no idea who that was, do you?’ and he was like, ‘No, who was that?’ and I said, ‘That was Joe Strummer!’ And he was like, ‘Holy shit, he must think I’m the biggest dick,’ and I was like, ‘No, Fab, he thinks you’re the coolest person in the world.’”
If this was a list ranked on technical ability, Nick Valensi would be number one. A precocious talent who had mastered advanced guitar scales by the age of 10, Valensi was The Strokes’ secret sauce, known for his ridiculously complicated solos (I still have callouses on my fingertips from trying to learn “The Modern Age” on Ultimate Guitar as a teenager) and Jesus-like aura on stage.
The blazer is a vital sartorial component in The Strokes’ folklore, and nobody wore one better than Valensi (a special mention has to go to his striped mod jacket). His look was slightly more effeminate than the rest, often pairing his tattered jeans with baby pink Converse in a time when most guys still perceived the color as soft (for context, Cam’ron’s influential “Hey Ma” video — in which he first wore pink — didn’t arrive until 2002).
Known as a “ladies man” in The Strokes’ early days, support band Girl Harbor once featured an image of Valensi’s backside on one of their early flyers — an image captured after they walked in on him having sex on a drum riser prior to a show. Nearly 20 years on and he still looks pretty fresh; we can even forgive the cardinal sin of wearing Jordan sneakers while playing in a band.
Fraiture didn’t come from a privileged background like his bandmates. He grew up relatively poor, with his dad working as a security guard at Macy’s.
With fashion awareness still at odds with the idea of rock authenticity come the turn of the 21st century, Fraiture touched on the uneasy relationship in a 2003 interview with Spin: “We’re only interested in people who are interested in the music itself,” he said. “That’s all that matters to us. Listen to our music, come to our shows. I guess our image helps us, but we’re not here to be in a fashion magazine.”
Despite being the token low-key member of the group, Fraiture’s style has gradually become more pronounced over time. Previously wedded to the requisite look of military jackets, suits, and perfectos, he’s since become a solo artist in his own right, developing his own style language to go with it. Think velvet suits and denim vest jackets paired with oversized sunglasses, bringing it all together with a Miles Davis Bitches Brew band tee that looks about three sizes too small.
“Down-and-out Dandy Fop” was how Fraiture once described his style. We’re not exactly sure how that works, but it’s certainly a vibe.
Albert Hammond Jr.
“He was wearing a fucking suit,” said Valensi of his first encounter with Hammond, The Strokes’ other guitar player. “We were all wearing jeans and T-shirts and New Balance sneakers and Albert showed up in a suit!”
Hammond would be the first to concede he doesn’t possess the same musical chops as the rest of The Strokes, but then a huge part of making it in a band comes down to whether you look the part. Often dressed in sharp suits, the Los Angeles transplant would add a touch of flamboyance to his look with a pair of white winklepickers or a colorful shirt — under a black blazer à la The Cars being a particular favorite — lending the impression he’d walked off the catwalk at one of Slimane’s Dior Homme shows straight to the studio. Hammond had always been sharp as a tack, even before The Strokes. According to folklore, he used to get into concerts for free by pretending that he was in the group playing that night, going by the pseudonym of Paul Spencer.
“If anything, he influenced the style of the band,” said Casablancas. “He was nice, he had cool taste.” Hammond’s status as a suiting god would be solidified when he brought out his very own line with the help of celebrity stylist Ilaria Urbinati in 2009.
Twenty years on, and while The Strokes’ salad days are long in the rearview mirror, their personal style continues to endure. The cyclical nature of fashion is well documented, and it’s funny to how observe that, after becoming exhausted with streetwear, people are now looking back once more to snappy tailoring and a more formal aesthetic — ironically, the thing that streetwear played a leading role in killing back in the day. Hedi Slimane is back, once again attempting to inject fashion with some rock DNA, and it feels like streetwear has been rinsed, ironically, like indie was by the mid-aughts.