If success is the best revenge, then Gwen Stefani is slaying those who’ve done her wrong.One culprit in particular is ex-husband Gavin Rossdale, who allegedly caused the demise of their 13-year marriage with a cheating scandal. Stefani is bouncing back from what she admitted was “the crazy year I had.”
In addition to creating eyewear with Tura and snow gear for Burton, as well as dreaming of designing more fashion, including bridal gowns, she’s wrapping up a concert tour and readying to premiere a Nickelodeon cartoon series inspired by her longtime fascination with Harajuku street style.
“Everything was so unexpected last year — everything from my life changing, my personal life changing and being able to write a record,” Stefani said. The struggle before arriving at a new phase in life felt as if “I was kind of like Rocky at the top of the steps,” she said.
Stefani started paving a path to Harajuku and Nickelodeon when she was a child in Orange County. Her father used to work for Yamaha Motorcycles. “He would travel to Japan and come back with treasures,” she recalled, listing kimonos and wooden dolls among her trove of souvenirs. “We would hear these stories.”
When her band No Doubt kicked off its first world tour in 1995 to propel its breakout album “Tragic Kingdom,” she finally had the chance to step foot on the island nation.
“Having that connection as a little girl and my personal obsession with fashion and tradition and culture and all things modern, I got there and I was like, ‘What was happening? I should be Japanese. This is my place. I love this place.’”
Stefani publicized her fascination with Harajuki street style on the cover of her first solo album, “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” which was released in 2004. As two women with big black bows in their hair stood guard, the singer sunk into a melting throne that appeared to have been borrowed from one of Takashi Murakami’s paintings. Even after Asian-American comedian Margaret Cho publicly criticized her for cultural appropriation, Stefani stayed loyal to Japanese culture, eventually donating $1 million to aid children affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, Japan.
“In the Harajuku district, which was, of course, happening for years and years before I discovered it, it was the self-expression and the need to be different and unique and stick out and be outrageous,” she said. “It was always something I loved to do as well.” She offered a flashback to her teen years as proof. “When it came time to shopping for clothes, I said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to go the mall for clothes. Give me $100. I will go to the thrift store and get so many things,’” she recalled.
Stefani’s fondness for Harajuku spawned a fashion brand called Harajuku Lovers, which translated a bright, zany style to handbags, T-shirts, perfume bottles and a children’s collection with Target. Continuing the journey, her animated series, titled “Kuu Kuu Harajuku,” begins airing in the U.S. on Oct. 3.
While Nickelodeon launched the careers of Ariana Grande, Keke Palmer and other starlets in its live-action shows, the network’s most famous cartoon character is SpongeBob Squarepants. “Kuu Kuu Harajuku” is quite a contrast from the animated princesses, animals and Dora the Explorer that appeal to girls.
“There is so much of me in it,” Stefani said. She served as the template for G, who leads Love, Angel, Music and Baby in the band named HJ5. Her dog is also in an episode, as are two of her three sons, Kingston and Zuma. “It’s everything I love: music, fashion, travel, self-expression, individuality,” she said.
She paid particular attention to the cartoon quintet in the show, dispensing notes on how the characters should be able to dance, sing, swish their hair and wear makeup.
“It’s a fun place for me to take everything that I have worked through the years and do it now. I think some of the funnest things I’ve ever done were for children,” she said. Upon further reflection, she added, “Maybe part of me is a big little girl. I’ve always been so girly. I’ve been in a band with guys and toured on a bus and played in a punk band. Really, at the core, I was the girl who played house and dress-up and make-up.”
The ultimate dress-up was New York Fashion Week, where she last presented her higher-priced label, L.A.M.B., in 2014 for the spring 2015 season.
“I cannot believe I got to do that,” she said. “I miss it so badly. The hardest thing for me is being a mother and that is the beginning of school for me. It’s the first week of school. It was always a struggle.”
Until the day she revives her ready-to-wear line, Stefani is working on her third eyewear collection for both L.A.M.B. and her other brand, Gx by Gwen Stefani, with New York-based Tura. She also gets a kick out of preparing her fourth collection with Burton. “It’s so fun. They let me do whatever I want. I look exactly like I do when I come off stage but I’m in skiwear. All the girls in X-Games wear them,” she said.
She would love to design more fashion, even wedding gowns. She designed the dress for No Doubt guitarist Tom Dumont’s bride. “Getting the right partner would be really important in that,” she said of the bridal market. “It’s technically complex but, yeah, I just have a superstrong point of view as far as my taste and what I love. Just give me opportunities to tell you whether I like it or not.”
That doesn’t mean she’s sketching something to wear to her second nuptials. “I’m not really thinking about that right now,” she said. Still, she’s been sharing her favorite photos from the recent European runway shows with boyfriend Blake Shelton, the country singer who served as a judge with her on “The Voice.” “I was trying to show Blake different fashion stuff,” she said. “He was like, ‘Wow.’ I was going through them so fast. I was like, click click click.”
Perhaps she can slow down a little. Pondering the thought of Shelton becoming a fashion fan, she said, “No, probably not.” That suits her fine, she explained, for “fashion is really an expression of where I am in my life and my mood.”