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Smooth Operator

If Sade's sultry vocals didn't hook you, her lacquered red lips, tight, braided ponytail, and oversized gold hoops likely did. The Nigerian-born, British-bred crooner was a knockout, and she's still bowling people over decades after her last big hit. Jean Paul Gaultier sent Sade look-alikes down his Spring runway, and Olivier Rousteing borrowed her signature hoops and shoulder pads for his Balmain collection.

As it turns out, fashion has played no small role in the life of Helen Folasade Adu. After studying at Central Saint Martins, Sade modeled and launched a menswear line before joining the band Pride. With influences including Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, she quickly outshined the ensemble—and climbed the charts as a solo act. Sade was the only African-born artist to appear at Live Aid in 1985, and she went on to release four platinum-selling albums and earn four Grammy nominations by the early nineties. Her worldwide success has made her the biggest-selling British female artist of all time in the U.S.—not even Adele has her beat. Smooth operator, indeed. And designers aren't the only ones taking style notes. The up-and-coming British soul star Jessie Ware owes everything to Sade, down to her painted lips and single braid.

—Hanna Hanra

Smooth Operator

If Sade’s sultry vocals didn’t hook you, her lacquered red lips, tight, braided ponytail, and oversized gold hoops likely did. The Nigerian-born, British-bred crooner was a knockout, and she’s still bowling people over decades after her last big hit. Jean Paul Gaultier sent Sade look-alikes down his Spring runway, and Olivier Rousteing borrowed her signature hoops and shoulder pads for his Balmain collection.

As it turns out, fashion has played no small role in the life of Helen Folasade Adu. After studying at Central Saint Martins, Sade modeled and launched a menswear line before joining the band Pride. With influences including Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, she quickly outshined the ensemble—and climbed the charts as a solo act. Sade was the only African-born artist to appear at Live Aid in 1985, and she went on to release four platinum-selling albums and earn four Grammy nominations by the early nineties. Her worldwide success has made her the biggest-selling British female artist of all time in the U.S.—not even Adele has her beat. Smooth operator, indeed. And designers aren’t the only ones taking style notes. The up-and-coming British soul star Jessie Ware owes everything to Sade, down to her painted lips and single braid.

—Hanna Hanra

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