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I was already convinced that fireworks follow wherever Sir Elton John treads when he arrived at Saks Fifth Avenue on Tuesday night, ready to ignite the department store’s famous annual holiday lights and window display. He wore, as he’d promised me in an email interview that morning, “head-to-toe Gucci”: a red-and-blue tracksuit, Gucci x Adidas sneakers, and a tailored matcha-green blazer with his name emblazoned on the breast pocket. As a golf cart steered him into a blockaded section of the previously bustling street, a grand piano was rolled onto Fifth Avenue in his honor. He tickled the first notes of “Your Song,” and the windows of the department store behind him suddenly glowed with the merchandise he’d helped select. All this is to say, after 52 years on the road, John still knows how to curate a good show.
The 75-year-old singer—or the Rocket Man, as he’s popularly known thanks to one of his greatest hits—was just coming off his final U.S. stop on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. The night, John says, was an incredible one, even after the well over 3,500 shows he’s played over the course of his career. He wrote via email, “I kept just thinking to myself on the stage, Here I am 52 years later after my first Dodgers show, and I can’t think of a better way to end my time in America than at the iconic Dodgers Stadium that has meant so much to me over my career.”
After leaving Los Angeles with his husband, David Furnish, and sons, Zachary and Elijah, he arrived hours later in New York, set to launch not only the lights show but a holiday collection at Saks itself. The gifting capsule, live as of Nov. 23, features pieces from over 60 brands, including (but not limited to) Givenchy, Versace, Balmain, Burberry, Jo Malone, Wales Bonner, Christopher John Rogers, Staud, and Gucci—all curated in partnership with John. As part of a $1 million commitment from Saks, $500,000 of the proceeds from the collection will go straight to the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s Rocket Fund, which John started back in 1992. The organization’s goal is to end AIDS worldwide by 2030, and the Rocket Fund in particular is a multi-year campaign dedicating to ending stigma and deploying resources for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Over the last 30 years, we’ve grown so much and gathered support to increase our income from less than $1 million a year at the very beginning to over $25 million annually today,” John wrote. “We’ve developed coalitions with community organizations, national health systems, research institutions, activists and the expanding movement of people living with HIV/AIDS to make an impact through programs in dozens of countries around the world. To witness and be a part of that growth has been one of the greatest joys of my life.”
These days, the iconic artist is hoping to spend more time at home with his husband and young sons, though don’t expect his fingerprint on the music industry to shift any time soon. As a lover of numerous genres of music, he hates to play favorites with his co-collaborators and mentees, but he names Sam Fender and Billie Eilish as two artists he’s excited to watch rise the charts. “I was blown away when I first heard their music and look at them now,” John wrote. “They made music at such a young age that I couldn’t even comprehend making when I was that young.” As for his sons, they’d likely put forth Dua Lipa’s name. “My cool quotient went way up when we collaborated on ‘Cold Heart,’” John jokes.
After finishing “Your Song,” John took a seat next to his family in the front row of the bleachers set up across Fifth Avenue, from which he could watch the Saks holiday lighting. He rocked back and forth as his own music spilled from enormous speakers, synchronized with blinding flashes of light and fireworks erupting from the Saks rooftop. Even amidst all the noise and color, his beloved red sunglasses caught the light. It was easy to pick him out of the crowd.
“When I go out and when I am on stage, I want to feel special,” he wrote to me. “I still want to be bold and surprise people with my looks.” After more than five decades on stage, he’s still doing just that.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers film, TV, books and fashion.