Gwen Renee Stefani was born to parents Dennis, a marketing executive of Italian American descent, and Patti, an accountant and now home-maker of Scottish and Irish descent. Stefani had three siblings; an older brother, Eric, a younger brother, Todd, and a younger sister, Jill.
Stefani’s family was instrumental to her music career, with her parents introducing her to music and brother Eric forming the band No Doubt, which would later make her famous. Stefani’s parents were folk-music fans and she was taken to Emmylou Harris concerts and introduced to the music of Bob Dylan as a child. Musicals such as ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Annie’ and ‘Evita’ were also influences, with Stefani’s first foray into public performance being a rendition of the song ‘I Have Confidence’ from ‘The Sound of Music’ at her high school talent show. At Loara High School, Stefani was on the swimming team while working part-time jobs at Dairy Queen and on the make-up counter of a department store. After graduating, she attended California State University in Fullerton.
Older brother Eric introduced Stefani to two-tone Ska music while she was still at high school through bands such as Madness and The Selecter. When he formed his own Ska band in 1986 with friend John Spence, he asked his sister to join as co-lead singer. She became the sole lead singer of the fledgling band after Spence committed suicide in 1987, with the other band members later crediting her as the glue that held the band together through the difficult time.
In 1987, Stefani also began a relationship with bass-player Kanal. She had had a crush on him since he joined the band, but he initially rejected her to promote band-harmony. Stefani persisted and the pair’s relationship eventually lasted for seven years. Stefani admitted to interviewers that her role in the band was passive to begin with. “My brother did everything. I was like, ‘I’m just the sister.’ And then after that I was ‘Tony’s girlfriend.’ And that was good enough for me. I never really had any ambitions or goals or dreams.”
The band had limited success to start with and remained little more than a garage band until the early 1990s. Grunge was growing in popularity at the time and No Doubt’s ska-pop sound did not fit in with the movement. Stefani opted for sexiness instead of the aggressive grunge female lead typified by singers like Hole’s Courtney Love. The band continued playing though, touring with ska punk band Reel Big Fish and gathering a loyal following in Southern California, and in 1990 it was signed to Interscope Records.
The band’s self-titled debut album in 1992 was unsuccessful, as was their self-released effort ‘The Beacon Street Collection’. Stefani’s brother Eric left the band to pursue a career as an animator on ‘The Simpsons’ but No Doubt persisted. The third album took three years to produce, largely because of the failing relationship of Stefani and Kanal. The breakdown of the relationship may have been the key to success though, with several of the songs inspired by the hardship becoming hits on 1995’s ‘Tragic Kingdom’.
‘Tragic Kingdom’ was a massive breakthrough, spawning five singles including ‘Just a Girl’ and ‘Don’t Speak’ which hit number one on the US charts. Stefani took time off college to tour with the album thinking she would be gone for two months. The album ended up selling over 16 million copies and received several Grammy nominations. Touring extended to two-and-a-half years.
The band’s videos introduced the world to Stefani’s signature style: Marilyn Monroe-esque platinum-blonde hair, exposed midriff, powdered white face and bright red lipstick. She was also known for her incorporation of style elements from many of the world’s cultures and is credited with popularisation of the Indian bindi, a jewel worn on the centre of the forehead. That same year was also a turning point for Stefani romantically. She met her future-husband Gavin Rossdale, the lead singer of British rock band Bush, and a long-distance relationship ensued, though the often rocky affair would provide grist for Stefani’s song-mill for several years to come.
'Tragic Kingdom' was followed in 2000 by ‘Return of Saturn’, which was less successful than the previous chart-buster, but their 2001 album ‘Rock Steady’ was a critical and chart success. The singles ‘Hey Baby’ and ‘Underneath It All’ won Grammy Awards and the band and Stefani were confirmed as no one-hit-wonders. In 2002, a collaboration with rap singer Eve on the track ‘Let Me Blow Ya Mind’ won the pair a Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and heralded Stefani as a pop solo act to be reckoned with. The year was also a good one for Stefani personally, with her marriage to Rossdale in September at St Paul’s Church in London, followed by a second wedding in Los Angeles two weeks later.
Stefani’s 2004 debut solo album ‘Love.Angel.Music.Baby.’ (L.A.M.B) delved even further into pop and confirmed her stardom. Featuring collaborations with hip-hop acts like OutKast’s Andre 3000 and beat producers The Neptunes, L.A.M.B. took its influences from diverse musical genres such as new wave, new jack swing, hip-hop, and electro. The combination turned out to be a winner, with several of the songs becoming top ten hits around the world and the fourth single, ‘Hollaback Girl’ reaching number one in the US and Australia. She was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 2005 Grammy Awards and the following year she received five nominations, including Album of the Year. The hit track ‘Hollaback Girl’ became the first single to reach one million internet download purchases. Stefani toured the album with four Japanese backup dancers known as the Harajuku Girls, after the fashionable Tokyo suburb, but drew criticism for using the girls as a “minstrel show” amid rumours they were contractually unable to speak English despite being fluent.
In 2004, Stefani expanded on her reputation as a fashion icon and launched her own fashion label. The move thrilled her mother who came from a long line of seamstresses and made most of the family’s clothes. Named after her solo album, the L.A.M.B. line featured style elements from Japanese, Jamaican and Guatemalan clothing. The line proved popular with celebrities and was followed in 2005 by a less expensive range called Harajuku Lovers, which included accessories such as a camera and underwear. Stefani also made her big-screen debut in 2004 as Jean Harlow in Martin Scorcese’s biopic of Howard Hughes, ‘The Aviator’.
Personally, 2004 was a rocky time for the singer, with her husband Rossdale discovering he had a daughter Daisy from a pre-Stefani fling with model Pearl Lowe.
In 2005, Stefani and Rossdale confirmed they were having a child of their own. Despite first denying rumours in the media, she told a crowd at a Florida concert that “I want you to sing so loud the baby hears it”. The baby, Kingston James McGregor Rossdale, was born on 26 May 2006, in Los Angeles.
Stefani’s second solo album was released in late 2006. ‘The Sweet Escape’ again featured collaborations with No Doubt band mate Kanal and the Neptunes, but this time also featured pop star Akon. The album was more club-friendly pop than its predecessor and was criticised as being a hasty follow-up designed to cash in on the success of L.A.M.B. The album enjoyed moderate success with the title track and the ‘Sound of Music’-inspired ‘Wind It Up’ making good inroads into charts around the world.
Along with her No Doubt sales, she has topped 30 million albums through cash registers around the world and she shows no signs of slowing down. That said, she admitted that it would be “a while” before No Doubt’s second album is released. This, despite assurances in 2008 that she was beginning to write songs for the follow up to 2001’s ‘Rock Steady’.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the singer said that the group had spent 2010 recording tracks for the album and confirmed that they had completed ten songs. She said: “When this (new fashion line) is done I'll probably write a few more songs. I don’t know when it'll come out, but you never know what can happen. My band takes a weird process as well. It takes so long. And all of them just had babies, so it’ll be a while.” The album 'Push And Shove' was eventually released in 2012.
Her latest collection for her clothing label L.A.M.B was described by ny1.com as “multifaceted”. Discussing her fashion influences, the 41-year-old said in an interview with NY1.com that she is “a little bit of a ragamuffin girl, a little bit of an English girl, a little bit of a mod and a bit of a glamour girl”. She admitted that she thought designing clothes may have been something she could have done “in [her] house”, although she said it is in fact “really hard” work but also the “best thing [she] has ever done”.