The Blitz Club, Music & Fashion Revolution in the 80ties

1 Jun
visage
Steve Strange
 

Steve Strange was born in 1959 in New Bridge, South Wales as Steven Harrington. He moved to London as a teenager and became active in the punk movement. He hung out in the scene known as The Bromley Contingent, which included acts such as the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux, and Billy Idol. He worked with Malcolm McLaren, former manager of the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls. The Punk movement helped free creativity and allowed people to express their look through fashion and music.

But eventually, Steve Strange found that Punk was starting to be perceived as unoriginal and that Nazi Punk created a negative political statement. Looking for a way out in 1978, he originally created The Photons.  But he knew The Photons were not going to be a successful band and hated the bright multi-colored suits they wore. When the band The Rich Kids were splitting up and weren’t intending to use the rest of their studio time at EMI, Strange jumped at the chance to get in there and record, which is how Visage started.

The sound was new, and pioneered electronic music. “Fade to Grey” was the band’s first release and most acknowledged song.  The video was extremely low budget.  Trying to come up with a creative idea that would have lots of impact, Strange shaved his body hair and painted himself silver.  A hand-painted snake with glittering scales had the effect of coming to life and turning into Strange.  The crew worked for 36 hours straight on the video to get all the looks and changes.  When it was time to remove the make up and paint, painful Brillo pads were used.

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The first club night that Steve Strange started was a Tuesday night at Billy’s in Soho, London.  This is where the first of the New Romantics hung out, a branch of the New Wave movement.  Strange created an environment of creativity with hairdressers, art students, budding designers and eclectic club kids.

In 1979, he moved his “private party” to the shabby Blitz wine bar off Covent Garden. Outrage secured entry. Inside, precocious 19-year-olds presented an eye-stopping collage, posing away in wondrous ensembles, emphatic make-up and in-flight haircuts that made you feel normality was a sin. Hammer Horror met Rank starlet. Here was Lady Ample Eyefull, there Sir Gesting Sharpfellow, lads in breeches and frilly shirts, white stockings and ballet pumps, girls as Left Bank whores or stiletto-heeled vamps dressed for cocktails in a Berlin cabaret, wicked witches, kohl-eyed ghouls, futuristic man machines.

 

Steve Strange
 Steve Strange, ph. Janette Beckman
 
Gods of the Blitz George O’Dowd and Stephen Linard at the Spandau Ballet concert in Heaven, Dec 29, 1980. Both became international icons, one as popstar, the other as fashion designer, both eagerly devoured in Japan.
The Blitz club
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.“The Blitz ruled people’s lives. Exactly that,” says Stephen Jones, then making hats at St Martin’s School of Art. “A nightclub inspired absolute devotion of the kind previously reserved for a pop idol. I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real.”

Shrouding any pleasure in ritual magnifies its intensity and the Blitz was all ritual. Everyone supped and danced on the same spot every week according to some invisible floorplan: downstairs near the bar stood the boys in the band (no make-up), their media and management by the stairs, credible punk legends such as Siouxsie Sioux along the bar, suburban wannabes beside the dancefloor. Deep within the club, around Rusty Egan’s DJ booth, were the dedicated dancing feet, the white-faced shock troops, the fashionista elite – either there or near the cloakroom, ruled first by Julia Fodor (still going strong as DJ Princess Julia) and later by George O’Dowd (less strong today as ex-jailbird Boy George). Downstairs, the women’s loo was hijacked, naturally, by boys who would be girls. Upstairs on the railway banquettes might be respected alumni from an earlier London: film-maker Derek Jarman, artists Brian Clarke and Kevin Whitney, designers Antony Price and Zandra Rhodes.

 George O’Dowd a.k.a. Boy George

Boy George , rightBoy George (right) 
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Boy George (middle) 
Boy George

No longer a weekly secret society, the Blitz became a publicity machine for the pose age. Attendance became a statement of intent – to lead a life of style seven days a week. When Bowie visited the Blitz he hauled away four of the kids to strut with his pierrot through the video for Ashes to Ashes. It earned each of them £50, helped Bowie to No 1 and launched a fad for Judi Frankland’s ankle-length liturgical robes (inspired, she says, by the nuns in The Sound of Music). Steve Strange helped launch the careers of many artists in the early 80’s through The Blitz Club.  These acts included Depeche Mode, Boy George, Spandau Ballet, Soft Cell, Human League and Duran Duran.  Not since the Beatles had British pop music dominated the charts this strongly in America. With the birth of music videos, MTV brought fashion and music together for the first time in history in a 24 hour format.  . . If you recast the 80s as a subcultural timeline, the decade actually spanned six years. They began in June 1978 when David Bowie’s world tour hit the UK and ended with Do They Know It’s Christmas? in December 1984, when Band Aid confirmed rival groups who had risen on the same wave as a new pop establishment. As clubs became workplaces and nightlife the essential engine of cultural evolution, they liberated music, design and, especially, ambition. In 1978, London offered only one hip club a week; by 1984 Time Out magazine was listing 50, while the British Tourist Authority reported that dancing was a serious reason visitors gave for visiting the UK. London Transport rolled out a whole network of night buses. .

Blitz style/ Blitz kids

Scarlet

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Blitz kids at Bowie Night

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John Galliano & Blitz

john-galliano

Fallen Angel suit

john_galliano ‘My fashion has been a constant evolution of ideas… All that experimental cutting led me to understand precisely how a jacket had been put together in the past; how to put it together correctly in the present and then, from that, I was led to dismantle it and reassemble it in a way that would point to the future.’ Galliano’s final year collection at St Martin’s School of Art was influenced by French revolutionary dress. But, like many art school students, Galliano also found inspiration in London’s night life. ‘The club scene fed me… Being with other creative people like Boy George was a crucial experience for me.’ .

Sketch for Levi Strauss & Co.

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In 1986, BLITZ magazine commissioned 22 designers to customise denim jackets provided by Levi Strauss & Co. Fashion Editor Iain R. Webb recalled, ‘The magazine gave us a stage on which to present our version of the world, an alternative way of looking at fashion… The pages of BLITZ were intended to inspire readers to experiment with fashion rather than go shopping’.

1984  John Galliano graduated show from St Martin

 
 1984, John Galliano graduation show from St Martin
1984 85 Galliano show
1984 -85 Galliano show
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Joseph Jumper

Joseph Jumper

Joseph Ettedgui founded the chain of Joseph boutiques in London in 1977, stocking innovative designers such as Katharine Hamnett, John Galliano and BodyMap. He also created the Joseph Tricot knitwear label.

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Stay Alive in 85

4_t-shirt_katherine_hamnett_1984_1000px (1) Katharine Hamnett was one of the most well known designers of the 1980s. She pioneered the vogue for stylish, casual clothing made in crumpled cottons, parachute silks and stonewashed and stretch denim. Her designs were often based on utilitarian boiler suits and army fatigues. In 1984, Hamnett caused a sensation at a fashion reception hosted by Margaret Thatcher by wearing a T-shirt that read, ‘58% Don’t Want Pershing’. Hamnett was protesting against the controversial siting of US Pershing missiles in the UK. Her T-shirts were a platform for her anti-war and Green politics.   .

‘BLITZ’ Denim jackets by Levi Strauss & Co

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BLITZ magazine commissioned Leigh Bowery to customise this denim jacket in 1986. It has fringes created from hundreds of golden hair grips, making the jacket extremely heavy.
 
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‘Blitz’ denim jacket customised by Vivienne Westwood, 1986
 
Vivienne Westwood Viviënne Westwood
 
 
 
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Bodymap: Shaping the 1980s

Amidst the colourful extravagance of 1980s fashion, one label in particular stood out thanks to their pioneering approach to making and showing their creations: BodyMap. 

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BLITZ: A History, and the Tale of 22 Jackets

In July 1986, era-defining style magazine BLITZ published an issue featuring images of 22 Levi’s denim jackets that had been customised by some of the world’s most lauded designers – Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Katherine Hamnett among them. 

BLITZ founder and publisher Carey Labovitch and the magazine’s fashion editor, Iain R. Webb speak about the thrills of setting the magazine up, its unique editorial approach and give us the full story behind the designer denim jacket project.

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Book

http://www.amazon.com/As-Seen-BLITZ-Fashioning-Style/dp/1851497234/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401285686&sr=1-4&keywords=Blitz .  “Like the lightning in its name, it struck us in 1980 and kept us spellbound the whole decade. ‘Too fast to live, too young to die’, that is BLITZ for me. Every month we would run to the news stand to be ‘BLITZed’ with irreverent, glamorous, chic and iconic images. BLITZ was Iain R. Webb’s brainchild that corresponded perfectly to the era; it was one of its best expressions. He used emblematic faces that were so inspiring, and that I used for my shows, like Martine Houghton, who later became a photographer. BLITZ, we miss you but we are ready for your attack again!” Jean Paul Gaultier In London at the start of the 1980s, three new style magazines emerged to define an era. It was a time of change: after Punk, before the digital age, and at the dawn of a hedonistic club scene that saw the birth of the New Romantics. On the pages of BLITZ, The Face and i-D, a new breed of young iconoclasts hoped to inspire revolution. As BLITZ magazine’s fashion editor from 1982-87, Iain R. Webb was at the center of this world. His images manipulated fashion to explore ideas of transformation, beauty, glamor and sex. The magazine’s arresting, subversive fashion pages, and its profiles of disparate designers and creative types, let the imagination run free. Lavishly presented here are over 100 BLITZ fashion stories, with previously-unseen archive content, original images and tear-sheets. A separate section features original BLITZ interviews with the key designers, and there is also a vast amount of completely new material: Iain R. Webb has gathered the memories of those involved into a gripping oral history of an under-documented time. Characters and contributors include: Leigh Bowery, Amanda Cazalet, Boy George, Princess Julia, Nick Knight, David LaChapelle, Paul Morley and Anna Piaggi. Featured designers include Bodymap, Judy Blame, Dean Bright, Comme Des Garçons, Jasper Conran, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Katharine Hamnett, Hermès, Pam Hogg, Marc Jacobs, Stephen Jones, Calvin Klein, Andrew Logan, Issey Miyake, Franco Moschino, Vivienne Westwood, and many more. .     BlitzSteve&Rusty2011a

 Steve Strange and Rusty Egan, partners in the Blitz Club, (2009)

. . info: V&A museum site, http://www.theblitzclub.com,  David Johnson for The Observer &  Nancy Black  for http://www.thefashionspot.com  (STEVE STRANGE, STYLE ICON PART 1 and 2)  

4 Responses to “The Blitz Club, Music & Fashion Revolution in the 80ties”

  1. Soul Safari 1 June 2014 at 12:09 #

    extremely well documented post with lots of great pictures. Great!!
    Just a note : When Bowie visited the Blitz he hauled away four of the kids to strut with his pierrot through the video for Ashes to Ashes. True but you probably don’t know that Steve Strange appears in that video as well. Boy George was not selected to appear in the video which caused a fallout between former friends Strange & Boy George.

    thanks for these wonderful memories of an exciting time in London’s nightlife which shaped pop music and clubs forever.

  2. Kim Bowen 9 September 2016 at 17:11 #

    Actually, George O Dowd didn’t want to be in the video, and nor did I, we were most certainly asked, but declined. George was preparing his own music career and didn’t want to promote anyone else using his face, neither did I, my reasons were similar but minus the music career. It seems strange to think that anyone who was a devoted Bowie fan would decline such an opportunity, but it was a natural decision for us. We were quite poor, not that we considered ourselves as such, and our greatest wealth were our very unique looks’ to sell them to a music video that wasn’t about us seemed paradoxical and unappetising. Kim Bowen.

    • A.G.Nauta couture 10 September 2016 at 10:05 #

      Hello Kim,

      thanks for your comment!

      with regards,
      Netty Nauta

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