❚ “FASHION???” SCOFFED THE FASHION EDITOR of a leading women’s magazine who shared my flat in 1980, after meeting one of the more ornamental Blitz Kids over our breakfast table. “Those aren’t even clothes!” Yet within five years she was as keen as every other editor to be featuring Bodymap, Galliano, Jones, Auburn, Hogg, Hamnett, Bernstock Speirs et al. Scroll forward 30 years and London’s world-beating decorative arts museum, the V&A, weighs in with a necessary exhibition reappraising the UK’s style revolution of the 80s. What’s coming under scrutiny in its dedicated fashion galleries are the unique silhouettes of that extravagant shape-shifting decade and the clubland forces that moulded them. Only two weeks to go before Club to Catwalk, London Fashion in the 1980s, and there’s one crucial tipping point at its heart: the moment fashion became style.
Let’s hand over to fashion guru Iain R Webb, one of the central figures who defined his generation and whose impressive book As Seen in Blitz was published last month. Here’s a taste of the mighty personal essay he has written for the summer issue of the V&A Magazine…
Webb writes: “ The 1980s were all about being photographed. We dressed as if every day were a photo shoot and every night a party (it usually was). But there was another revolution happening.
The advent of the stylist who approached fashion as an artistic construct was something new. Alongside the contributors to BLITZ, The Face and i-D (Ray Petri, Judy Blame, Caroline Baker, Helen Roberts, Beth Summers, Simon Foxton, Mitzi Lorenz, Maxine Siwan and Caryn Franklin among them) were two thought-provoking arbiters whose importance is often overlooked. Michael Roberts at Tatler and Amanda Grieve at Harper’s and Queen added a subversive edge to their respective glossy titles. Roberts poking fun at old-school mores while Grieve (later Harlech) befriended St Martin’s graduate John Galliano and helped create the romantic whirlwind that shaped fashion for decades to follow.
The images produced by all these stylists merged fashion and art, questioned the accepted ideals of beauty and social status and enjoyed a sense of experimentation. Their vanguard imagery often highlighted specific issues such as the superficiality of fashion and consumerism with humour.
“At that time there was a group of stylists who were as creative as the designers, if not more so,” remembers PR Lynne Franks, who represented Bodymap, Katharine Hamnett and Wendy Dagworthy. “It prompted the question: What came first, the styling or the clothes? It was very spontaneous, like playing dress-up.”
Stefano Tonchi, editor of W magazine, then editor of Westuff, an alternative style periodical published in Florence, says: “Fashion was no longer fashionable. Style was used to describe many areas of the creative arts that came together. It made for a new category. Music dictated a lot of the emerging trends and there was experimentation in both photography and graphic design, but fashion was where these exciting changes were most evident. Think of the Bodymap fashion shows, they weren’t just about the clothes but involved music, graphic design and theatre… ”