Tonight’s Absolutely Fabulous special: Patsy slips into her Chanel jacket for the office while Edina sports vintage 80s BodyMap from top to toe. (Videograb © BBC)
◼ PRODUCT PLACEMENT DOESN’T COME better than this! On Christmas Day we saw the first of three new episodes of Absolutely Fabulous, the award-winning cult comedy series which ran from 1992 to 2003. It depicted the fashion-addicted lives of PR Edina, played by 80s Comic Stripper Jennifer Saunders, and her best friend, Patsy, the chain-smoking sex-mad magazine editor played by 70s Avengers star, Joanna Lumley. Today, New Year’s Day, we saw a second episode and look whose brand name was being lavishly displayed as Eddie swanned around in those distinctive head-to-foot knits from the Swinging 80s — the hottest label of its day, BodyMap.
Coincidence or design? Only last July David Holah put a load of classic BodyMap outfits into the Cavalcade of the 80s catwalk show at the Vintage Festival organised by Wayne Hemingway at London’s Festival Hall — and they didn’t seem to have aged one jot. One month later, the BBC began filming the Christmas specials. It pays, as they say, to advertise.
Cavalcade of the 80s at London’s Vintage Festival in July: a striking presence on the runway is the very same BodyMap ensemble worn later in Ab Fab on New Year’s Day. Picture courtesy David Holah
BodyMap was the game-changing fashion label launched in 1982 when ex-Blitz Kids David Holah and Stevie Stewart graduated from the trendy fashion course at Middlesex Polytechnic to have their collection instantly bought by Browns, the prescient South Molton Street shop. The pair immediately injected excitement into the fashion scene with daring designs as bizarre as their controversial catwalk shows, given titles such as Querelle Meets Olive Oil, and The Cat in the Hat Takes a Rumble with the Techno Fish. In 1983 they won the Martini award for the most innovative designers of the year and rocketed to international success as the British fashion scene became international news.
Knits, prints and stretch fabrics were restructured in men’s and women’s collections to map every part of the body, itself revealed by holes in unexpected places. Film-maker John Maybury supervised their outrageous videos (here the 1986 Half World collection). Michael Clark’s dance company can also take credit for promoting BodyMap’s overtly sexual appeal. By 1989 Holah & Stewart had opened their own retail outlet but the early 90s credit squeeze forced the company out of the competitive fashion business.
Since then David Holah has continued to design as a freelance and diversify as a printmaker. Stevie Stewart works with leading names in fashion, music, film and advertising as a fashion, costume, set and production designer. Popstar clients who have commissioned her costumes for world tours include Kylie, Britney, Girls Aloud, Westlife, Alexandra Burke, Cheryl Cole and Leona Lewis.
Last week Jennifer Saunders, who writes the Ab Fab TV scripts, revealed that the forthcoming big-screen movie will be set on the French Riviera where Eddie and Patsy go to a party aboard on an oligarch’s yacht. She told New York magazine: “I’m aiming to shoot this in a beautiful part of the Riviera. I fancy the south of France in the spring.”
Stevie Stewart and David Holah: a TV interview during London Fashion Week at the height of BodyMap’s success in 1984. Photographed by Shapersofthe80s
➢ View the Ab Fab 2012 New Year special on iPlayer until Jan 12
➢ Elsewhere at Shapers of the 80s: Eight for ’84 – BodyMap flavour of the season topping the labels international buyers tip for success
➢ Why Absolutely Fabulous now looks absolutely prescient — Paul Flynn in the Guardian on the rise of the 90s media elite