❚ ART PHOTOGRAPHER Gary Lindsay-Moore was a teenager when he caught the bus from Tamworth to Birmingham city centre to search out a boutique he had been hearing rumours about. Heading on to Hurst Street, he stepped into the emporium created by designers Patti Bell and Jane Kahn – and discovered a whole new world.
“I had no money,” he says, “but went in and there was Patti although I didn’t know it was Patti at the time. I just saw this seven-foot Amazon with massive blonde spiked hair, a massive set of heels and leather and chains. And it was ‘Oh, my goodness, this is amazing’. I felt I’d found my cultural home – this was the kind of excitement I was looking for. The significance for me was profound.”
Together, in the late Seventies, Kahn and Bell revolutionised the city’s fashion scene. They were at the vanguard of punk and new romanticism, creating hand-made clothes for a host of pop icons including Birmingham’s own Duran Duran, Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz and music and dance group Shock.
Talked of as Birmingham’s Vivienne Westwood, Kahn and Bell gave people the opportunity to dress to express. And now, 45 years after their shop opened in 1976 in the city’s emerging Gay Quarter, Gary is paying homage to their innovation with a photography exhibition featuring some of their original flamboyant clothing. The exhibition is called It’s Not Unusual as a nod to Patti’s close relationship with music stars of the era including her friendship with singer Tom Jones.
Gary set about capturing the spirit of experimentation and freedom which Kahn and Bell encapsulated in a series of new images of their creations worn by some equally dramatic models. Between July 27–30 the free show runs at Birmingham’s Rag Market, where Patti also ran a stall.
One challenge lay in the clothes themselves. “A minor issue was that all these clothes were quite small, like sizes six or eight,” Gary says. “A lot of the photography I do is about body positivity, acceptance and individuality and I didn’t want to just use a skinny model. I wanted people who were modelling them to have the Kahn and Bell spirit.”
Gary tracked down local models with an individual sense of flair including some of the region’s best-known drag artists such as Birmingham’s Twiggy, who had a personal reason for wanting to be involved, having worked for Kahn and Bell in the past.
“I’m not trying to update pictures of Kahn and Bell which already exist,” Gary says. “It’s about putting my spin on the show, so all the models I’ve pictured did their own make-up although we talked about it beforehand to make sure it reflected the make-up of the time. There is lots of make-up, glitter and stick-on gemstones. They all look amazing.”
“I like pictures that work with sub-levels, so I’ve included some references people might spot. Patti and I are both big fans of the film Blade Runner and in one of my favourite scenes in that film there are lots of mannequins so I’ve added mannequins to some of the pictures as a tribute.
“I’m going to be there in the Rag Market and am happy to chat to people, especially those who don’t already know Kahn and Bell who can ask questions and then do a bit of research themselves. We have so much information at our fingertips now but 45 years ago it was all word of mouth.”
Gary has created a book around the project and has already presented Patti with her copy as a recent birthday present.
➢ Prints of his images will also be available to buy on Gary’s website
❚ It’s Not Unusual runs July 27–30, 9am–5pm, at St Martin’s Rag Market, Edgbaston Street, Birmingham B5 4RB (tel 0121 464 8349)