The British fashion triumvirate in their heyday: Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune, Hilary Alexander of the Daily Telegraph and Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of US Vogue
❚ ONE OF BRITISH JOURNALISM’Sgreatest characters has died and you won’t hear a word spoken against her – apart from on the hilarious spoof tribute page produced for Hilary Alexander’s leaving party in 2011 after donkeys years as fashion director of the Daily Telegraph, when it enjoyed the highest daily sales among UK quality newspapers. During the 1980s-90s I worked regularly alongside Hilary and also dared go out on the town with her to witness her beaming smile and unique dress sense turn heads in all directions. As British fashion grew in credibility on the world stage, Hilary became one of a triumvirate of British fashion editors the international circuit took very seriously, the others being Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune and Anna Wintour of US Vogue, who have been awarded two OBEs and a DBE by the Queen. Hilary was twice named British Fashion Journalist of the Year. Two enthusiastic obituaries remark that she pursued work like “a Stakhanovite” implying exceptional efficiency.
Early yesterday, Hilary’s 77th birthday, she died from a heart attack while in hospital. Our mutual colleague Penelope McDonald recalls the laughs they had enjoyed over the years – especially at the annual Fenwick Christmas shopping evenings to which Hils attracted leading designers. She devoted much time to inspiring and mentoring young fashionistas. In 2002, the artist Georg Meyer-Wiel remembers his graduation show in menswear at the RCA because he met big names such as Mary Quant and Issey Miyake in the company of Hils at the gala.
When I was editing the student edition of the Telegraph in 1988 Hils was keen to shoot a winter fashion feature with students in the coldest place in the UK. Amazingly, according to the Met Office, this proved not to be Scotland but the Tyneside estuary which receives freezing oceanic winds from the east. Consequently there we were in December fitting out some model students at Newcastle’s Uni and Poly with warm winter wear for our pages. In about 2002 my colourful Blitz Kid friend Judith Frankland recalls meeting Hils in Paris at a party for John Malkovich. She says: “I was dressed up as you can well imagine and she came straight over to me and said ‘I have to know who you are’ and smiled and told me to contact her if I was in London. Of course I didn’t have to ask who she was! It’s a good job she hadn’t seen me mere minutes later as my platform departed from the rest of my shoe, grrr!”
The umpteen faces of fashion queen Hilary Alexander: click to enlarge this Google set
Paul Hill, foreign desk manager at the Daily Telegraph, also recalls: “She used to organise the Christmas shows in Canada Square, taking over the canteen for the day and putting catwalks in and often filming them for DVD circulation to staff. I was in one (as one of five Elvis impersonators singing appallingly badly All Shook Up) and Hils was everywhere with what started as a full bottle of scotch, but by the end of the show was almost empty and she was a very happy and relaxed director! She would inveigle all sorts of seriously-minded staffers into these annual events, famously Lord Bill Deedes, to dress up – make-up and all – as Mick Jagger to mime along to Brown Sugar.”
In today’s Vogue obituary Anna Wintour says: “Hilary was irrepressible in everything she did. She lived life to the fullest and her reporting on fashion was just as committed. I threw a party for her in Paris when she retired – except she never retired! Hilary could never quite leave an industry that she loved so much.”
In the Telegraph obituary Lisa Armstrong writes: “To sit next to Hilary at the shows was to be treated to an experience that was a unique blend of massage and wrestling match. Bobbing to the music – whatever it was – she was always the first to bounce out of her seat as the models were still filing off the catwalks, the ears of Uncle Bulgaria’s hat flopping away as she stormed the catwalk to get backstage before everyone else. She would do anything to get a story.”
Our set of photos here from a Google search for Hils sums up her eternal exuberance (“I will not stop flying. I will not stop smoking.”). Her home life in Dulwich was surprisingly private. Born in New Zealand, Hils was educated in Hong Kong and, having ended an unfortunate early marriage, she leaves no partner. Her funeral could be a starry event, though my own 2011 tribute in the link below is probably unbeatable!
➢ “A discerning eye for detail and relentless pursuit of a story made her name” – The Times obituary…“ She was on first-name terms with many designers but never forgot the readers for whom she was writing. “It’s hard for the average person to decide what to wear,” she said. “Our role is to take the threads that come through from the catwalk shows and say ‘This is the way to wear things’.” She saw fashion as more than mere style and was instrumental in making it newsworthy. “It’s not frivolous – any industry that employs half a million people and generates billions a year is a serious news subject. ”
Fashion royalty: Hilary Alexander was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen in 2013… Hils sports a black silk dress with a jazzy poppy print to coordinate with the OBE ribbon
THE BRITISH FASHION COUNCIL’S
VIDEO TRIBUTE TO OUR HILS
❚ DROPPED IN FOR AFTERNOON TEA THIS WEEK with the lovely Judi Frankland, after a rattlingly fast ride to Newcastle on one of LNER’s new Azuma trains, seemingly built without any detectable suspension. You may recall Judi recently left hospital after a major cancer operation which proved very successful and had her walking 1km a day straight afterwards! She told me: “What an amazing team at the RVI hospital. I cannot thank them enough. They were a proud team and I had plenty of time to watch how brilliant they were with everyone. It makes me emotional to think about them.
“I’ve been told the road to recovery will not be short but with their continued support I will stay positive and, as you can see, I have finally put some lippy on! The question is, Who left the fabulous flowers on the doorstep? I love them and thank you.” Her neighbours in the seaside resort of Whitley Bay lavish attendance and affection on the eccentric woman with vibrant red hair who they know appeared in that David Bowie video for Ashes to Ashes. The rest of us remember her from the Blitz Club’s heyday and her all-black degree-show collection from 1980, the wedding dress from which was worn by clubland leader Steve Strange in that video.
By now I’m sitting on Judi’s sofa where she has thoughtfully supplied a bottle of Merlot to help down my cheese and biscuits, while she slurps some taramasalata aided by two smooth crackers. “You would think I’d eaten a three-course meal quickly, grrr!” No solids is the current rule while she adapts to life without much of a stomach. Ironically, her stomach remains “the size of a football” so, having been forewarned, I’d brought with me supplies of houmous and baba ganoush and tzatziki.
Judi is living now in her late mother’s home which is jam-packed with her own artsy objects and pictures occupying every inch of space, not to mention mum’s Welsh terrier Betty who has quite an appetite for attention and is today a rare breed possibly for that reason. (Runs in the family?) Ironically for a bungalow, a staircase leads to a loft. “That is the stairway to my heaven, my sewing area. When mum was doing her fairs selling antiques she wanted a place to keep her stock so she did a no-frills loft conversion which is now my sewing room, though I’ll not be going up there for a while sadly.”
Earlier this day a nurse had already visited to whip out a stitch. Judi said: “The nurse is taking the dressing off tomorrow, yikes, but don’t worry I won’t be showing anyone my scar – oh the thought! I can’t go far but I did go to Tesco earlier in my kaftan and compression stockings, very slowly. Hospital just rang to check on me and told me to take it one day at a time. “Dumplings? I pleaded. No not yet she said, ha!” We’re still awaiting results for my lymph nodes. They said it’s going to be a long recovery and as you can imagine I am antsy but doing as I’m told. I’ve been told to get my boxing gloves on and fight so I will do just that. Meanwhile. I’ve spoken with Macmillan, they are wonderful and are in the process of getting me a Macmillan buddy.
“I do believe I’m adopting a different attitude to life that’s more positive and healthy and I intend to make it a very creative one. Can’t wait to be well enough to start sewing.”
Before she went into hospital Judi put out a request for anyone to mix her a CD with their choice of music – “as long as it’s not jazz or Gary Barlow, I’m up for owt!” Lots of nice friends have responded so this week, she says: “I’ve been playing old punk music – that’s my mood right now and thinking of a new punk look for me when I’m finally unleashed on the world again.” Shake Some Action, Judi!
❚ A FAMOUS OWNER can certainly bestow prestige on a work of art. Indeed when Bowie’s own contemporary art collection went for auction at Sotheby’s in 2016 there was an online frenzy to snap up most of the 147 items – at prices which were mostly two to four times greater than the auctioneer’s top estimates. Some artists managed to attract TEN TIMES their top asking price, specifically Picasso, Kokoschka, Gill, Alexander Mckenzie, David Jones, Stephen Finer, Clive Shepherd, Eric Heckel, Johann Garber, Ivon Hitchens, Maurice Cockrill.
You could call those sizeably inflated extra costs a “Bowie premium” and a lot of people were prepared to pay hair-raising prices depending on their determination to own a piece of Bowie’s legacy.
Step forward Steve Strange, or rather since Steve is sadly no longer with us, step forward fashion designer Judi Frankland, one of the wildest of clubland’s Blitz Kids, best known for some of her fab 1980 degree collection immortalised in Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video. There, Steve Strange sports more than one hat, most famously the ornate veiled head-dress made of stiffened lace on a metal frame by Stephen Jones, worn with Judi’s black wedding dress in long shots. But he also sports another smaller, snugger hat in certain chorus close-ups on the beach and later in the studio.
This titfer had initially been thought to be the one described today by a London auctioneer as a “wide pleated chiffon band and large taffeta bow to rear”, which is being offered for sale on 7th December for £200-£300. Designed by Judi to coordinate with her degree-show collection, the hat was, she says, made by Fiona Dealey and Richard Ostell together in the days when student pals helped out on each other’s major collections. Both of them boast significant reputations today.
An initial description and provenance had been provided by the seller, who is not known to Judi. Since first posting, however, the auctioneer initiated a long phone conversation on Monday with Judi, from which it turns out that the hat for sale was worn by Judi herself in the video as the bow arrangement at rear had originally stood high in the air, whereas today it is folded flat. So two or even three price premiums come into play here to determine the market value of this chic little titfer 40 years after Judi designed it. For making it famous, a Bowie premium of two to four times the estimated price, would bump its worth up to, say, £900; plus a Steve Strange premium for sporting Judi’s collection in the Ashes video shoots. And now perhaps a Frankland premium too!
Former Blitz Kid Judi Frankland: Her latest voile and taffeta creation with capelets is crowned with a hat of maribou feathers… Right, her 1980 hat for sale with chiffon band and taffeta bow, photographed by Kerry Taylor Auctions
So what is a Steve Strange premium worth? Remember that other auction last March when Auction Antiques in Exeter sold an Issey Miyake suit belonging to David Bowie, which he supposedly discarded in the Blitz Club after burning it with a cigarette (yet the date cited, 1982, was long after the Blitz had closed!)? Steve Strange took it home and following his death in 2015 it was inherited by his long-time friend Jayce Lewis who subsequently offered it for sale via Auction Antiques who reckoned it could fetch an estimated £10,000-£15,000. Trouble was, in this sale there were so few bids that it yielded only £8,000, which you could interpret as the “Strange premium” proving to be more like a forfeit of 36%. Apply that to Judi’s hat and its possible worth comes down to around £576. Which is better than nothing, obvs. Now we hear that absent-minded Judi herself sported the hat in Ashes to Ashes, so we really ought to sprinkle some Frankland stardust on the price so let’s say it’s worth £700 to a buyer!
The Frankland hat for sale in 2021: here in the bonfire scene in Ashes to Ashes
Kerry Taylor Auctions in London sells vintage fashion worn by such celebs as Princess Di and Amy Winehouse. And next week they’re selling Judi’s long-lost hat as Lot 155A in their Passion for Fashion sale. The website tells a tale of its current owner Roz Corrigan wearing it on the eve she met her future husband. Aw, sweet.
Dear old Judi can’t even remember how the hat vanished from her Cranley Gardens flat way back when. “I have no doubt it’s my hat,” she tells me, having seen the photos online. “It was possibly crushed in my wardrobe as I was as bad as Steve was with my frocks.” She recalls how her sensational black wedding dress had returned from the seaside video location covered in mud and make-up and vanished into the recess Steve Strange called his wardrobe, never to be seen again. She adds however: “That hat would never have stood a chance of surviving if it had stayed with me and not been given away.”
UNCANNILY AS PREDICTED HERE, JUDI’S HAT GOES FOR £700
Updated on 7 December 2021 ❏ The hat-trick of hot names Bowie/Strange/Frankland meant that during a speedy round of intense bidding at today’s international online auction, Judi’s chiffon-taffeta number hit exactly the hammer price of £700 which we predicted yesterday. So well done Ms Frankland for beating the auctioneer’s mid-point estimate by 280% !!! In real money the hammer price grosses up to £1,050 after premium and VAT are added.
Coincidentally, in this Kerry Taylor auction of 265 fashion items from many nations and periods, among the household names selling either side of Judi’s 1980 hat, about 30 items performed remarkably well. Four garments bearing the 1970s Biba label sold for about four times their top estimates, as did an Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell chiffon dress. Half a dozen Vivienne Westwood outfits (Pirates/Punkature) went for at least twice their estimates amid fiercely competitive bidding, while a sensational Issey Miyake moulded breastplate from 1980 clocked £32,000. What proved shockingly disappointing was to see a string of striking John Galliano skirts and jackets from around 1986-88 only just hit their estimates, while one delicious woollen pouch dress from his Forgotten Innocents collection on offer for £10,000 failed to reach its reserve with a bid of “only” £7,500, so remains unsold!
Michael Reason: who placed the top bid for Judi Frankland’s 1980 hat at auction this week
AND THE WINNER IS MICHAEL IN MELBOURNE
Updated on 9 December 2021 ❏ So now we know who won Judi Frankland’s chiffon-taffeta titfer in Tuesday’s auction. Michael Reason posted his comment (below) glowing with pride at now owning a talisman from Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video, “which has meant so much to me since I first saw it as a gay teenager in the 1980s”. We’ve been hearing more about him…
Michael grew up in Tasmania, moved to Melbourne to study and is today the Curator of Leisure and Social Spaces at Melbourne Museum. Because Australia’s time difference placed the auction in the early hours, he says, “I almost didn’t bother staying up, as I had this feeling that such an iconic piece of fashion/music history would command a four-figure sum. I mean, what else is ever going to turn up from the Ashes to Ashes video? The ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition came to Melbourne in 2015, just before he died, and the Pierrot suit was featured, but I’ve never seen anything else.
“I was actually more excited that the hat was worn by Judith in the video, rather than Steve Strange, as I’ve always admired her work. I’m sure it will end up in an appropriate gallery one day, but I will certainly enjoy it until then.”
Garments previously bought at auction by collector Michael Reason: Twiggy Boutique duck-egg blue synthetic minidress, 1967-70; and Dolce & Gabbana floral print jacket worn by Joanna Lumley as Patsy in TV’s Absolutely Fabulous in 2000. Photography courtesy of Kerry Taylor Auctions
As a lover of fashion and design, Michael adds: “Our sister organisation, the National Gallery of Victoria, collects more internationally, and with a narrower definition of fashion. I recently donated two items to them, a Vivienne Westwood toile dress and a Twiggy Boutique mini-dress.” He also acquired through Kerry Taylor Auctions a floral print D&G jacket worn by Patsy in three episodes of Ab Fab, Patsy’s D&G shoes and fishnet stockings from another, plus Anne’s costume from Little Britain.
Recently he has been working with Australian fashion designer Jenny Bannister, “known for her interest in upcycling and trashion”, he says, with much of her clothing now part of his Museum’s collection.
Best news of all, Michael adds: “I was thinking that I’d look at having Judith’s bow unstitched, to try and restore its original silhouette. I’m sure it could be done without causing damage.” It’s a proposal Judi greets with delight: “I hope Michael does put the bow right. Why on earth anyone stitched it flat, I don’t know. The silhouette is what made it so fabulous.”
❚ TODAY WAS THE DAY in 1980 when London’s now fabled Blitz Club was blessed by a visit from David Bowie. He came with a purpose – to whisk away four of the most outlandish Blitz Kids to strut with his pierrot through the video for his new number, Ashes to Ashes, from an imminent new album. It earned each of them £50, helped Bowie to No 1 in the singles chart the following month and boosted demand for black ankle-length robes among trendsetters.
Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Blitz Kids as chorus to Major Tom
Every Tuesday for 16 months, king of the posers Steve Strange had been declaring a “private party” in the cheap-and-cheerful Blitz wine bar near Covent Garden, along with his co-host Rusty Egan who was pioneering Elektro-Diskow dance music as deejay. Your Look was everything and outrage ensured entry. Inside, precocious 19-year-olds presented an eye-stopping collage, preening away in wondrous ensembles, in-flight haircuts and emphatic make-up that made you feel normality was a sin. Hammer Horror met Rank starlet. These were Bowie’s offspring, individualists who had taken him at his word to be “heroes just for one day”, living amusing lives, creating disposable identities, and wearing looks not uniforms. Now, on this day, their god came among them with the very serious mission of paying homage to some of his bizarre principal characters and moving himself on into the next phase of his life… Unwittingly the Blitz Kids would become his little helpers.
Bowie at the Blitz Club 1980: Russ Williams, John Lockwood and Andy Bulled papped by Tommy Crowley
Memories of Tuesday 1 July vary. The 21-year-old Steve Strange found himself requesting extra security to stem what the soon-to-become pop singer Andy Polaris also records in his diary as a “minor riot”. In contrast, the coolest heroes in the club refused to pander to the great star and merely contemplated their drinks.
Strange writes in his autobiography, Blitzed: “We had no prior warning, and [Bowie] arrived with two other people and his PA [Corinne] ‘Coco’ [Schwab], whom I didn’t think was very nice.” The guests whose names Strange forgot were, according to the Polaris diary, singer Karen O’Connor (daughter of comedian Des) and painter-photographer Edward Bell, who designed the cover artwork for the imminent Scary Monsters album and singles.
Strange’s book claims: “We managed to sneak them into the club the back way to avoid a fuss and usher him upstairs to a private area. David himself was charming and asked if I would join him upstairs for a drink when I had finished on the door. I wanted to go straight away, but, annoyingly, I had to do my job first and stay at the door.”
The book continues: “Word soon spread like wildfire that David Bowie was there. He was probably the reason most people at the club had got into pop music in the first place. He had changed his look and his sound so many times, there were more than enough images to go round. The alien from Low and The Man Who Fell To Earth, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Ziggy Stardust. He was the one person that everyone there would cite as an influence, even more important than punk.
Bowie’s chorus near Hastings, July 1980: Polaroid snapped by a crew member on the beach during filming of Ashes to Ashes with Blitz Kids Steve Strange, Darla-Jane Gilroy, Judi Frankland and Elise Brazier keeping warm in a mackintosh between takes. When they got back to London, they all went clubbing at Hell
“He said it was a great scene and asked me if I would like to appear in the video for his next single, Ashes To Ashes. He also asked me if I could suggest a make-up artist for him, and I recommended Richard Sharah, the man who did my make-up. He said: ‘I’d like it left to you to pick the clothes you are going to wear, and to choose three other extras for the video.’ This was the most important moment of my life. I rushed around and found Judith Frankland, Darla-Jane Gilroy and another girl [Elise Brazier] for the video.” Here, as with so much of his flaky book, Strange’s memory leaves the rails. Other witnesses suggest subtle variations to his account…
Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Darla-Jane Gilroy with Bowie between takes
Ashes To Ashes video 1980: Blitz Kids as mourners at a sacrificial pyre
Enter the next witness, Ravensbourne graduate Judith Frankland, designer of Steve Strange’s Fade to Grey outfit and of two gowns worn in the Ashes video which were inspired, she says, by the nuns in The Sound of Music and coincidentally had been unveiled in her sensational degree collection “Romantic Monasticism” at the Café Royal during June. She says: “In a wonderful twist of fate, Steve was resplendent in my black wedding outfit that night and was chosen straight away. He was asked to select people he felt could be right. Bowie did see George O’Dowd but as I remember he was wearing his big leather jacket look that night, so he was out. I was invited as was Darla up to the table where David and Coco were sitting and offered a glass of champagne. Darla and I were both dressed in a similar ecclesiastic style, Darla in her own black outfit with white collar, and we were also asked to take part for what at that time was a decent sum of money for penniless, decadent students.
“We were told Coco would call us the following day with the details. I woke the next day thinking I’d dreamt it and you know I guarded that communal pay phone on the landing like a rottweiler until she did: be outside the Hilton the next morning, Thursday, she said, at some ungodly hour, fully dressed and made up the same way I had been at the Blitz, and to get the coach to a secret location.
“When we arrived at the beach near Hastings [not Southend, as Strange reports], the crew was set up and David Bowie greeted us dressed in the pierrot outfit he would be wearing. He coached us for a few minutes on the words we were to mime and then the day was spent in what we Lancastrians call sinking sand, sloppy sand, and the further out we got on the beach the messier and sloppier and muddier it was. I wore flats which was a wise choice. Then we were up and down that field with the bulldozer and every time we had to do a take it had to back up and the field got muddier. The bulldozer wasn’t that close but if he’d stepped on the gas we would all have been gonners.
“We were finally told we had all ‘done well’ and set off in the coach straight from the shoot to Hell [Strange’s Thursday club-night with a sacrilegious flavour] – well, home first to get freshened up. Steve dropped off his very muddy wedding dress and Hell was a rowdier night than usual. Steve brought one of the labourers from the bulldozer site with him and dressed him up in a Modern Classics suit. The poor guy was disturbed by it all, to say the least.
“We’d also been asked to go to the Ewart Studios in Wandsworth that weekend to shoot another scene – the kitchen with Major Tom in the chair and us providing the chorus. This involved an explosion behind us four as we faced the camera. We were told to duck out and run after we had mimed our lines or we could be hurt. This was difficult in a hobble dress, so I hoisted it up as high as I could and got ready to run. Quite a sight for the superstar sat behind me! Health and Safety would be all over that now.
“May I add that at the studios David Bowie joined us mere mortals in the canteen. Yummy. What a nice man he was, well he was to me, very kind and patient with us all.”
London’s Cafe Royal, 1980: Judith Frankland’s graduation show climaxed with a wedding dress in black and white taffeta, brocade, velvet and satin. All crowned by Stephen Jones’s veiled head-dress. As worn by Blitz Club host Steve Strange in the Ashes to Ashes video. (Niall McInerney’s slides scanned by Shapersofthe80s)
CRUCIAL MOTIFS DECODED
St Martin’s Alternative Fashion Show in May 1980: Stephen Linard’s “Neon Gothic” collection modelled by his most stylish friends, Myra, George O’Dowd and Michele Clapton, with Lee Sheldrick in white as a space-age pope
❏ Co-directed by Bowie and David Mallet, location scenes for Ashes to Ashes were filmed on 3 July 1980 at Pett Level, a stony beach on marshlands about six miles east of Hastings in East Sussex, known to Mallet since he was a boy. The drama of waves splashing against a towering cliff excited him. The video was the most expensive music video made to that date, costing £35,000 (about £151,000 in today’s money). The whole dreamscape was enhanced with effects from the then novel Quantel Paintbox to create a visual enigma, echoing a distant past, yet suggesting “nostalgia for the future” in Bowie’s own words.
At the time Bowie dropped in on the Blitz, the fashion mood had darkened for post-punk no-wavers. Black was back in gothic style without that word being applied, mostly. One exception was Stephen Linard who stole the annual Alternative Fashion Show in his second year at St Martin’s with his “Neon Gothic” collection in May 1980, when the event was coordinated by Perry Haines. Fellow Blitz Kids modelled a stylish collision of Space 1999 meets liturgical gothic, strutting to the Human League’s newest release, Empire State Human. Among them, Lee Sheldrick, the gifted eminence gris behind so many other students’ creations, had also shaved his head bald to become the embodiment of Nosferatu the Vampyre. The following week Steve Strange teamed up with fellow Welsh soul-boy and Camberwell student Chris Sullivan to open a no-holds-barred club-night at Hell with the invitation “to burn in Hell – demoniacal dress is desired”. Bowie knew what he was looking for.
One of Bowie’s long-standing collaborators, Natasha Korniloff, designed his pierrot costume for the video and Gretchen Fenston his hat, while he gave Richard Sharah a free hand to design the make-up. On the night of Bowie’s visit to the Blitz, Steve Strange and Judi Frankland were sporting her graduation garments, Strange in the black wedding dress crowned with a Stephen Jones head-dress and veil made of stiffened lace on a metal frame. Judi recalls: “The wedding dress was the reason Steve and I got close. He called me up wanting to buy pieces of the collection. He also bought a jacket he wore on the cover of Fade to Grey and gave me a credit on the sleeve. That dress, all sand, sea and mud, ended up in the bottom of Steve’s wardrobe. It had a stand-up collar that was caked in his makeup. Never wore it again though he got some money off the video people to get it cleaned. The veil also got squashed in his wardrobe.”
Darla-Jane Gilroy wore an ecclesiastical black velvet dress designed and made by herself, silk grosgrain coat and white collar with crucifix, plus a Stephen Jones hat. Elise Brazier personified a ballerina in a party frock plus tantaliser in her hair. This and another hat came from Fiona Dealey and Richard Ostell. All would soon be finding fame in the fashion business, with Elise becoming one of Premier’s leading models.
Stephen Linard: sporting a wooden cross by Dinny Hall and the rabbinical outfit that caught Bowie’s eye in July 1980
Stephen Linard supplies his own footnote to that great Tuesday at the Blitz. “Bowie actually sat at the bar next to my sister Bev, with me on the other side of her and I told her “Don’t look. Be cool.” So of course she looked, she was only 17. So did I. I was only 21. I was in all my Jewish rabbinical gear and Bowie’s PA Coco asked if I would be in the Ashes to Ashes video, but they wanted us up at the crack of dawn and were only offering £50! Anyway, I was on a warning at St Martin’s over attendance, so I had to say No.”
Steve Strange has the last word: “It seemed like a very long day for a three-minute film. I was delighted when I was handed my wages of £50 by a member of the production team. I didn’t tell them, but I would have paid them to have appeared in a video with David Bowie.”
Storyboard for Ashes to Ashes, 1980: The opening scene of pierrot on the beach sketched by Bowie to guide his co-director David Mallet
BOWIE’S OWN VISION WITHIN THE ASHES
❏ Bowie’s brief to David Mallet for the video was simply: “A clown on a beach with a bonfire.” Yet you can be sure Freud would have a field-day turning over every mortal motif in Ashes to Ashes, which was originally titled People Are Turning to Gold… Bowie storyboarded the visuals himself (“actually drew it frame for frame,” he said) to include the pierrot of his Lindsay Kemp era, the number of “Madmen” in his own family symbolically in a padded cell, his first hit Major Tom the spaceman now in an exploding kitchen with his own Greek chorus, the images of mourners round a funeral pyre, the JCB bulldozer (that Bowie had spotted parked up near the beach and hired on impulse) to signify “oncoming violence” and seemingly pushing along the Blitz Kids in the pierrot’s wake like a funeral procession pulsating with a mother’s invocation “to get things done…” Not to mention the song’s title itself, derived from the burial service in the English Book of Common Prayer which commends: “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.
All of which suggested a surreal sweeping away of the past, capped by the unleashing of the dove as an emblem of ritual cleansing, and so paving a way for the future. In September 1980, Bowie revealed his thinking to NME: “The sub-text of Ashes To Ashes is quite obviously the nursery rhyme appeal of it and for me it’s a story of corruption. When I originally wrote about Major Tom I thought I knew all about the great American dream and where it started and where it should stop. [Now] the whole process that got him up there had decayed and he wishes to return to the nice, round womb, the earth, from whence he started. It really is an ode to childhood, if you like, a popular nursery rhyme.”
Years later, Bowie told author Nicholas Pegg that with Ashes to Ashes he was “wrapping up the Seventies really” for himself, which “seemed a good enough epitaph”. On Bowie’s death his lifelong friend George Underwood called him an emotional, passionate person: “He had created this fierce storm, but he was the only one in it.” Take your pick.
+++ ◼ A SURPRISING NEW CACHE of photographs of the Blitz Club in colour has been discovered from the spring of 1980 when TIME magazine asked British photographer Terry Smith to turn his lens on the nightlife posers at Covent Garden’s Blitz Club. They were to become feted as the New Romantics.
Tuesdays at the Blitz were 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 deejay 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 deejay Princess Julia) and later by George O’Dowd (known 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…
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MORE INTERESTING THAN MOST PEOPLE’S FANTASIES — THE SWINGING EIGHTIES 1978-1984
They didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did.
“I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real” — Stephen Jones, hatmaker, 1983. (Illustration courtesy Iain R Webb, 1983)
“The truth about those Blitz club people was more interesting than most people’s fantasies” — Steve Dagger, pop group manager, 1983
“See David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapers of the 80s to which I am hugely indebted” – Political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
“The (velvet) goldmine that is Shapers of the 80s” – Verdict of Chris O’Leary, respected author and blogger who analyses Bowie song by song at Pushing Ahead of the Dame
“The rather brilliant Shapers of the 80s website” – Dylan Jones in his Sweet Dreams paperback, 2021
A UNIQUE HISTORY
➢ WELCOME to the Swinging 80s ➢ THE BLOG POSTS on this front page report topical updates ➢ ROLL OVER THE MENU at page top to go deeper into the past ➢ FOR NEWS & MONTH BY MONTH SEARCH scroll down this sidebar
❏ Header artwork by Kat Starchild shows Blitz Kids Darla Jane Gilroy, Elise Brazier, Judi Frankland and Steve Strange, with David Bowie at centre in his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes
VINCENT ON AIR 2022
✱ Deejay legend Robbie Vincent returned to JazzFM on Sundays 1-3pm in 2021… Catch Robbie’s JazzFM August Bank Holiday 2020 session thanks to AhhhhhSoul with four hours of “nothing but essential rhythms of soul, jazz and funk”.
SEARCH our 800 posts or ZOOM DOWN TO THE ARCHIVE INDEX
UNTOLD BLITZ STORIES
✱ If you thought there was no more to know about the birth of Blitz culture in 1980 then get your hands on a sensational book by an obsessive music fan called David Barrat. It is gripping, original and epic – a spooky tale of coincidence and parallel lives as mind-tingling as a Sherlock Holmes yarn. Titled both New Romantics Who Never Were and The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet! Sample this initial taster here at Shapers of the 80s
CHEWING THE FAT
✱ Jawing at Soho Radio on the 80s clubland revolution (from 32 mins) and on art (@55 mins) is probably the most influential shaper of the 80s, former Wag-club director Chris Sullivan (pictured) with editor of this website David Johnson
LANDMARK FAREWELLS. . . HIT THE INDEX TAB UP TOP FOR EVERYTHING ELSE
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