BEDTIME STORIES

BEDTIME STORIES

As part of the promotional campaign for my new book, As seen in BLITZ – Fashioning ‘80s Style (ACC Editions), late last night, well passed my bedtime, I was persuaded to take part in a discussion on BBC Radio 5 live. The subject was the effect of Margaret Thatcher’s administration on ‘80s pop culture. Along with the host Tony Livesey there were three music biz experts who ruminated the passing of the protest song and Wham versus The Blow Monkeys. I was obviously invited along for the fashion ride and was asked by Mr Livesey to offer my observations on the decade’s style moments. So I shared some thoughts: how, leaving St Martin’s School of Art at the dawn of the decade, I was part of a group of creative souls who lived on the edges of society. We had nothing, so we had nothing to lose. The new style magazines (BLITZ, The Face and i-D) that all launched in 1980, gave us a stage on which to present a version of the world that better reflected the one we inhabited, an alternative to shoulder pads and Power Dressing. A world that was fashioned with a diverse mix of looks, individually constructed with finds from charity shops, jumble sales and friends wardrobes more than designer labels. I quoted model Amanda Cazalet, who, pre-Eurostar, would commute from her home in a squat in Euston to go parade on the catwalk of Jean Paul Gaultier in Paris: “BLITZ magazine was a home for misfits and vagabonds.” I recalled how my co-conspirators and I took delight in subverting the imagery of the conservative (with a small c) establishment – the cover of the book featuring the wonderful Scarlett Cannon with cubist eyebrows, lipstick and beauty spot, wearing Hermes headscarves (the uniform of the Sloane Ranger), knotted firmly on her equally cubist chin. There then ensued a bit of a Mrs Merton-style ‘Let’s have a heated debate’ among the music lovers – could Mrs Thatcher really be held responsible for Simon Cowell’s production line of pop tarts? And then just as quickly as it had begun (coming off the back of the football news – who knew?), the host was alerting one of the speakers that with only a minute left of the segment could he make his point pretty pronto. And so, with my bedtime book (Gore Vidal’s Armageddon? Essays 1983-1987) calling my name, it was all over bar the credits, thank you and goodnight. Or so I thought. In the final seconds Mr Livesey directly posed me one last question: For which fashion image will the 1980s best be remembered? Blimey! With heart beating like the Countdown clock my brain tick-tocked and I blurted out something about it being the decade that was all about expressing ourselves so maybe, “Madonna in her trouser suit and face-full of make-up”. A face-full of make-up? Where did that come from? In my head I could see the ambitious blond in the provocative double-breasted suit and brassiere ensemble that threatened the downfall of civilisation as we knew it, as featured in the dark, doomy Express Yourself video (I could also see hunky model Cameron and that delightful black cat), but my brain and lips just could not connect to communicate this iconic look in its entirety. But, hey, it’s not such a bad combination to convey the era that gave us gender benders, the stylist and The Iron Lady. Alternatively, I guess I could have proffered the picture of Barking-born singer-songwriter Billy Bragg and his favourite battered brown shoes, but that’s another story (see page 9, As seen in BLITZ – Fashioning’80s Style)…

Still from Express Yourself video, Madonna, 1989

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