On 13 July 1985 the world tuned in to Live Aid. Well, everyone that is except photographer David Hiscock, make-up artist William Faulkner and a handful of models handpicked for their weird and wonderful looks. At the time I was fashion editor of BLITZ magazine and we were shooting a story devoted to beauty that was outside the norm, prompted by a tirade of abuse by Fleet Street’s finest fash hags. I was intent on celebrating difference before diversity became a legal requirement.
This portfolio of pictures – two page portraits for each model – was shot entirely in black and white to further emphasise the realness of the images and distance it from the glossy ideal of what constituted glamour. The fashion featured was tailored to the sitter so there was Claudia Brücken, lead singer with Propaganda and one-time squeeze of Paul Morley, in a column of faux Fortuny pleats and a haze of shadowy chiffon (in my eyes she looked very Augusta Bracknell meets Agatha Christie). Amanda Cazalet, whose trip from Kings Cross squatter to snogging Madonna (she’s the one with the pencilled ‘tache in the Justify My Love video) was the stuff of dreams, wore a Mark & Syrie babydoll number while Chris Hall models a suit made from carpet. And Barry Kamen (illustrator and BLITZ poster boy) posed in piss-yellow rubber shirt worn under Laurence Corner dungarees and a classic sweater and pants combo. I guess the styling was as disparate as the line-up and confirmed the fundamental ethos of the sitting – it’s good to be different.
But there was one picture that has continued to inspire me over the years and still resonates. The featured model was Scarlett Cannon, the Queen of the Night who could show you the door at the Cha-Cha bar (round the back at Heaven) with just one look. Ah, but what a look. With her peroxide white hair shaved to Grace Jones perfection and a profile almost as flat as her reflection in the mirror she was magnificent!
For one picture I dressed her in a tweed two-piece, flat lace-ups and lashings of gold chain necklaces – like some maniacal Miss Marple – but it was the other photograph that was to traverse the years. Equally incongruously I chose to drape her in a Hermes headscarf, the ultimate symbol of Sloanedom, and not just one but two scarves knotted solidly on the chin just like the ladies on the Kings Road. As Queen drew applause at Wembley, so Scarlett became a modern day, freaky approximation of Her Majesty. To make the picture even more bizarre William not only painted on building block eyebrows (the ultimate beauty story of that year) but also blocked out her mouth. The effect was disconcerting yet defiantly beautiful. It was Horse and Hounds for the club kids; the combination of this thoroughbred label and totally barking styling sent chills through me, even though we were perched on a fire escape in the baking afternoon sun on one of the hottest days of the year.
My love affair with Hermes was sealed when I met Eric Bergère, the young designer who had been brought in to dust down the luxury label. Everything about the house reeked of tradition, yet this only enhanced its appeal in our eyes. It was establishment, bourgeois and breathtakingly expensive. Time and time again, with the complicity of the everso polished PR Sally Stevens, I returned to the label. I dragged hot new designer Stephen Linard – himself a huge fan – to a customer catwalk presentation at Claridges so that he might write a review of the show. He loved every moment. I dressed Corinne Day (before she picked up a camera and poked it into Kate’s face) in a scarf print silk shirt and Martin Hirigoyen and Michael Rathbone in a pair of Pink Soda rip-off Hermes shorts (run-up by my steadfast and super-talented assistant Darryl Black) with another scarf worn Deerhunter-style around their foreheads. For another fashion story a model dressed head-to-toe in bonafide Hermes appeared to be living on the streets – the ultimate bag lady. Wearing dark glasses and a riotous rainbow patterned shirt she held a cardboard sign onto which was scrawled in chalk: Je ne distingue pas les couleurs’. On the wall behind her we spray-canned the horse and trap logo – a make-shift stencil made from one of the famous orange shopping bags – emulating the graffiti we had seen on the streets in Paris.
It was all so exciting and even more so when we discovered that our rather left-field efforts did not go unnoticed by le top chien at Hermes. Sally took delight in telling me that the photograph of Scarlett took pride of place in the boardroom. It was this desire to embrace change that turned the tired luxury label into something lusted after by the young funsters. Eric Bergère and his mauve ostrich leather suits fastened with handbag buckles and his fabulous fur tracksuit (are you listening Kanye?) were just the beginning. Who could have predicted that Martin Margiela, fashion’s most famous forward thinker and hip hermit, would later be picked for the high-profile creative director role at the label.
But I digress.
When I finally came to shape, As seen in BLITZ – Fashioning ‘80s Style, the book of the magazine, I knew that I must have Scarlett and her headscarves on the cover. The image represented everything that the era and my efforts on the fashion pages stood for. I am happy to say that it still appears brazenly avant-garde. But most of all I love how photographer David Hiscock, who was a novice in the dark room, chose to shadow the background by simply drawing a pencil line around Scarlett’s head and shading it in by hand.
For the book launch that coincided with the exhibition, We’re Not Here To Sell Clothes, at the ICA earlier in the year I made the decision, very late in the day, that we would offer a freebie canvas tote bag for people purchasing the book. My editor Matthew Freedman and I put our heads together before getting the bags run up and screen-printed by hand by a fabulous eco-friendly company called I Dress Myself. The final touch: I scrawled the BLITZ logo in red felt pen onto each bag.
When Paul Smith asked if I would like to curate an exhibition dedicated to my BLITZ fashion pages I was eager to keep the narrative moving forward rather than just looking back with dewy-eyed nostalgia. So along with the collection of original prints, Polaroids and contacts and blow-up Xerox collages featured in You’re Ugly And Your Mother Dresses You Funny, it seemed only natural to create our own silk head square in honour of the Hermes original. So I went about sketching out a few ideas in biro and sticking more photocopies together on the floor, adding some felt penned stars to create a halo effect that seemed appropriate for an ‘80s style icon. I wanted the credits for the image printed around the edge of the scarf and these were typed on my old Olivetti 35 manual portable typewriter that I had been given by my mum and dad for my sixteenth birthday. The scarf also features the words, ‘for every little misfit and vagabond’, inspired by an interview with Amanda Cazalet.
The talented team at Paul Smith then made real my rough design. It was then I thought that we should take the opportunity to photograph Scarlett once more, this time wearing the neo-Hermes head square featuring the images of herself wearing the Hermes head square. As David Hiscock was sadly ensconced in Asia creating ginormous sculptures I asked Pete Moss, another trusty BLITZ collaborator, to do the honours. With David’s blessing we set up a photo shoot, also corralling another old mucker, make-up artist Louise Constad along with hairstylist Stephen Hamilton.
And what a fabulous day we had at Waddington Studios in North London. And what a fabulous portrait of Scarlett Cannon emerged. I think the new photograph, titled I Wanted To Look Like A Black & White Photograph, is as equally stylish and defiant as the original in it’s definition of beauty, with Scarlett exuding the attitude of a grand Duchess (as seen in Tatler c.1985) and the poise of a sitter worthy of Horst or Penn. And still the square beauty spot. Some things need never change…
SCARLETT 100% silk souvenir head square by Iain R Webb for Paul Smith, £99, and limited edition prints (x 10) by Pete Moss, £900 (unframed) are available in store for the duration of the exhibition.
YOU’RE UGLY AND YOUR MOTHER DRESSES YOU FUNNY at Paul Smith, 9 Albemarle Street, W1 runs until 13th December.