I wish I could attend the funeral of dear Steve Strange today but I have to be in London nurturing a new generation of bright young things at Central Saint Martins. I will endeavour to ensure that Steve’s legacy lives on: “I’d like to feel that we’re doing something new all the time.”
Here is a story I wrote about our 1980s nightclubbing days (or rather nights) and a link to the obit I was asked to write for The Observer. I will never forget the party for Steve’s 21st birthday that he hosted on the Circle Line.
I am sure Steve will be looking down on all his friends and family today, still done up to the nines.
NIGHTCLUBBING, WE’RE NIGHTCLUBBING…
For me the 1980s began in 1978 when I first stumbled across Steve Strange in Covent Garden. I was a fashion student at St. Martin’s School of Art and he was working as shop assistant at PX, the hip boutique housed in an industrial lock-up. Along with a host of other fashion freaks such as hatters Stephen Jones, Paul Bernstock and Thelma Speirs and designers Fiona Dealey (who created Sade’s iconic V-back dress) and Gregory Davis (of Hyper Hyper fame), we were already hiding out at the same gay clubs – Bang, Sombrero and The Embassy. Our penchant for Max Factor make-up and hybrid post-punk meets glam style (Antony Price’s Plaza zipper T-shirt, plastic peg-top Fiorucci trousers and Mary Jane shoes) meant few other establishments would let us in. So we shamelessly danced ourselves dizzy under mirror balls, on light-up dance floors to Patrick Juvet’s I Love America and Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), while watching our every move in wall-to-wall mirrors.
And so it was that one afternoon Strange announced he was going to front a ‘Bowie Night’ at Billy’s in Soho. On opening night the place was packed with a hardcore of contenders and young pretenders. Everyone knew everyone and the evening’s entertainment focused on ‘the look’. Boys dripping diamanté posed with girls who looked like cabin crew on the first space shuttle to Mars. For a moment it was as if the world was diagonally slung, from Strange’s Flash Gordon drag to the satin sashes and strings of pearls worn by would-be Little Prince’s after Kenzo Takada’s Jap. This was a look I favoured, along with another bottle blond, Jasper Conran.
At Billy’s the audience was the show. To misquote Iggy Pop, we were what was happening. It wasn’t long before the party grew too big and Strange decamped to the Blitz club where, to an inspired soundtrack by DJ Rusty Egan that mixed Mahler’s Adagietto from Death In Venice and Computer Games by the Yellow Magic Orchestra with Warm Leatherette by The Normal and lashings of Bowie and Roxy Music, we did a brand new future-retro dance that was a weird kind of robotic jive.
The Blitz became the spiritual home for a new breed of aesthetes who were heartfelt in their theatricality. We were true romantics dubbed New Romantics by the press, desperate to categorise this disparate bunch of individuals. We were dreamy visionaries, wannabe designers, photographers, writers, filmmakers and artists, many dressed in muslin shrouds designed by David Holah (who with Stevie Stewart became fashion label Bodymap) and wore deathly pale faces painted by Lesley Chilkes (who transformed into Vogue make-up artist extraordinaire). We were the bastard children of Jean Cocteau and John Waters and included filmmakers John Maybury and Baillie Walsh, artists Cerith Wyn Evans, Christos Tolera and Grayson Perry, fashion designers Stephen Linard, Melissa Caplan (who dressed Toyah and Spandau Ballet), Judith Franklin, Pam Hogg and Willy Brown. There were also the older 1970s trailblazers including Duggie Fields, Andrew Logan, Zandra Rhodes and Derek Jarman, whose influence and inspiration cannot be overestimated.
During the 1980s we took refuge at endless one-night-stand venues. We planned our week around them, going to at least three each night, always ending up at a glitzy private club or seedy illegal drinking den. The combination of the two worlds was thrilling. We would travel from one side of London to the other to do the clubs. These included Heaven and Hell, Maunkberry’s, Le Kilt, St Moritz, Le Beat Route, Club For Heroes, Adams, Copacabana, The Wag, Scandals, Daisy Chain, Dirtbox, White Trash, The Mud Club, Pink Panther and Taboo among them. In Paris there was Le Bains Douches, Club Sept and Le Palace and in New York, The Saint, Area, Limelight, Palladium, Tunnel, Danceteria and Nell’s.
But nightclubbing was not just an after dark affair. Hours were spent working out what to wear: a favourite black vinyl donkey jacket, half-mast jeans and Deerhunter headband (the accessory du jour) or tuxedo and bondage pants? Pirate shirts came and went, as did a pair of electric blue conical heeled court shoes (a bugger at 3.00am when you are trying to get a taxi up the Aldwych). Looks were eclectic. The scene celebrated diversity and subverted iconic imagery, so that could mean dressing as a Catholic Priest or a Leather Queen. We did not want to label ourselves with our clothes. On any night you could find a tear-painted Pierrot supping Snakebite with a beatnik, Little Bo Peep (a secretary called Theresa aka. Pinkietessa) dancing, crook in hand, with a butch biker or a nun – ok, Boy George.
We were cultured clubbers who wished to challenge the status quo and explore ideals of glamour, sexuality and taste. Our lack of wherewithal (most were unemployed, art students or both) forced us to be creative. We had nothing, so we had nothing to lose. Experimentation was the order of the day and the mantra of the night. At the Cha-Cha club, situated up a back alley at Heaven discotheque, jewellery designer Judy Blame launched his career modeling his gigantic necklaces made from odds and sods he scavenged along the Thames riverbank. As times got harder Jeremy Healey and Kate Garner of Haysi Fantayzee dressed as Dickensian urchins (Hobo hats and trousers tied with string) while Rachel Auburn stitched together a secondhand Bag Lady look.
The new slew of style magazines that documented the decade – BLITZ (no relation), The Face and i-D – were an extension of the club scene. Many a fashion story was dreamed up on a banquette in a nightclub. It was an incredibly imaginative and supportive milieu and we were constantly collaborating on different projects, be it a fashion show, a film or a photo shoot. When I became fashion editor of BLITZ magazine it was only natural that my friends would figure, so Scarlett Cannon modeled Blame’s jewellery, Princess Julia did make-up (and modeled along with Garner), Bodmap and Auburn lent clothes and Stephen Jones and Bernstock Speirs made some hats. And still we danced…
Picture of Steve in PX, 1978, styled by me for a college project.
Photograph by Holly Warburton.