newport international group fashion review, Eighties fashion: Remember the pioneering self-expression, not the leg warmers
There was more to the 1980s than neon leg warmers: a new book about fashion magazine Blitz argues it sparked vibrant self-expression. It’s hard to believe three decades have passed since the punks and New Romantics defined London’s cultural identity. Flamboyant, shocking and political, the subversive stylings of clubbers from hedonistic havens such as Heaven, Blitz, Kinky Gerlinky and Taboo are now synonymous with a period of originality, glamour and shock value. This is when dressing up was the ultimate form of self-expression, cost or label be damned. At the heart of this movement, a triumvirate of style bibles – The Face, I-D and Blitz – collectively defined what was fashionable at the time. Now, the last is being celebrated in a new book, As Seen In Blitz: Fashioning ’80s Style.
As fashion director of Blitz from 1982 to 1987, writer Iain R Webb was the perfect candidate to plunder the archives. A lavish compendium of editorials he orchestrated during his time there, As Seen In Blitz eschews the format of a traditional coffee table book in accordance with the ethos of the magazine. ‘Blitz was intended to cover a broader spectrum – arts, music, film, TV, even a bit of politics,’ says Webb. ‘This sense of diversity was reflected on my fashion pages. I was happy to feature Jean Muir next to avant-garde poster boy Jean Paul Gaultier, along with friends – Bodymap, Stephen Linard and Leigh Bowery – who were just starting out. ‘I used whatever clothes were needed to make the story. A lot of things featured came from charity shops or we knocked them up on a sewing machine. Looking back, I realise my fashion stories were an artistic construct rather than about selling clothes or a desire to be trendy by wearing the right thing.’ As well as the vintage editorials, As Seen In Blitz features contributions from creatives who used the pages of the magazine (which ran from 1980 to 1991) as a launchpad to the positions they now hold as some of the most prominent figures in fashion. With names such as Gaultier, Stephen Jones, Calvin Klein, John Galliano, Marc Jacobs, Nick Knight, Pam Hogg and Vivienne Westwood, the list of contributors is testament to the regard in which Blitz is still held.
‘As model Amanda Cazalet notes in the book, Blitz was a home for misfits and vagabonds,’ says Webb. ‘We all lived on the outskirts of society and found strength and sustenance by coming together. We joined forces, encouraging each other and sharing ideas.’ ‘Because there was little or no money involved, everyone was doing it for the same reason with the same aim. The magazine gave us a stage on which to present our version of the world, an alternative way of looking at fashion. We shared a vision and worked together to put that on the pages. ‘It wasn’t always easy but I think it’s fair to say that everyone felt the end result would be worth the effort. I’m so thrilled my fellow collaborators enjoyed the process. I know I did. They were crazy times.’ Though the images in the book are 30 years old, it’s remarkable how much of a reference point they continue to provide to designers, stylists and photographers today. Though often maligned for the sartorial disasters it spawned, the 1980s continues to be one of the most influential periods for fashion. ‘A huge variety of looks collided and coexisted during this period,’ says Webb. ‘The emphasis was on personal style and what you wore was more likely influenced by an old movie or new lover than a picture in a magazine. This is a very seductive proposition for a generation that has grown up on a diet of fast fashion and cool branding.