Saturday 12th December

| BY 10 Magazine

Ten Interviews: Judy Blame

Judy Blame

You have to go underground to see Judy Blame – literally. His studio is in a basement bunker hunkered under London’s Kingsland Road, filled with weird and wonderful constructions – bits of cornice, safety pins by the million, general debris, all stuff Blame artfully weaves together to create jewellery and accessory pieces, which he may then himself be involved, once more, in styling on people. People such as Neneh Cherry and Björk, both of whom Blame has worked with on album-cover art. There are a couple of Louis Vuitton buttons rolling around, because Blame created jewellery for designer Kim Jones’s menswear, most recently for Jones’s homage to Christopher Nemeth and the House of Beauty and Culture. Blame was directly involved in that original back in the 1980s.

Alexander Fury: “My favourite general question to start with is this – I wondered when you became interested in fashion.”

Judy Blame: “Well, my mother always used to say that I always had something to say about her outfit. From really young. Things like, ‘Oh, not those shoes with that’ or, ‘Can I paint your nails?’ So I always was. I don’t remember that, but she did. And then the first time I really recognised the impact of it, I grew up in Spain, and one summer a distant cousin of ours came to stay and it was Spain in the 1960s, so it was a bit conservative. And she arrived in – must have been ’66, ’67 – she arrived in the Spanish village where we were… in a miniskirt. And that caused a revolution! I mean, all the blokes and the women were shocked. From her arriving, I was like, ‘Blimey’ – I loved the fact that it caused such a lot of trouble. I’ve always been on that side of it, of causing a reaction with the way that you look. And I never looked back after punk rock.”

AF: “I guess as well it’s the idea of being able to do it immediately, having an immediate impact. Before you even open your mouth you had something to say.”

JB: “I’ve always had this thing. I’ve always loved drawing or making things, and obviously the punk thing was perfect for me. We just used to do it ourselves. Such as ripped T-shirts – I liked that physically making an outfit or ripping an old one apart to make a new one. That aesthetic. I’d say that punk was my going to fashion college without going to college.”

AF: “Did you first go to Manchester, rather than London, as a teenager?”

JB: “Well, I came to London. I literally saved up money from my parents and came to London. I knew someone where I could stay and naïvely thought all these people you’d seen in the papers and you would just go to a gig and you’d immediately meet all the friends that you wanted. Well, it wasn’t like that. London was a bit snotty. Rude. I had saved 300 quid and the second day I did go to Vivienne’s shop and bought me bondage trousers and Destroy T-shirt and me ‘tits’ muslin. And that, I suppose, is the first fashion that I came into contact with. The staff in there… Vivienne ended up selling it to make it, all the other staff couldn’t be bothered! I didn’t find London friendly. I was very green, I was only 17 and the only other place I knew anyone was Manchester, so I got the train to Manchester and it had its own scene going on, so immediately I did meet people. I just seemed to be in the right spot, with Buzzcocks and Factory – the first Factory was starting up; it was all that era, and all the London bands who used to come to Manchester, and they weren’t so pissy in Manchester. Well, they’re much friendlier up north anyway, let’s face it. It was a bit more art based than fashion based, as well – I met Malcolm Garrett and he was at college with Peter Saville… I was teaching myself. I never knew about Bauhaus or anything like that. So the whole time I was sucking in information about art, fashion. I loved my time in Manchester, it was such a good time.”

AF: “How long were you up there for?”

JB: “About 18 months. I went up at the end of ’77.”

AF: “So, through to the start of ’79?”

JB: “Maybe the end of ’78. When Malcolm moved down, he went, ‘Look, I’m moving down, pack your bag in the back of the van and come with me.’ So I came with him.”

AF: “Had you already, at that point, started making pieces, making jewellery?”

JB: “No, apart from on meself to go out. It was very much on me. We were all signing on and doing whatever we could. My first job really was life model ’cause it didn’t matter what colour your hair was – you just have to take your kit off and sit there, and the Manchester students used to draw you. There are probably 100 very dodgy drawings of me in the bath somewhere in Manchester! Jewellery didn’t start until we came to London and I had few funny odd jobs and then I lied my way onto magazine production, which was in Covent Garden. ’Cause, during that time in Covent Garden, PX had just opened up, so I first met [Princess] Julia and Stephen [Jones] – all those people – and then the Blitz started. Malcolm was working for Radar Records, which used to be behind the Blitz, so that Covent Garden-y night club-y thing, that’s when I first started really thinking about making things. And then from going to clubs and stuff you’d meet people who’d go, ‘Oh I want one.’ I wasn’t trained in anything, we were just doing it really. So it was more like the new romantics when I actually started.”

AF: “I always think new romantic was quite a good term for it, because it was quite romantic, it was sort of historical and it was soft, a little bit softer than punk.” 

JB: “A lot of those people were actually from the punk thing, but the whole thing everyone hated about punk is it became very football terrace, very quickly. It was only a small group of people really, if you think back on it. It was probably 1,500 in London, 600 in Manchester, 400 in Liverpool, 300 in Glasgow of the original troublemakers. I always loved the quote Johnny Rotten did – he said the minute the black leather jacket came in, it died. Because then all you needed was a studded black leather jacket. The originality had gone out a bit.”

AF: “Kind of a uniform?”

JB: “That’s when the new romantics started, because we didn’t want to be the same. I mean, no one looked like Julia – she was my favourite. Julia was like the Jordan of the new romantics. So we all used to idolise Julia – well, we still do – but it was more about being… different.”

AF: “Is it true that your introduction to fashion was Antony Price and the Camden Palace show? Your first catwalk show?”

JB: “That was the first catwalk I ever did. I was making jewellery and I was selling it to Susanne Bartsch in New York; she had a funny little shop in New York. Michael and Gerlinde Costiff used to scout for her. And at the same time, just after Blitz, Heaven started, which was the first big gay club, and we used to work as coat-check boys there. I met Antony there and I had a funny little book – I’ve got it somewhere, I found it the other day – with Polaroids, and Antony said, ‘Oh, apparently you’re making jewellery’, and I went ‘Oh yeah.’ I got my little Polaroid book out and he just laughed at it, every time he turned a page. I was getting really annoyed with him. Then he closed the book and said, ‘I’ve got a show coming up and you’re doing the jewellery.’ I mean, they were all made out of bits of string – it was not Antony’s aesthetic at all, really. But he must have seen something in it. I ended up making all these mad things out of seashells and washing line, even.”

AF: “So, was it after Antony that you then started to work with Ray Petri and Buffalo, or was that much later?”

JB: “No, there would have been a bit more of a gap. That’s when all the new romantic people… we were all finding our position.”

AF: “Around ’83-’84.”

JB: “Heaven had become quite a scene for people, especially if you were gay, but a lot of the girls used to come down on certain nights and people started gigging a bit – Culture Club, Divine used to come over and do mad nightclub-y performances. Stephen Jones was really like the first one to really make it big through PX, of the Saint Martins lot.”

AF: “Because then he went and did Gaultier and started doing all that stuff in Paris.”

JB: “Stephen, I’d say, was the first one who really took off, because it was different what he was doing, and then behind that there were the Body Maps, so many great people. You know, we all used to laugh at George when he was sitting in his room, writing songs, saying, ‘I’m gonna be a huge star.’ We were like, ‘Yeah, right.’ A year and a half later, he was the biggest thing ever. Whoops! People like John Maybury, it was great. Broke as hell, but we always looked amazing, I seem to remember.”

AF: “Then Buffalo came through The Face… ”

JB: “Yeah, The Face and then Terry [Jones]. Purely by chance, Camilla Nickerson was doing a story for Tatler and it was about young, up-and-coming people. Mark Lebon took my portrait. We just got on and we ended up seeing each other socially, and then I met Ray [Petri]. Yeah, I met Ray first, then I met Neneh [Cherry]. Ray – I didn’t know he was gay when I first met him, he didn’t really push that side of it, really. He was just cool, but most of the people he hung around with were the straight lot, and I only really been hanging out with the gays and the nightclub people. It was the first time I started meeting a different set of people – Ray, people like Mark, Tom Dixon, that kind of Funkapolitan era – and I just clicked with Ray. I thought he was fantastic, what he was doing. And because we did have The Face and i-D, we could actually take it somewhere.

AF: “Having lived through that and being such a key part to all that, what was going on, how do you feel now about fashion reviving it?”

JB: “I can be a little bit bitchy about it sometimes, because it worries me. I joke a bit now that everyone calls themselves an art director or a stylist, or that designers do it from a mood board, they’re not doing it with a piece of fabric on a pattern-cutting table. When you watch people like Antony Price or Azzedine Alaïa construct a dress, you know they’re physically doing it. It worries me that everyone takes their reference from the surface and they don’t go below it.”

AF: “Having come from that culture of people trying to look unique, when you see what people wear today, do you generally see it as more conservative? Do you think people all want to fit in? Could there be another rebellion?”

JB: “I always live for the revolution – you always hope it’s going to come, don’t you? Can’t really time it. The things I went through, like punk, new romantics… it just happens, I think. It is quite conservative now, but there are always troublemakers. Even if it’s on a really small level.”

Text by Alexander Fury, fashion editor of The Independent, The Independent on Sunday and i

Taken from Issue 42 of 10 Men, on newsstands now… 

Photographer: Maria Ziegelbock
Fashion Editor: Judy Blame
Sittings Editor: Will Johns
Grooming: Paul Donovan
Talent: Judy Blame