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Style High Club meets – Steve Strange

Steve Strange

Steve Strange

Steve Strange

The latest fashion exhibition at London’s V&A Museum – Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s – has rightfully put the spotlight back at a decade many dismiss as an era fashion forgot. Yet, just a quick glimpse at some of the outfits pictured on the V&A website and you’ll know why the 80s made such a lasting impact in London: New Romantic, Goth, Club Kids, High Camp – never again has subcultural style had such a direct impact on high fashion, including designers like Betty Jackson, Katharine Hamnett, Wendy Dagworthy and John Galliano.

Imagine my excitement then when I was offered to talk to one of the decade’s most influential style makers, Steve Strange. From his punk roots working for Malcom McLaren to hosting legendary club nights at Blitz and the Camden Palace, to forming 80s band Visage (their latest album Shameless Fashion has just come out), Strange has been at the epicentre of the 80s club scene.

Steve, have you had a chance to see the exhibition yet?

Steve Strange: “Yes I have! It’s such an important exhibition. People sometimes think it was all a bit of freak show but it wasn’t. We mixed classic styles with really creative elements, often home-made. It all had substance though, so many people who went to the clubs were artists, musicians, it was about expressing ourselves, a comment on London, even Thatcher if you like.”

Looking back, what was your favourite ever outfit? 

Steve Strange: “It would be a Galliano and it would be from his degree show at St Martin’s School of Fashion, based on the French revolution, customized with a Steven Jones hat. It’s a Galliano with a ‘Jones a la Strange’ twist!

Do you still have any of the outfits you wore to the clubs or to perform?

Steve Strange: “No, sadly I lost everything in a house fire in the late 90s, I was devastated!”

Do you think a subculture like the 80s club scene can ever happen again given that fashion-wise nothing seems to be new anymore?

Steve Strange: “Fashion has always looked back towards history. The only designers that have been on the cutting edge have been those deconstruction fashion – trousers worn inside out, or made to look inside out –  the methodology favoured by a young up and coming designer from Antwerp who dressed Visage on a few occasions, Frederic Jaquemann. Generally most of the big designers have always looked back and got their inspiration from history books.”

Back in the 80s, did you have a very strict door policy in your clubs?

Steve Strange: “I was noted for being the strictest door whore in clubland. People were very bored with the way punk had become mainstream – with the Mirror and the Sun telling people how to rip their clothes and safety pin them back together. I was part of the Bromley contingent, the original group, and we were supporters of the Sex Pistols long before they outraged the nation!

They swore and called Bill Grundy a pervert and it got so many complaints that the national press called them ‘Britain’s most filthy loudmouthed band’, but we’d been following them for a good three to four months before this. I was working for Glen Matlock, he saw my portfolio in South Wales, and sensed generally that I wanted to get out of this small town ASAP. He offered me a job working for Malcolm McLaren. He and the Pistols were doing the Anarchy in the UK tour and after the Bill Grundy incident, most of the venues cancelled!

I felt like I was definitely Vivienne Westwood’s muse for a bit and she gave me a job in SEX selling early bondage trousers, loads of stuff like that, and it really gave me so much inspiration for my own designs.

After the punk thing went sour, me and my partner were looking for a venue for really creative people, and we found our first club. The club got us known for playing great music –  we were really getting into electronic things – and that’s kind of where Visage came in. We needed more electronic stuff to play and so we headed into the EMI studios and made some! We recorded four tracks and played them in the club.

Eventually we moved from Billy’s to the Blitz Club. The owner there let us even turn members away if they weren’t thinking in the same way as what we wanted for the patrons of our club. One night, I remember there was a guy who was from head to toe half white, half black and wearing flippers. I pulled out a mirror and just said ‘look at yourself’.

It was very much ‘club to catwalk’, and we had to make people think about what they were wearing, and make them be creative about it!

The press tried calling us loads of stuff, including the ‘Blitz Kids, even tried to refer to us as a nameless movement for a bit, but the reason I think the name ‘New Romantics’ stuck was that the clothing we were wearing was taken from history books, and we were basing our outfits on characters from novels: big ruffle shirts and cloaks and girls in bustles and little Victorian boots, so definitely harking back to the romantic era.”

Was there ever a point when you became aware that punk started changing into something different like New romantics/Club Kids?

Steve Strange: “Yes, I’m a huge Siouxsie fan and sometimes at their gigs the British Movement and the National Front started to be introduced into that scene. When the skinheads – who were out for a fight – started getting involved, it started making the scene really ugly and that’s when we started realising we wanted out. I think Siouxsie wanted to distance herself from that movement too. It had swerved off from anything we really wanted it to be.”

Club to Catwalk is on until 16 February 2014.

Culture places I've travelled to Style High meets... Vintage

New exhibition – Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki


I don’t think I need to particularly detail my love for Biba, as I’ve mentioned it so many times before. To me it’s the best label ever. End of. Which is why the new exhibition Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki at the Brighton Museum is simply amazing. Packed full of Biba memorabilia and fashion as well as some of Barbara’s later designs, this is an excellent round up of the work of one of the world’s best designers, but also an incredible visual feast of fantastic Sixties and Seventies fashion.

Going back to the very beginning of her career – when a teenage Barbara won a swimsuit design contest – the exhibition details the rise of Biba from a small mail order business to a giant Art Deco department store in Kensington. The pieces on display are simply stunning and show off Biba’s radical look to perfection.

Many pieces are also accompanied by little stories and personal notes of their owners, I loved the two-piece suit one lady chose to wear to her wedding (pictured).

I had my own little fan girl moment too, when Barbara took some time to chat to us. She was utterly lovely. Sigh. Biba forever!

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Style High meets... Vintage

Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki



I might have mentioned it a few (hundred) times, but my favourite fashion label of all times is the inimitable Biba. Much to my delight there is an upcoming exhibition about all things Biba –  Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki 22 September 2012 – 14 April 2013 at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

The exhibition begins with Biba designer Barbara Hulanicki’s early success with her fashion designs for mail order and the creation and establishment of the Biba brand with her husband Fitz. It shows how Biba’s phenomenal success changed the face of UK fashion through the shops on Abingdon Road, Church Street, Kensington High Street, and the final, glamorous Big Biba in the former Derry & Toms Art Deco department store.

The exhibition also brings to life the unique environments of these stores that complemented the Biba clothes, and looks beyond Biba at Barbara’s other successful careers in fashion illustration and design, interior design and architecture.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be asked if I wanted to ask Barbara a question, which she would then answer on camera. You can see the little clip (I’ve played it dozens of times while squealing a little) as well as a preview of the amazing garments that will be on show. Bring on September!


Culture Style High meets... Vintage

Style High Club meets: Sarah Kennedy – author of Vintage Style

Grace Slick

Last week I reviewed new book Vintage Style: Iconic Fashion Looks And How To Get Them. I’ve since caught up with author Sarah Kennedy to chat about her favourite style icons and the sad rise of what she calls ‘bimbo Bardot look’

Style High Club: So how did you manage to narrow it down to 25 style icons?
Sarah Kennedy
: I personally love the less obvious ones like Grace Slick or Francoise Hardy so I knew I wanted to include them. Then there are the classics who just had to be in it like Marilyn or Brigitte Bardot.

Sadly a lot of these classic looks have been really watered down and almost ‘bastardised’. You know all these girls with blonde hair extensions and huge fake eye lashes think they look like Bardot when they really don’t at all.

Did you have to leave anyone out?
I really wanted to include a more gothic, Victorian look like Jasmine Guinness or Helena Bonham Carter. I also thought about Chloe Sevigny’s kookie, retro late 90s look.

How did you get into vintage?
I’ve always been interested in fashion and worked as a writer on fashion magazines. I’ve also always worn vintage – I remember growing up in Hull and being really into disco. There were these two really cool girls who bought their mini skirts at Oxfam – I was hooked! My style icons have always been the 70s icons like Lauren Hutton, Debbie Harry and Bianca Jagger.

I also love Grace Slick, there’s something hard and edgy about her that girls like Alex Chung pick up on today. If I could have, I would have dressed more like Kate Bush though, I’ve just never been cool or etheral enough!

Molly Ringwald

What’s an easy vintage style to get into?
The English eccentric look. Get some floral dresses, a tweed jacket, hats and vintage jewellery. Just mix it all up into a quirky look.

Molly Ringwald’s 80s look is also really easy to get into. It’s a younger look and all about mixing odd coloured tops and wearing shorts with tights.

For work the Jackie O look never fails. It’s simple – think camels, black, creme – yet chic and fits in with our hectic working lives.

What are your favourite London vintage shops?
I love the shops around Brick Lane and Spitalfield’s. Camden used to be great, oh and Portobello on a Saturday and Friday is still worth a look.

I also go to plenty of car boot sales up north in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool.

Why are these vintage icons still relevant today?
Women look towards other women for inspiration. These style icons are often quite ordinary women whose style reflects their personality and often is part of what made them.

Style should be about expressing yourself and experimenting, vintage does that, runway fashion isn’t, it’s aspiring but not necessarily inspiring.

Vintage has become a big mainstream buzzword. Is it going to fade away any time soon?
I don’t think so. Vintage goes beyond style, it’s also about being eco friendly, about spending less money and about being original.

I do think vintage suppliers need to up their game though. There should be better, more practical shops moving away from smelly, old and crammed spaces.


Who are the style icons of the future?
It’s girls like Lady Gaga, Jessie J., Amy Winehouse, Anna dello Russo, Adele, Beth Ditto, Kate Moss or the B52 girls.

Interesting, a lot of these girls have very retro looks!
I think girls want to look beautiful and retro looks are often very glam, very classic. I feel quite sad that this look has been hijacked by the ‘bimbo Bardots’ like Katie Price who think a classic, glamorous look is about hair extensions, fake eye lashes and tiny, tight dresses. It’s not stylish…

Style High meets... Vintage

Style High meets…The Historcial Sauces

The Historical Sauces is a new vintage venture set up by three Norwich based vintage-loving girls. I’ve caught up with them to find out more about their new project, their love for vintage and their top secret vintage glamour tips.

What exactly is The Historical Sauces and who are the three girls behind it?

The Historical Sauces aim is to both educate and entertain, we love vintage style, but we also want to promote a bit of understanding of the history and cultural circumstances behind the victory rolls and red lipstick. We can provide a pop up reading room, vintage dressing up box, style workshops and talks on bringing vintage glamour into your life everyday. Everything from creating the perfect red pout to re-creating fashions of the Twenties to Seventies, how to shop for vintage clothes and how to create the perfect vintage hair-do without the help of a hairdresser!

There are three of us. Gemma is a full-time vintage style blogger at Retro Chick and runs local vintage guide Vintage Norwich Lucy is a cosmetics historian and vintage beauty blogger at The Glamourologist and Kerry is a vintage style blogger at Missy Vintage.

How do you all know each other?

Gemma: “I met Lucy through the Wonderful Women Network she set up in Norwich, and Kerry I first met at an event I organised in May 2011. I think I can take credit for bringing us all together for recruiting their fabulous writing skills for local vintage guide website Vintage Norwich! We all met for afternoon tea, which involved considerably more fizzy wine than tea and never looked back!”

Kerry: “I read Gemma’s blog when I was an aspiring blogger myself. I finally started blogging and was thrilled when Gemma asked me to write for her other website Vintage Norwich. Lucy had also just started writing for the site and so we met up to discuss ideas,drank fizz and basically talked for England for several hours!”

Lucy: “The first time we all met properly was for a refined afternoon tea at the very posh Assembly Rooms in Norwich. Three bottles of afternoon fizz later we were bonded for life.”

What made you come-up with the idea behind The Historical Sauces?

Gemma: “I think we really feel that people are interested in the history behind vintage clothes and styles, but don’t necessarily know where to find out the information. We also hear people so often wishing they could be more glamorous, but it’s like they don’t know where to start. We firmly believe that glamour doesn’t have to be hard work and you don’t have to be a professional to achieve a glamorous look.”

Kerry: “A combination of cava and prosseco. That combined with the fact that we all have a passion for history, people and lipstick.”

Lucy : “The idea came out of our mutual love for vintage style, a love of talking to people and an evangelical approach to how easy it is to be glamorous.”

I particularly love the idea of a vintage library – what sort of books can people expect to find when they come along?

Gemma: “Fashion and style history makes up a large part of our collection. We have modern ‘how to’ and history books, as well as some vintage publications, reprints and originals.. It’s not all fashion though. We have plenty of social history, cookery and military history books in the collection, so there’s something for every one! We also have a range of magazines to flick through, from vintage Thirties Woman’s Own and Marie Claire to modern copies of The Chap and Vintage Life.”

What are your top three must-read books on vintage topics for girls? And which three should vintage-loving guys read?

Gemma: “I adore Christa Weil’s It’s Vintage Darling it’s the most fantastic resource for caring for, styling and buying vintage. For men I would recommend  a subscription to The Chap!”

Kerry: “I’m a huge fan of Lauren Rennells book Vintage Hairstyling.For the chaps, well frankly there just aren’t enough but we are working on resourcing as many as we can. In my opinion the Mike Brown books (The 1940’s/1950’s Look) are unisex. They provide some good detail on  clothing for both  sexes and some interesting points on life at the time, but I would like to see more books aimed at the vintage chaps. I’m always on the look out for male bloggers too. There just simply aren’t enough of them.”

Lucy: “We love the Style Me Vintage range and find these to be a great inexpensive starting point. Vintage books for men are under represented but a great read is Keeping Up Appearances: Fashion and Class between the Wars which goes into mens fashion in detail as well as looking at the political and cultural ideas behind it.”

Where can people look forward to finding you?

Kerry: “We will be taking the library to the Little Vintage Lovers fairs. The library is a fantastic addition and a really good way for people to make the most of their day. They can use the books as a resource for learning, fun and inspiration. This is not your average library, we actively encourage chatter. You will certainly not be hearing any of us say shhhh! We have lots of plans for workshops and events in the New Year as well, so keep an eye on our website.”

I really like it that three ‘ordinary’ girls are doing vintage make-up/hair at your glamour afternoons – it makes vintage so much less scary. How did you three get into vintage?

Gemma: “I was also a fan of the Charity Shops as a teenager, but I favoured a vintage style, produced with modern clothes, before anyone called it vintage. I was always a fan of pencil skirts, heeled loafers and tailored coats and never a big jeans fan! My biggest revelation was attending a vintage hair styling event a couple of years ago with vintage stylist Flamingo Amy. My hair had always been resolutely straight and floppy, not through lack of trying, but it never held a curl! That session gave me a few basic building blocks and the confidence to start experimenting with my hair, which is what we’re hoping to bring to women at our vintage glamour afternoons. You CAN do more than a ponytail and it doesn’t have to take hours either!”

Kerry: “My first purchase was an old chaps blazer from Oxfam when I was 15. How I loved that blazer! I’ve always loved charity shops and my 30’s has seen me really think about what I wear and how I wear it. I’m intrigued by the life a piece of clothing has witnessed before it came to me.”

Lucy: “I first discovered vintage when I found the glories of charity shops when I was about 15. Looking back there were some amazing finds still to be had cheaply way back in the early Nineties and I had a selection of fantastic Fifties suits that I wish I still had. At 16 the Sixties was really my period and this was also because of a love of the music as well as the style. As I have got older my interest has expanded and now am particularly interested in the Thirties and Forties.”

What’s your top secret vintage glamour tip?

Gemma: “Berets. I wouldn’t be without them! At this time of year a good felt beret, worn at a jaunty angle and a smart winter coat pretty much mean you can go out in your pyjamas and everyone will assume you’re glammed up to the nines. Add a slick of red lipstick and there’s no one you can’t fool!”

Kerry: “For me red lipstick just oozes glamour. Red doesn’t suit everyone? I truly believe this is a myth. A good red lipstick can make all the difference to any outfit, yes it can take confidence to wear but this is where The Historical Sauces are on hand to help.”

Lucy: “My tip is really boring but it is preparation – glamour is not necessarily having tons of clothes but having them clean, ironed and ready to wear. If you have this in place then it is so easy to throw on in the mornings. Oh and red lipstick.”

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