How Judy Blame changed the course of fashion design

Craftsman, mentor and queen Judy Blame was one of those rare fashion figures whose dry wit and kindness were matched only by the breadth and depth of her work. His chosen practices – styling, artistic direction and jewelry creation – question notions of value, arouse political reflection and offer an antidote to mass consumption. A key figure in the history of fashion, his DIY and playful dissection of iconography has achieved near-mythical status since his untimely death two years ago. His legacy, however, lives on strong and influential designers from Matty Bovan to Kim Jones at Dior.

Raised in the dreary English countryside, it wasn’t until the age of 17 that Judy Blame – then Christopher Barnes – dyed her hair orange and fled to London, forgiving little inspired by the boredom of rural life. The next day he was in Vivienne Westwood’s boutique, Seditionaries, buying her first pair of bondage pants from Viv herself. However, London was only home for a week before heading north to Manchester’s Moss Side. There he became an engaged participant in punk, a style influence that can be traced throughout his work to the end. After having worked with graphic designers such as Peter Saville and Malcolm Garrett, Judy returned to London a year and a half later, armed with a little more cultural capital and, above all, a permanent desire to create.


From her base in Charing Cross, Judy traveled the circles that defined the ’80s. Feeling that punk had become too uniform, he and his cronies stumbled upon the neo-romantic scene, a subculture born in reaction to nihilism. austere punk. Working at the gay club Heaven’s Coat Check, Judy has built a network of friends who will follow him throughout his life. In an interview with Gregor Muir at the ICA, Judy recalled that the Heaven scene consisted mostly of leather men and clones, a gay tribe recognizable by their mustaches, flannel shirts and short hair. While Judy’s desire to dress at odds with these trends, he nonetheless found his own solution to the problem. “Judy and another friend of ours, Michael Hardy, were working in the locker room. Somehow they persuaded Heaven to let us have the back bar, where we were holding Cha-Cha on Tuesday nights, ”says Scarlett Cannon, one of the stylist’s closest friends. -conformist. “He was like, ‘You have to join in with this. It’s going to be fabulous. This is exactly how Judy was, ”she adds.

Forty years later, Judy had collaborated with Comme des Garçons, Moschino and Louis Vuitton; while keeping one foot firmly in the basement. Collaborator of cult workwear magician Christopher Nemeth, champion and mentor of young designer Christopher Shannon and source of inspiration for fashion design students around the world, Judy has found the right balance and this is where her inspiration lies. genius. A week could take Judy to Paris, consultant for John Galliano at Dior; the next would see him strolling along the banks of the Thames, picking up scrap metal and bones. These forgotten junk would be reworked and glued to create fine jewelry, proving that one man’s waste is truly another man’s treasure. This talent for infusing luxury into the most mundane objects will finally be recognized in a solo exhibition at the ICA in 2016, just two years before his untimely death.

Judy Blame iD archive - Keep Britain Tidy shoot


Trying to identify Judy’s job title defeats everything he did. Long before styling was an established career path, let alone something you could study formally, Judy was bringing friends together for editorials published in iD, which remain of utmost importance to this day. “He was playing with semiotics, the messages were immediate, powerful and urgent,” explains Zoe Bedeaux, Judy’s former stylist assistant. In one such series, then-model Alex Turnbull wears a full Burberry nova check outfit at a time when the brand was associated with soccer hooliganism; another features a leather two-piece and a witty anti-fascist monkey from the “Keep Britain Tidy” campaign. Masterful orchestration was the key to his style, but often his approach was totally improvised. “When you’re really talented and creative, you can do it,” says photographer Mark Mattock. “And damn, have we had some laughs in the making.” We held the record for the most beers consumed during a shoot, ”says Mark of a particularly debauched editorial for Joyce magazine at Metro Studios.

Refusing the definition, Blame straddled scenes and skills, remixing and challenging ideas; whether it’s in a garish outfit on the dance floor at Taboo nightclub, or redefining luxury by making necklaces with butt plugs or dildos. His signature style leaned as much on utilitarian work clothes – Christopher Nemeth’s jackets created from mail bags, for example – as it did on the quirky, performative outfits for which he and post-modern artist Leigh Bowery were known. . “He could get just as comfortable with Adidas as he could do a little commission for a big lady somewhere,” Scarlett notes. It is therefore not surprising that Kim Jones, during her stay at Louis Vuitton, called on Judy to work on the jewelry for her AW15 collection. Their mutual respect was such that Kim, now artistic director of men’s fashion at Dior, dedicated her AW20 collection to Judy.

Despite his work for giant brands, his styling gigs for Kylie Minogue and Neneh Cherry, and his illustrious catalog of editorials, Blame has never succumbed to greed. Integrity, Scarlett explains, is what made Judy and is why he will be remembered for years to come. His work for Louis Vuitton might have been paid, but he would gladly help Christopher Shannon with a free collection. “He was living in a rented apartment when he died, never bought any property or anything,” says Scarlett. “There were many times he could’ve said, ‘If I just do X, Y, and Z, and sell it to X, Y, and Z, I can earn that much. “Of course he didn’t, which is what positions his work closer to art than just fashion merchandise.

Faced with the crisis of sustainable fashion development, Judy’s work seems particularly relevant. Salvage mode is back and designers are finding new ways to reuse dead goods, discarded goods and waste. Eden Loweth of the art school cites Judy Blame as a key point of reference in building their brand and that of Tom Barratt, especially her ability to give importance to otherwise trivial objects: our work, including our jewelry for SS20. In this collection, artist Richard Porter’s clay sculptures hang from a rope, referencing objects the art school found in artist Derek Jarman’s garden. And that weird kinship comes full circle: By a beautiful coincidence, Jarman was a close friend of Judy and the couple would party together at the new romantic hangout, Blitz.

Never without ropes or trinkets in her hands, Judy was a craftsman through and through. Using safety pins, her iconic buttons, or even a plastic novelty, Judy has always found ways to incorporate beauty into even the most mundane things. Perhaps that explains his adoration for John Skelton, a decidedly anti-fast fashion designer who walks the runway during London Fashion Week. Skelton, whose collections are characterized by folklore references and meticulous craftsmanship, sees a common quality in his work and that of Judy: the elevation of homemade to luxury. “He compared his work to a cottage industry, which I think is a nice way to describe what we do, because it’s never going to be anything mass-produced, and it’s handcrafted in small places, not by big machines in factories, “Skelton says.” We’ve talked a lot about the importance of doing something yourself and always having a needle in your hand. It roots you.

Grounded, generous, and blessed with a wicked sense of humor, Blame was always on the lookout for the next thing – not just in his own ideas, but in the beauty visions of other designers as well. Maybe if he was here now, he would watch Charles Jeffrey, whose punky extravagance transforms, slices and tears symbols of heritage and national identity into a bizarre mix of well-tailored gear. Or Matty Bovan, who influences his work with a DIY attitude that goes back to the creations of Judy and her friends at the Maison de la beauté et de la culture, a collective and a boutique that he co-founded, bringing together designers who are adept at work. manual. For Matty, part of Judy’s influence is found in this tangible ethic, by all means. “The transformative element in Judy’s work is what made it so impactful. Kids these days should do all of this at home in their bedroom, ”he says.

Judy’s influence is everywhere. “I was in Dubai recently and a young designer was mixing logos of luxury brands and showing it to me as if it was a new idea,” says Zoe Bedeaux. But the extent to which her legacy is felt doesn’t make her absence any less painful. When asked what Judy looked like, Scarlett’s response is simple yet touching: “I mean he was a lover, but that doesn’t mean anything to anyone, does it?” For those who are inspired by Judy’s work, that means it all.

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Joseph E. Golightly