From the Warren Street Squat to the Hostess with the Mostess at Hoi Polloi’s Midnight Supper Club at Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel, DJ, writer and i-D Cultural Correspondent Princess Julia has been at the forefront of the underground for over three decades. Rebecca Zephyr Thomas’ new book‘What Would Julia Do celebrates the iconic figure that flits with ease between the worlds of fashion, art, clubs and music.
It’s a question we often ask ourselves at i-D; What Would Julia Do? In her brand new book, photographer Rebecca Zephyr Thomas ponders the question through a gorgeously executed pictorial collage of Princess Julia’s last five years. As a Blitz Kid, DJ, music writer and fashion correspondent, Julia is one of East London’s most recognisable faces. Known for her ability to nurture and spot talent, What Would Julia Do shows Julia in her natural habitat; fag in hand, pals by her side and lipstick done just right, dear.
How did this book come about?
Julia: Well Ben Reardon [former i-D Editor] is sort of part of this book. I don’t know if this is true or not – but the whole idea came about in the pub…
Rebecca: Well, no it was at his office. He was showing me some things that other people were doing and said "you need to do something like this, but in your own way."
Julia: Oh, I thought you were in the pub. One day Paul Flynn came up to me and said "oh, great news Julia," and he told me that Rebecca was doing this book and that I was the subject. I went "Oh, well, that makes sense because obviously she’s been stalking me for years."
When did you first meet?
Rebecca: It was about seven years ago. I was doing a shoot for i-D and looking for somewhere to shoot Sammy of S.C.U.M. You happened to be in The George and you were really helpful, even though I’d never met you before. I thought it was your pub.
So Rebecca, you didn’t know who Julia was at all?
Rebecca: No! Now I kick myself for not taking a picture of her that day.
How did your friendship grow and evolve?
Rebecca: It just did really. I went to an i-D party and there was this cool looking woman, so I took her picture. I just took pictures of people I thought looked interesting.
Julia: The book is a documentation of five years, a contemporary glimpse. I like that because I do get referenced for four decades of hanging around [huge cackle].
Rebecca: And for looking amazing.
As much as this book is about Julia it is also about the people who you might see in East London establishments; artists, fashion designers, writers, editors…
Rebecca: Yeah, it’s anything and anyone interesting.
Julia: It pivots on wherever I am, or wherever I’m going. It’s never planned.
What connects all of the people in the book to you Julia?
Julia: It’s all to do with creative energy. I think that’s really quite apparent, to be fair. We do the same sort of work, really. That’s part of living in London, why people gravitate towards it because there is this creative energy here. It is just groups of friends – it’s not just about me, because I am very community minded!
Rebecca: It’s really organic though because, as Julia said, it is people who are friends with each other. It’s not just someone who is ‘someone’, it’s about friendship.
Could you have done what you’ve done anywhere other than East London?
Rebecca: Maybe, but why would you want to? East London has a good mix of high and low. You can go out and you might be hanging out with Jonathan Saunders or some old drag queen with her balls hanging out.
Julia: Soho had a moment like that. I lived there in the 90s and that was the area everyone gravitated to. There was a similar community there too. In the end, that sort of dissipated.
Why let Rebecca take so many pictures? Why do you work so well together?
Julia: [To Rebecca] I think you have quite a classic sensibility in your work. I think that’s why I quite like it. I really relate your work to archivists, it’s a contemporary archive. I wonder how we’ll look back at it in five/ten years time.
Rebecca, what have you learnt about Julia making this book?
Rebecca: I always listen to anything she says because she always knows best.
Julia: Do I? [laughs]
The pictures are very candid; there’s obviously a lot of trust between the two of you...
Julia: In the world now, everything’s photos isn’t it? Sometimes I feel like you miss things because you’re so busy trying to take a picture. I love so many of the pictures though. I was thinking at some point of doing some sort of autobiography, but I’ve not got round to it yet. Maybe this could be the pre-cursor. This book makes it look really glamorous, like I’m out every night.
What’s been the most perfectly quintessential Princess Julia night out?
Julia: In Paris at a party for Louis Vuitton, Rebecca was taking pictures backstage.
Rebecca: It was at Dave’s. They’ve been having fashion parties there for ages and the food is legendarily bad, but the booze is great.
So, what would Julia do?
Rebecca: She’d always be nice to everyone, chatting away.
Julia: What would I do? Well, you know my mantra. Hold on, let me think of it…
What would Rebecca do?
Rebecca: Copy Julia!
Julia: I always say the same thing - "oh dear, will it be boring?" I think you’ve got to live every moment as best you can. I came to that conclusion at the end of the 80s, when a lot of people were dying. That’s the inspiration I’ve gleaned along the way; if something feels really scary it’s probably a good thing to do.
Rebecca: Our work will continue and I want to do more books like this on a couple of other people. It’s so liberating to be able to do your own thing.
Julia: Ben Ashton has done a painting of me, in the BP National Portrait Awards. That’s up in June. I’m wearing Meadham Kirchoff and my best cod face.