read a previously unpublished interview with judy blame
Last summer, over a mug of green tea and a packet of fags, we spent an hour reflecting, joking and mainly listening in awe as Judy blame discussed fashion, creativity, politics and his career.
Left: The Surreal Issue, No. 57, April 1988. Design Judy Blame. Right: The Madness Issue, No. 34, March 1986. Photography Mark Lebon, Styling Judy Blame.
How do you sum up the weird, wild, varied and fabulous world of Judy Blame, who died yesterday, aged just 58? It was only a few weeks ago he was in the i-D office discussing future projects, in his gruff, charming and cheeky way. He was an inimitable presence every time he darkened our doors, dressed head-to-toe in Adidas, bringing whatever fabulous creation he’d been working on with him.
He was a stylist, jewellery maker, artist, craftsman, creative director. But really, Judy has always been Judy, an inimitable character, full of raw creativity, purity, passion, a cheeky smile and a dry, mischievous sense of humour. Always an inspirational person to talk with. He helped build and define this magazine over a career in fashion that spanned decades. Over that career he drifted in and out of mainstream, yet he was always a presence, a champion of creativity, a force in the underground.
In summer last year, I found myself in Judy’s flat in Dalston, sharing a mug of green tea and a packet of fags and interviewing him for The Creativity Issue, for which he’d styled the cover with our Fashion Director Alastair McKimm and Tim Walker. Tim’s portrait of Judy for that issue summed him up. That cheeky smile. That glint in his eye. He complained about it, of course, saying he looked like “Bugs Bunny in drag”. His flat was a playground full of his work, an Aladdin’s cave of jewellery, pictures, work, artefacts and mementoes from his time as part of the groundbreaking fashion collective, The House of Beauty and Culture, alongside designers John Moore, Christopher Nemeth and Fric and Frack in Dalston of the late 80s.
We ended up using a few quotes from an hour long chat in the magazine, but it seems a shame to let the rest of that conversation disappear, so here it is.
How is it looking back on the retrospective at the ICA now it’s closed.
Well I didn’t want to call it that. The hardest thing was editing out a lot of the things I’ve done over the years. There was so much I’d forgotten I’d done as well. So it wasn’t a traditional retrospective overview. It was more about showing how I put things together.
Do you feel you did yourself justice?
It was a little bit daunting. The success for me was that I actually could speak to an audience right there and then. When I’d go down to the ICA, I’d meet the students, someone I’d know, and even people who had no idea who I was, and talk to them, that feedback was amazing, to talk people like that, it was great.
Did seeing the work in the gallery change the way you talk about your work? Or the way others did?
It makes a difference to others, not to me. If you look at the work, and what I’ve tried to do throughout my career, I’ve never put boundaries around myself. So yes, I work in fashion, from styling, to making things, to catwalks, to working with designers. I’ve never bordered myself in. But it means something to others, it gives a different audience access to what I do -- the art crowd. But it didn’t change the way I think about the work, because at my age, the work just flows out of me, and I try to turn it into something. I don’t separate things, it’s one thing that comes out of me.
Do you still enjoy working in fashion?
Fashion has changed so much, especially recently. The one thing is about my career is that I’ve been in the right place at the right time, met the right people, and got on with them. I’ve never had a plan, it just happened. I’ve lived through 70s, 80s, 90s, great eras of fashion, from Vivienne to Margiela. Fashion opened up so much for me creatively. But it’s become quite repetitive, everyone’s making the same thing now. There’s so much waste in fashion. All my ideas came from poverty, so we had to push our imaginations more. There’s a whole group of moodboard stylists out there. How many black suits do we need? How many puffa jackets do we need?
So what keeps you motivated?
I come from an era where we did our experimenting on ourselves, we didn’t throw it down catwalks on perfectly groomed clones. We didn’t show a lot of bad drag on the catwalk then -- although we wore a lot of bad drag. I’m a big fan of the individual, of being yourself, of style. I adore clothes, I love beautifully made clothes, I love getting dressed.
In 2017, what would you like to change the most about the industry?
Fashion has a fever for greed. I wish the elite had more responsibility, for how they make things, for how they buy things. They’re making a lot of crap, and buying a lot of crap. It’s only a fucking handbag! And all these brown nosed journos going from show to show, on the party circuit, going ‘darling darling’, and they all hate each other, but they haven’t even got the guts to say ‘I hate what you’re doing’. People don’t tell the truth, because they’re frightened of getting moved from the front row to the second row. Fashion’s a weird social game. It’s Lord of the Flies, but full of flamboyant people.
Do you think fashion is less political now?
It’s more cynical now. When I started it was about ignoring what came before. Being an individual. Which worked for some incredibly creative people in that era. But now, politics in fashion is a hashtag.
You recently worked with Jeremy at Moschino, and with Sibling. There’s still people out there you respect and want to work with right?
I’ve been lucky that my kind of talent attracts other like minded talent. I don’t have to go out and search too much anymore. I’ve been around long enough now that people know where to find me. Jeremy found this beret I made in the early 80s, god knows where. And he emailed me, asking to collaborate on some hats. It was very easy. Although it ruined my Christmas because I spent it making berets. Sibling was a family thing. I’ve known Cozette and Sid for years.
I love working on the catwalk. I don’t go to much these days, I like to support my friends, I don’t collect my fashion ideas like that. What I do like about fashion, is that there’s always new talent coming through. My favourite at the moment is Rottingdean Bazaar. I just love their fresh attitude. I’ve got a lot of time for them. They sent me some pubic hair badges, which I appreciated straight away. I love Molly Goddard too at the moment, I don’t know her, but there’s an excellence there, Simone Rocha, too. There’s a lot of stuff happening in London. I like the people who’re going back to craft. I like the care that goes into something. If you don’t have it, make it!
Does London still inspire you?
It’s still the only place I can actually work. It’s where the ideas hit the ground. The only other place I could work like I do here, was with Christopher Nemeth in Tokyo. But when me and Chris were together we could’ve been anywhere.
I loved the HOBAC book that the ICA did.
I found it difficult. I’ve never really grieved for that time. A lot of people who were part of that social scene aren’t here anymore. Especially losing Chris. So I found the book really difficult. I think everyone who was still alive found it difficult to talk about it. When John died it really stopped. He was the backbone. We’ve all got quiet conflicting memories and feelings about it.
That’s natural though right?
I think so. I’m glad it came out. That it gets remembered. Actually, I met Linder Sterling recently -- who was a real inspiration to me when I ran away to Manchester at 17 -- and I took her around the show at the ICA. I asked her for her opinion. She said ‘our era of people who came through the punk thing, in the early 80s, you’d think nothing creative was going on in England at that time, but Punk didn’t fizzle it, we were all still going, but the museums ignored it, the gallery’s ignored it, no one bought it, no one collected it -- there’s a gap in the collections. And Linder described our generation as the gap. But now in retrospect people start to notice.
Are there a lot of kids interested in what you were up to in the 80s?
I love talking to kids, fashion students, anyone, it was the best thing about doing the show at the ICA. Fashion Students especially, because the way I create is so different from the way they do now. There was no computers or machines involved. There was one girl, who came up to me, and said, and this was the best review I got, ‘that was so inspiring I want to go home and make something.’
Do you still make stuff the way you always have?
The ICA made me stop and look at what I do. I never did before, I just did it. And by stopping and looking I realised I’m quite environmental. Not in a green way, although I am that too, but it’s about the environment I’m in, the things I can find. It’s not always been easy to do what I want to do, I have this nice flat now, which was fucking expensive by the way, but if you’re always sticking your neck out, it’s not always financially rewarding, trying to look at things in a fresh way.
What direction do you see yourself going in now?
I’m trying to do a version of the show that can go on road. Hopefully it’ll start in Japan. I’ll hopefully be doing a book as well. And all this sounds a bit final, but it’s not really, it’s more about things coming full circle. A lot of it is down to Kim Jones bringing me in on the Nemeth collection for Louis Vuitton. That gave me a lot of closure, to play with those ideas again, to help Kim re-represent them, to help Chris’ family out too. I found Chris’ death really difficult. For me, he was the one, we were ingrained, we clicked, like one individual. So that was useful, emotionally. But right now, I’d like to move on from the past, to find something for now, find something relevant. There’s a lot of people out there, I think who’ve been inspired by what I’ve done, who are in more powerful positions in the fashion industry than I’ve ever been in. Or who drew inspiration from the things I’ve done, whether that was with Neneh, or HOBAC.
I think that’s everything I wanted to talk about.
Oh for god’s sake, Felix! Make it sound like something. When Paul Flynn interviewed me for i-D he came round at least two or three times.
I know, but he’s a much more professional journalist than me.
Oh Paul is good. He almost managed to chat me under the table. He couldn’t though.
- judy blame