All sorts of title word play related to David Bowie will be coming at you over the course of the year given the mega exciting style retrospective coming up at the Victoria & Albert Museum, but this post title specifically refers to a book that extensively documents London's underground club scene from 1976 to 1984. The "punks, poseurs, peacocks and people of a particular persuasion" were undoubtedly spurred by Bowie's anthem to dare to be different on a heroic level, or at least that's what they felt like they were doing at the time. Photographer Graham Smith has compiled his images together with words from writer and club night organiser Chris Sullivan and with the help of crowd-sourced publisher Unbound, "We Can be Heroes" is likely to be the most detailed and comprehensive visual account of a period of time in London when living for the moment never felt so right. When music, fashion and creatures of the night would come together in various different venues and allowed a cast of characters to be the heroes and heroines of their day. It seems natural that as a Londoner born too late in the day to enjoy what clubs like Billy's, The Blitz and Mud Club had to offer, you have this onus to get nostalgic about what went before.
These characters from London's nightlife of yesteryear don't exist as a phenemenon restricted to the decade of the eighties. There are Bright Young Things of every generation and what struck me immediately as you got involved with the characters of this photo tome is that you could quite easily draw parallels between those that wore Bodymap, early Stephen Jones creations and created outfits inspired by Franciscan monks and the young things of today in London, who hang out in the circles of designers like Meadham Kirchhoff and Nasir Mazhar and also have their own DIY style agenda – people like Sarah Mower's assistant Hannah Lambert or Louise Gray's design assistant Ed Marler who are becoming style luminaries in their own right. Which brings me neatly to a designer who's no stranger to this blog but also one that instantly comes to mind when making a comparison to the attitude and fearlessness of the people and exploits documented in the "We Can Be Heroes" book.
"It wasn't a place for those who dressed up for the occasion, but those who dressed as a way of life," said Robert Elms, BBC broadcaster and ex writer for The Face. Louise Gray most certainly is someone who dresses up as a way of life and has been developing a consistent design language to endear her to others that do the same. She's become a sort of Pied Piper designer, leading the likes of Lambert and Marler and growing entourage and fanbase around her to embrace colour, print and a visual langage that isn't necessarily trend led but is unmistakably Louise, through and through.
Every time she comes out with a collection, I always think she has outdone herself which makes my praise of her work on the blog seem faintly hysterical. The truth is, Gray has over the seasons honed in what is her and that given her a design signature that she can own entirely, without fear of lazy comparisons and boring trend boxes. See her quotes and titles of her collections – "It was about all the things I like", "Everything, all the time," "Up your look", "Get some stuff". This is a design trail of thought that isn't dictated by outside forces other than the personal style heroes of Louise herself (women like Poly Styrene, Zillah Minx and Debbie Harry – incidentally characters that fit into the Graham Smith book). She repeatedly looks to techniques, colour combinations, patterns, prints and textures that are 100% her, whilst changing things over the seasons to offer more flexibility in silhouettes and shapes.
I don't want to say that the latest SS13 "Now What" collection is a culmination of everything that she represents but given that she has no lofty explanation for the inspiration other than her mother's wise words: "She told me that everything goes together if you like it." Throwing everything into the kitchen sink could only work for a designer like Gray, who has become an adept judge of colour/pattern/texture combos. This collection is everything that Gray loves and is known for and more, amped up by collaborations such as the ace glasses with General Eyewear (formerly known as Arckiv), scribbled mirror jewellery made by Tatty Devine and print-o-rama shoes by Robert Clergerie. This is but one collection in a long line of many that form a rich Louise Gray design language to enjoy, experiment with or take what you want from it.
There's a generosity in spirit in everything that Gray does, offering more and more in every ensemble for that aforementioned entourage and fanbase that grows around her, willing her to success by simply being advocates of Gray's aesthetic. You can count me in as part of that circle, which orbits Gray in awe. Everytime I see her, I'm in turn inspired to "up my look", "get some stuff on me" and go for "everything, all the time". In Gray's world, We Can Be Heroes everyday.
All backstage photography by Joseph Piper