I’m the dandy highwayman who you’re too scared to mention/I spend my cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention,’ sand Stuart Goddard aka Adam Ant, in what might have been a mission statement for the ‘Blitzkids’ of 1980s London.
Adam Ant does not appear in this epoch-defining collection of portraits but gender-busting beauties like Boy George, Steve Strange and Marilyn stand and deliver alongside Spandau Ballet dancers, Sigue Sigue Sputniks, and an array of unknown faces, striking poses in Soho clubs by night and on the Kings Road by day. The fashion-conscious, curatorial eye of Val Williams has presided over a huge collection of images taken over a 10-year period, as the tail end of punk segued discordantly into the New Romantic movement, captured on film by Derek Ridgers, an escapee from West London suburbia.
And without the net curtains, neat gardens and nice cardigans of the ’burbs, a whole generation of Bowie-inspired poseurs may not have dredged the charity shops or scoured the style magazines for the definitive fashion statement to be seen in on Saturday night. In the ’80s, style was substance, and, moreover, it was currency. It bought a ticket out of suburbia straight to the land of cool, through the doors of Heaven, Hell and the Blitz club.
These ‘insider’ pictures document the exotic creatures of the night as they would like to be seen: immaculately made-up – in both senses – and in formal portraiture poses. Look closely and the layers of deftly applied war-paint don’t quite succeed in concealing a certain shyness, vulnerability or even the very ordinariness they are seeking to camouflage. What we don’t see here is the descent into heroin addiction or whatever other worldly troubles were to follow these heady times. In true 80s fashion, we only see the surface, and we don’t, in this collection, need to look any deeper. It’s a style thing.