by Judith Frankland
BALENCIAGA HEARS THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Act 1
That was the description given to my graduation collection by a very generous journalist back in 1980. My name in the same breath as the Spanish genius Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972) and my beloved "I want to be a nun when I grow up" film The Sound of Music - how fabulous! I accepted the comparison and compliment with delight - after all, I'm only human! My graduation show at The Cafe Royale in London was attended by some of the most glamourous faces from the Blitz and the Head honcho himself, Steve Strange. Thanks to them it was received with an enthusiastic cheer! I was told years later that Vivienne Westwood was there, this was before the McClaren-Westwood Worlds End collection had been unleashed on an awestruck London.
My small collection was predominantly black and white taffeta, brocade, velvet and satin.The black and white striped satin had embossed polka dots in turquoise and yellow in two different sizes and widths; it also came with a tale or perhaps a tall story . The delighted salesman who brought the bolts up from the basement of the shop in London "especially for me" proceeded to tell me that this fabric had been created for the Rolling Stones some years back for a tour and this was the last remaining yardage. With glee I didn't hesitate to say "I'll take it all" and the story, to this day I don't know the truth, but then again I still believe in Father Christmas!
THE VEIL AND STEPHEN JONES
On the day of the show, my Mum who had travelled down from the Lake District with her friend was backstage with me while I nervously put the finishing touches to the frocks. Today, at 81 years old, she still recalls seeing a rather unusual looking young man coming towards us. He was wearing a suit complete with knickerbockers and ballet style shoes with bows, carrying what turned out to be the crowning glory of my ultimate piece, the black Wedding Dress. This gracious and polite young man was Stephen Jones who had kindly created this architectural wonder for me. This veil headdress was made of stiffened lace on a metal frame and was simply amazing. Who would have thought at that moment that a few years later he would be hailed as one of the world's greatest milliners? Hmm...actually anyone who came into contact with him or his work knew, it was so obvious. The dress and veil was to be worn by the beautiful statuesque model Sheila Ming, possibly best remembered now for her role in the Duran Duran video for Hungry like the Wolf.
After the show, Steve Strange contacted me and bought the dress and veil along with a couple of other pieces. One was a medieval-style taffeta jacket he later wore on the cover of the Visage single Fade to Grey. One of Steve's friends Vivienne Jagger bought the opera coat with striped polka dot lining and a huge stand up collar.
THE BLITZ, DAVID BOWIE AND ASHES TO ASHES
The icing on the cake however was the night David Bowie came to The Blitz searching for extras for his new single which would be named Ashes to Ashes. In a wonderful twist of fate, Steve was resplendent in the wedding outfit that night and was chosen straight away. He was also asked to select people he felt could be right. I believe designer Stephen Linard had been asked but due to pressing circumstances was unable to partake. I was invited as was Darla Jane Gilroy over to the table where David Bowie and his P.A. Coco were sitting and offered a glass of champagne. Darla and I were both dressed in a similar ecclesiastic style and were also asked to take part for what at that time was a decent sum of money for penniless, decadent students. We were told Coco would call us the following day with the details. I awoke with a jolt, seriously wondering if this had all been a dream. I chose to believe not and sat at the door of the "palatial" bedsit for hours waiting for the communal upstairs phone to ring so that I could sprint up in time to catch it. When the call finally came, I was instructed to be outside The Hilton the next day at some ungodly hour, fully dressed and made up the same way I had been at The Blitz, and to get the coach to a secret location.
Judith performed in David Bowie's iconic Ashes to Ashes video along with three of her Blitz friends, including Steve Strange who wore her wedding dress and veil in some of the scenes. Judith is on the far right in the first screen cap.
When we arrived at the beach near Hastings, the crew was set up and David Bowie greeted us dressed in the Lindsay Kemp outfit he would wear that day. He coached us for a few minutes on the words we were to mime and then the day was spent in sinking sand and mud. We had "done well" we were told at the end of the day and asked to come to the studios in Wandsworth to shoot another scene. May I add that at the studios David Bowie had lunch with us mere mortals in the canteen. Yummy. The scene we were to do at the studio involved an explosion and I was at the back. In fact if you look at the video you can see my crucifix swing in. We were told to duck out and run after we had mimed our piece or we could be hurt. This was difficult in a hobble dress, so I hoisted it up as high as I could and got ready to run. Quite a sight for the superstar sat behind me. It took about three takes and we were done and told we could stay to watch the rest of the filming and that we should tell no one about the details of the video. It was all very hush hush.
The night it aired on Top of the Pops I was working at Hell (another Steve and Rusty club - more about that next week). As I had to get there early I would take the tube alone, a daunting affair. However, this particular Thursday I was wearing the outfit I had worn in the video, totally unintentionally. I was recognised by some people who had seen Top of the Pops and ridiculed by others, as usual. But it was worth it. To this day that video still interests and intrigues lots of folk. It was at the time the most expensive video ever made and the song went to Number 1, perhaps we should have bartered for more money. The mileage I got out of that collection had only just begun and I was an established New Romantic.
Adieu for now from this Old Romantic who will never be a nun.
Special thanks from Judith to David Johnson for "reviving the mucky 30-year-old slides and bringing them back to life." The photographer who shot them was Niall McInerney.
Come back next Tuesday for Act. 2 - with more delightful (and some bitchy) surprises!
To read the whole Frankly Frankland series see here