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DAVID BOWIE WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR BRITISH MUSIC IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE 80S. THERE WAS A DECADENCE ABOUT HIM, SOMETHING DARK, SOMETHING VERY GERMAN, BUT SOMETHING VERY EXCITING

NEW ROMANTIC DIDN’T COME FROM NOWHERE. IT DREW FROM GLAM ROCK, REACTED TO PUNK, LOOKED TO THE PAST AND THE FUTURE TO SEEK A NEW INDIVIDUALITY. BUT, OF COURSE, THERE WAS ONE OVERRIDING HERO…

NICK RHODES, DURAN DURAN

They were the new faces of the 80s, but the New Romantics were really a generation that had just travelled through the 70s. They’d started that journey as fans, transfixed by the sight of T.Rex, Roxy Music and David Bowie beamed into their living rooms via Top Of The Pops every week. Bowie, in particular, inspired a uniquely active fandom. Some of them, like George O’Dowd, even travelled to Bowie’s early 70s residence, Beckenham’s Haddon Hall. He was, after all, just “another South London Boy on the same bus route”.

Throughout the 70s, Bowie’s ever-changing look offered a style bible for his followers to work from (see our London Boys box-out on page 51). Imaginative devotees added their own twist, developing a highly individual sense of style: outsider glamour. Budget restrictions merely encouraged resourcefulness. Iain R Webb, Blitz kid and now a professor of fashion at St Martins, remembers raiding his father’s wardrobe to find a demob suit, eager to adopt Bowie’s Young Americans look. “But it came out as its own thing,” Webb points out. Customising available materials to try to keep up with Bowie’s image fluctuations gave an entire generation an eye for detail and adaptability. The sartorial invention that would find its way onto the Blitz dancefloor started right here.

Bowie described himself as an “information bureau with red hair”. His characters were vessels carrying cultural material for his audience to rummage through. The look itself had a cultural context: the Ziggy/Aladdin Sane era borrowed heavily on Japanese Kabuki theatre costume and make-up, references Boy George would work from. Bowie opened his audience up to a whole aesthetic universe. Beyond the surface, his music was also highly referential, reflective of his own ‘enthusiasms’ of the moment and passing them on. This could range from art (Andy Warhol) to cinema (Tod Browning, Fritz Lang) to other music (collaborators like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Mott The Hoople). “For a lot of us, our entire cultural knowledge came from David Bowie,” says Webb. Bowie’s sponge-like curiosity encouraged his followers to ‘collect’ ideas and use them (Webb recalls seeing Blitz visitors sporting looks derived from Thunderbirds or black and white movies they’d seen on TV as kids).

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About Classic Pop Presents

In our latest Classic Pop Presents special, we immerse ourselves in the flamboyant world of the New Romantics. From the scene's origins as an underground movement born out of the Blitz Club in Soho through to the worldwide surge of popularity that led to mainstream success for some of the major players who made their musical mark, such as Boy George, Spandau Ballet, Visage and Duran Duran. Inside we tell the story of the Godfather of the scene, Steve Strange, and explore his pioneering band Visage with the help of Blitz DJ and band member Rusty Egan and fellow band-mate Midge Ure, who moved on to front Ultravox. We chat to Spandau Ballet's Steve Norman, who guides us through the making of their game-changing debut album Journeys To Glory, plus we head up to the Midlands to the Rum Runner club, which gave rise to another of the scene's major success stories, Duran Duran. This issue has plenty more to be enjoyed, including an exploration of David Bowie's influence on the movement plus eye-opening interviews with some of the scene's faces to get their side of this fascinating era, including Toyah, Princess Julia and Mark Shaw. Raconteur, author, DJ – and Soho's Wag Club founder – Chris Sullivan shares his hilarious memories of the times, and we strut the cat-walk with Blitz Kids, fashion designer Judith Franklin and photographer Graham Smith for our New Romantic fashion feature. Also inside, there's our Top 40 Essential New Romantic playlist, the design styles and artwork of the scene's many fine releases, and all with stunning photos throughout!