Judy Blame, designer, on a photograph of his friend, Scarlett.
GB Tell me why you chose this photograph.
JB It’s a picture of Scarlett. When I first made jewellery Scarlett used to wear it. If I made it, she’d wear it. We were going out to clubs all the time and we weren’t very rich, so David Holah made us these chemise dresses that were quite plain and I used to make a new piece of jewellery every week and either Scarlet wore it or I wore it. In this picture she’s wearing the first piece of jewellery I made in 1981 – these huge, long beads. It takes me right back to the beginning of Judy Blame.
GB So Scarlett was your best friend?
JB I saw a lot of her. She was working with a guy called Ross who ran a hairdresser’s called Production. Ross had left Antenna to set up on his own and he used to do our hair. Even though we hardly had any hair he seemed to be able to make something different every week. Scarlett was really his main canvas and I love the crucifix fringe in this picture.
GB Is this beauty from nostalgia then?
JB It’s not just the nostalgia of it. I do think it’s a really strong image. It’s strong because it’s really simple. There’s nothing fluffy and new romantic about it. It has a hard edge to it. Scarlett’s white face and red lips give it that ambiguity of the really tough but glorious woman.
GB Was this a shocking look at the time?
JB We didn’t really think about it. We used to walk down the street and wonder why people were looking at us. We didn’t realise how striking we were. I think when people see it now they don’t understand the impact it had then either. The way people access imagery now has completely changed. Its impact then was on the street and there is no street fashion any more. Everyone’s so used to seeing everything. I pray that there will always be an underground but people are confused by all this access to everything. It makes me laugh when I see pictures of designers’ studios now and the most important thing there is the mood board, which is all other peoples’ imagery. When I started working with Antony Price it was a piece of fabric on a pattern cutting table, not some old picture stuck on a wall. Now they put things together like a jigsaw. “Copy that make up, copy that hair, let’s find a model that looks like Jenny Howarth.”
GB So when you first created jewellery, what was the main impulse behind it?
JB I wanted something different that no one else had. It was quite competitive, the night club scene. In retrospect, it was like sport. “What’s George wearing? Look at Steve Strange.. Marilyn looks crap tonight ha ha ha!” We were all desperately trying to find our own name and identity. I was never trained to make jewellery. We’d go down to the river mud larking. I came from a punk aesthetic so you’d use a safety pin and other everyday objects and make them a part of your warrior self. We were rich, but not in money, in culture.
GB Do you look for beauty in the world? Where do you look for it?
JB Yes, it depends what you want from your beauty. I can find a carrier bag beautiful if it’s tied up and displayed in the right way. It worries me that most people seem to find a Louis Vuitton handbag beautiful. Greed has beaten up beauty for a while now. People don’t look at things innocently any more. There’s always hope in these things though. People get bored of it eventually.
GB So that’s an optimistic outlook really, being able to see beauty in a carrier bag.
JB Yes. Although I must say, this summer I was lucky enough to go to Rome and see the Bernini sculptures at the Villa Borghese. What that man did in marble is the most breathtaking thing you can see in your life. I was transfixed. Everyone in the room was transfixed. I came out in such a great mood.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
JB Beauty’s a kind of pleasure. So something that gives me pleasure whether it’s a piece of writing or a picture or a record. I work in a visual format so that’s what first attracts me to something. But the more you live with something or investigate the idea of it, there’s an intellectual side to it. Why did I think that button was more beautiful than another one? Things become more beautiful as you think about them more. Beauty and brains do go together. It’s a myth that they don’t.