For legions of fashion followers who never heard of the House of Beauty and Culture collective, much less experienced it, Kasia Maciejowska’s new book chronicles its ad hoc approach.
In the late Eighties, the avant-garde boutique, design studio and crafts collective was powered by designers like Judy Blame, John Moore, Christopher Nemeth and Richard Torry and photographers Cindy Palmano and Mark Lebon. Fric & Frack and artist Dave Baby were also on the scene. London’s no-holds-barred club scene was in its prime and subculturalists like Derek Jarman, Susanne Bartsch and Leigh Bowery were game for collaborations of all kinds.
On what was a down-and-out side street, the collective used their creativity to spruce up the space. “They used found materials, which was a key part of what they did. It was postindustrial urban space and they were very rough-and-ready just making things with no money. They poured iron oxide onto the floors and then put coins in it,” she said. “For fashion, they were inspired by Vivienne Westwood and Rei Kawakubo, and David Bowie’s androgyny. They also loved the writing of William Burroughs.”
“It was the last minute before the Internet. Then everything went digital and underground ceased to exist. Those clubs were acting like a creative salon for exchanging ideas. Now all of that can be found online. Facebook and Instagram are the way of showing your look,” Maciejowska said.
Published by the ICA, London and coproduced by Roma Publications, Amsterdam, the book’s release coincided with Tuesday’s opening of the “Judy Blame: Never Again” exhibition at the ICA in London. As guests like Bryan Ferry arrived for Tuesday night’s launch party, Maciejowska spoke about her project, an offshoot of her Royal College of Art thesis about design history that was refreshed with new material like interviews with Bartsch and Louis Vuitton’s men’s artistic director Kim Jones. The latter was clutch in providing photos for the book, as were Mark Lebon (Tyrone’s father) and Cindy Palmano. Jones, whose fall 2015 men’s wear collection for Louis Vuitton was HOBAC-infused, said, “Seeing HOBAC pieces in The Face magazine as a teenager is what first got me into the idea of making stuff and of being creative.”
Magazines including i-D and Blitz publicized HOBAC’s work, and the late stylist Isabella Blow did the same in her work in Tatler. Before Martin Margiela started his label in Paris, he was said to have been inspired by the collective’s penchant for deconstructionism. In the late Eighties, he was palling around with Blame and John Galliano, Maciejowska said.
The book’s editor Gregor Muir connected with Maciejowska after hearing about her thesis. An offhanded comment about HOBAC at a party first made her look for more information about it online. That curiosity intensified after only being able to find two references. “John Moore, the leading figure who made it happen, created a very relaxed environment where all these individuals could come in and do their thing. But it had a tragic end, and sort of disappeared. In 1989, he died from an overdose there,” said Maciejowska, and the collective shut down quickly.”
She never has been able to access the former site on what remains a residential street off Kingsland Road. London’s explosive development since the late Eighties can make the-starving artist-takes-to-the-city tale hard to imagine, said Maciejowska, a writer for the Financial Times’ How to Spend It and other outlets, and a trend forecaster for The Future Laboratory. “The city was broke then and young creatives had different expectations. This can no longer happen in London and New York because young designers today are much more commercial immediately, not that that is necessarily a bad thing. But they don’t have so much romanticism.” she said.
Last week’s Brexit vote in the U.K. and the looming neocon environment have cast a darker light for some creatives. “People can feel this echo now with the Tory government and the narrow-minded resurgence of nationalism revealed by Brexit. There is this feeling of being a bit stuck if you want to be an artist in London,” she said.