The New Romantics: Style and Substance

In the dark streets of 1970s Soho, there once lay a club called The Blitz. It was within these walls every Tuesday night that the glitterati of London’s post-punk scene would gather to pose to a soundtrack of Bowie, Kraftwerk and the occasional Edith Piaf song. To get in, you didn’t just have to look good, but the emphasis was on being totally original in the way that you were dressed. Edwardian sci-fi pirates and bondage nuns, with hair done at the nearby salon Antenna, were not unheard of at The Blitz. These ‘Peacock Punks’ were first dubbed ‘the cult with no name’, and then the ‘Blitz Kids’, but one label would eventually stick - the New Romantics.

Born from the beginning of Thatcher’s miserable reign, the New Romantics were the ultimate escapists. Most were artists, musicians and fashion designers - others were professional posers. There are stories of spending art school grants not on paint or canvases, but Victorian bodices from the costumier Berman’s and Nathan’s, or rolls of fabric for Tuesday night’s next look. Before Berghain’s Sven, there was Steve Strange on the door of The Blitz: ‘Honey, would you let you in?’, was the line no-one wanted to hear. Galliano was there, as was Boy George, Derek Jarman, Cerith Wyn Evans and even David Bowie. It would go on to shape London’s cultural scene for decades to come.

In this episode Osman Ahmed speaks to milliner Stephen Jones, Blitz’s in-house DJ Rusty Egan, legendary Blitz door girl and New Romantic icon Princess Julia and photographer Derek Ridgers about what it was like to be there, and what it means now. Drag queen of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame Bimini Bon Boulash explains the lasting influence of the New Romantics on identity and queerness, and London-based designer Charles Jeffrey emphasises the legacy of New Romantic aesthetics on contemporary pop culture.

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