Leopard print, epileptic fits, floral pinnys and a taste of honey.
Words: Leanne Cloudsdale and John William.
Illustrations: Marcus Oakley
Here in the UK, Cilla is as famous as the Queen. Her Majesty of Merseyside, Ms. Black is northern royalty and for decades has set an immaculate standard of self respect and preservation, kept by many Northern women of a certain age. Personally I think she’s better turned out than the Queen. Cilla’s not shy of a sequin or two (she knows when the cameras are on she needs to turn up the razzle dazzle!) but it’s not just for showbiz appointments and TV appearances she gets dolled up. She was on HRT-fest Loose Women the other week camping it up explaining how even to take the binbags out, she has to get fully “Cilla-d up.” Cilla-d up means polished head to toe: nails, hair, face, heels and a freshly dry cleaned and pressed trouser suit. She probably doesn’t get the beaded boleros and fur trimmed collars out for the neighbours but I wouldn’t put it past her.
What’s this? Surprise Surprise! Picture if you will a Cilla sandwich. Lounging on a cream leather sofa between the pillars of showbiz homosexuality- Dale Winton and Paul O Grady, Cilla flicks through a copy of the Kays catalogue whilst her royal court sip M&S Bucks Fizz and bitch about Fern’s gastric band. Cilla is radiant: stiletto slippers on the tufted wilton; a sugared almond between two satsumas (do you think she puts a Morrisons bag down for Dale to sit on so his spray tan doesn’t rub off on the chair?) Imagine her in her carpeted bathroom: champagne suite, corner bath with a Jacuzzi setting and glass shelf lined with industrial sized bottles of white label hairspray; in the corner sit boxes of stockpiled Movida hair dye in ‘Randy Rust.’ That trademark cherry Whoosh is Cilla’s crowning glory and she sure as hell doesn’t leave it in the hands of a salon. When the Kays catalogue isn’t hitting the spot, Cilla gets driven into town and has the Mercedes wait outside Bon Marche. She’s a perfect 12 and buys up rails of those trousers suits all the colours of a box of Quality Street.
At 6am when all the other loose women arrive at the TV studio, with limp hair and bags under their eyes like oversized Mulberry Mabels; Cilla is the only one who steps out of her chauffer driven car- full face painted, hair set and blown. Always ready for action, always ready for the camera. She is pure class. She has been in the industry for 100 years: one Gabor court shoe in the past and one in the now. You never read a scandal about Cilla… When Cilla’s gone, that’s it. She’s the sole survivor of a time before Celebrity Big Brother and knickerless cab exits… a showbiz relic suspended in aspic– whose popularity will never wane. Long Live Cilla Black. JW
These days Pete Burns looks a bit like a funhouse mirror’s reflection of Katie Price. Whether you love or loathe his plastic face, things weren’t always this way. In 1928 after an astonishing dream sent from the other side, Carl Jung proclaimed “Liverpool is the pool of life. It makes to live.” In 1959, the cosmic powers aligned and Pete Burns was brought screaming into the world. His screaming carried on through to the late seventies when he walked the streets of Liverpool an alien. Dressed like no other human, in a constantly changing evolution of personal style so severe he could bring the city to a standstill. Cheap PVC and sexshop chic with too much make up, Vivienne Westwood head to toe, teddy boy from out of space or Hindu Goddess in heels on the cobbles… you couldn’t characterize or explain Burns or his style.
A friend of P&P; Deborah De La Burk was a Liverpudlian speed freak party girl the same time as Burns emerged from his family nest (almost like Helen of Troy- an otherworldly creature hatched out on an egg fully formed and realized… the mythical scouse beauty born by the waters of the river Mersey, the painted face that inspired a thousand freaks.) “I remember the first time I saw him he had shaved all of his hair off and was painted yellow head to toe.” Burns worked in the alternative music shop Probe Records, a counter culture melting pot not just selling hard-to-come-by vinyl, but a meeting spot for Liverpool’s fizzing musical underground. His presence behind the till was terrifying to customers, and he kept the riff raff out. “People were so scared of him” Deborah reminisces. “He could just walk into shops and take things. Nobody dared stop him. That’s probably how he could afford to dress how he did- he just stole it all!”
Burns and his gang of otherworldly misfits (including “Big In Japan”’s shaved headed fierce frontwoman Jayne Casey and “Frankie goes to Hollywood”’s aggressively ‘out’ Holly Johnson) congregated around Matthew Street, and a club called Eric’s. Rumoured to be built on ancient ley lines, Matthew Street has always held a supernatural magnetism for talented freaks. It’s here a statue of Carl Jung sits. It’s here I, a 15 year old go-go dancer wearing nothing other than gold shorts, platform boots and a layer of PVA-d glitter, would flock to in the spirit of my hero Pete.
Pete Burns went through bands like he went though looks, eventually forming the gothic and glamorous “Nightmares in Wax.” By 1980 “Nightmares in Wax” had become “Dead or Alive” and in 1985 Burns became a global icon when the band released their greatest hit “You Spin Me ‘Round (like a record).” At this point Burns had a great crimped mass of hair and wore a patch on one eye, gold and silver eyeshadows on the other. Before the liquid plastic was pumped into his face he possessed the most arresting natural beauty, but it seems one as creative and magical as Pete Burns can’t settle for just one face. His experiments in silicone are the extension of a life of constant stylistic reworking. Some people have too much inside they need to get out and express. Although now the world looks on in horror – it’s no different to how they used to line the streets, mouths agape, just to watch him walk to work. He’s been brave enough to take his beauty to the extreme. Perhaps just as then, Pete holds the secrets we just can’t understand yet. JW
Back in the early 1990s, I had a squeeze who worked for Warp Records in Sheffield. Charlie was unlike the other stocky, shaven headed techno staff. A whisper of a man with Jesus hair and the occasional beard, he drove a racing green Mini Metro and lived in a bedsit. He introduced me to The Stooges and pornography, he took me to indie gigs and paid for my drinks. I thought he was the only man to look good in corduroys, until I saw Pulp one night at The Leadmill. Jarvis held himself like some 18th century Parisian homosexual, elbows cocked and stringy fingers flailing. A vision in velvet, he whipped the crowd into a socialist frenzy: men and women alike struggling to deal with deep visceral longings, unable to explain their origins. With his trademark polarised glasses seductively sliding towards the tip of his nose, like a renegade librarian ready to pounce, this pallid skinned Sheffield lyricist had us all gasping for more. Famed for his long collared shirts and blazer combo, he took the key elements of a quintessential geography teacher and made it look more like Yves Saint Laurent, during his days with Dior back in the 1950s. Playful combinations of Help the Aged and luxury togs kept us all guessing, especially when we found out he’d bagged himself a French fiancé with a double barrel surname – not bad for a bloke from the Don Valley! He pulled together scuffed Kickers and tweeds in several shades of brown: guaranteed fashion jihad for the average man, but for Cocker au contraire. Rumour has it he once performed Stephen Hawking style in wheelchair, after falling out of a window during a botched Spider-Man impression. It was stunts like these (not to mention the Michael Jackson stage invasion) that made Jarvis a national treasure. With an accent sexier than Bryan Ferry after a night on the tiles, he exudes a suave, sophisticated long-limbed charm. An ambassador for polyester and amicable divorce settlements, he’s like a wicker hamper crammed with Stilton and Claret– only getting better with age. LC
I’ve always been a sucker for mildly anorexic dark haired dudes with legs like pipecleaners and a penchant for Bukowski. I love a slice of deep inner turmoil, coupled with a generous dollop of emotional baggage and a sprinkling of unwashed jeans. Enter Ian Kevin Curtis, Joy Division frontman and Northern Epileptic.
With so few photographs in circulation, one has to adopt a forensic approach to get closer to the meaning of those sartorial choices. Were those pleat fronted trousers taking him from day to night? Were the sweat patches deliberate? Remember, this was the 1970s and glam rock was the order of the day. We had stadiums full to the rafters – creaking under the weight of Elton John fans, clapping along to his sexually frustrated piano rock. Grown men in platforms. Men in make-up. Men with perms. Curtis, on the other hand, must have looked like an office junior who’d nipped outside for a sneaky fag when he came on stage. Who else could retain credibility with a haircut normally reserved for IT technicians and mentalists? Shaving off your sideburns in an era when Fleetwood Mac were rocking some serious lamb chops was a truly avant-garde manoeuvre. His colour palette mirrored his outlook on life – a true smorgasbord of funereal tones: morbid charcoals, murky bottle greens and bleak midnight blues.
His clothes, like his music, paved the way for new phase of working class minimalism. Intelligent, heartfelt lyrics: clean lines, block colour and slender cuts. Army surplus and high street formal wear hung from his whippet like frame with a delicacy and charm guaranteed to give Hedi Slimane a lifetime of wet dreams. He jittered and jerked onstage, incorrectly medicated and misunderstood, going deodorant- less when Coldplay were still in fucking nappies. Topping yourself at 23 gives a whole new meaning to the holy-grail known as the capsule wardrobe. You’d be insane not to feel a slight twinge of jealousy looking at his deft choice of separates. With his chiseled cheekbones and greasy barbershop crop, he somehow managed to give an air of self assured panache to going tie-less, with a fully buttoned shirt and a pair of half mast pensioner slacks. A beanpole scallywag with attitude and integrity. Curtis really was the perfect clotheshorse. LC
Sunbathing toy boys sipping Cola in the nude, the silent Californian heat weighing heavy on pert butt cheeks. Toasted six packs cooling off in the pool, surrounded by pastel landscapes and faded palm trees – a far cry from the back streets of Bradford. Forget the smocks of the renaissance, Hockney perfected his world class craft in paint splattered Jack Purcell’s and washed out rugby shirts. Those thick rimmed overgrown Milky Bar Kid glasses, a remnant of his RCA years, stand in sharp contrast to the peroxide Studio 54 mop top. He took sports casual to dizzy new heights, with washed out watercolour sweatshirts and oversized chinos in a myriad of bleached Crayola colours. Forget the slickness of the Ivy League, he wore them cinched up high like a granddad strolling across the promenades of the Yorkshire coast. The fearless attitude to colour transcends his art, with each outfit a perfectly blended rainbow of primary shades – colour blocking on canvas and in life.
Lounging nonchalantly on a dusky pink armchair and footrest combo, Juergen Teller recently captured Hockney at his home in Bridlington. The acid brights may have been relegated, and the tight white tee-shirts replaced with a flat cap, but he’s still got his finger on the i-pad. As he lays staring into the middle distance, immaculate midnight blue suit and oxblood loafers, covered in ash from his smoking cigarette, he still looks every inch the playboy of pop-art. LC
Like most beatniks, I spent my youth slamming doors and pretending to read Sartre. Tushingham went one better by shagging a Nigerian sailor and shacking up with a closet homosexual. She burst onto our screens in 1961, when she played the part of a gauche schoolgirl in Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste Of Honey. The film’s significance shouldn’t be underestimated – it was the first true exposé of working class Northern life, the birth of kitchen sink realism. Unlike the dolly birds around her, she’d opted for a grittier take on the archetypal Liverpudlian beauty regime, preferring to leave the lipstick and hairspray at home. Hers was an unconventional beauty – with eyes like soulful saucers and a conk that’d make Adrien Brody proud, she was the first significant face of the British New Wave.
During Rita’s first fizzy showbiz years, she’d regularly don one of those nauseating newsboy caps that so many 1960s female dinosaurs still wear (think Lulu). Thankfully it wasn’t forever, and as the decade got into full swing we saw more of her utilitarian trademark bob, as black as the bricks on the smog ridden streets she came from. Free of frills she taken a paired down route on the road to monochrome chic, swinging pea coats with oversized buttons topped off with a Princess Margaret style headscarf. Home knitted cardigans and pencil skirts with stocking free sparrow legs poking out from underneath. Feet clad in kitten heels with points sharper than Miuccia Prada’s pencils and a smile wider than the river Mersey. LC
Bet Lynch is not a drag queen, but many drag superstars have been born from working class living rooms tuned into Coronation Street. Small boys in brown living rooms, starved of glamour, would watch wide eyed as the peroxide blonde pulled pints and ruled the Rovers Return pub decked head to toe in leopard print; the same wide eyes that would one day be painted in blue eyeshadow and framed with false lashes. Although Bet looked like a cross dresser, her character was born from reality. In creating Bet Lynch the producers of Coronation Street took inspiration right from the streets of Salford (specifically the market, from where a lot of Bet’s ensembles were sourced.) All of Bet’s wardrobe, no matter how extreme it seemed, was bought on the wages of a Rovers Return barmaid. For those of you who have never seen Bet Lynch, she was quite the sight. A bombshell in earrings that would make Pat Butcher wince and Liberace blush. Layers of pink pearlescent lipstick, thick panstick,
and eyeshadow that could be seen from space – Bet’s look was always topped with her crowning glory: a bleached white beehive surrounded with stiff set curls, towering above the other residents of Weatherfield- a lorra lorra laquer went into that ‘do. “Oh knock it off sunshine, I’ve got tights older than you” she’d slur, fag in hand, cocktail in the other. Bet Lynch was an unruly woman- a tart with a heart, who sadly always ended up with her heart broken. This is why we loved her. No matter how vulgar she was, there was so much humanity showing through the cracks in her foundation. JW
Moving on from one of Corrie’s most glamorous girls, next on our list is another of The Street’s bolshie women. Hilda Ogden was Weatherfield’s most notorious busybody; a long suffering working class battleaxe who was a cleaning lady by trade and professional gossip. Her look is perhaps the most iconic of all our northern heroes: hair in three rollers, a neatly knotted headscarf and always always wearing her famous floral pinny. It’s a look that came from factory workers who would put their hair in curlers so it wouldn’t get caught in the machinery (and also so they would always be ready to let their hair down for a date after work.) Hilda never did seem to let her hair down though. She was always working, always struggling to put dinner on the table, always nagging her husband and in the rare moments she wasn’t running around cleaning up after people she was twitching her net curtains spying on the neighbours. Although she was an outrageous gossip with a shrill voice in a poll taken in 1982 she came out the 4th most popular person in the UK (after the Queen, the Queen Mother and Princess Diana.)
Hilda Ogden embodies northern working class style. Although common as muck her signature look is incredibly chic in its simplicity. It has inspired artists and designers and every few seasons we see little Hilda’s stomping down the runway. Funny for a woman who never even owned a handbag- preferring to simply use the pocket of her pinny. Hilda also never wore a stitch of make up. In fact she looked a little like a defrosting chicken. JW
Published in Pigeons & Peacocks Issue 4: “Kiss The Future”