Blame It On The Fashion Man: Judy Blame At London’s ICA

In his very first major solo exhibition, Judy Blame is showcasing his life and work at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). Accessory designer, style director, non-conformist… Blame is a tricky one to label – and you get the impression he’d rather you didn’t. 

But labels aside, there is no doubt that he has had a huge impact on the fashion, music and art worlds over the past three centuries. And we are big fans of fashion, music and art fans here at House of Coco. So we sent our art writer, Rachael Lindsay, to the ICA to investigate…

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Credit: Rachael Lindsay

Don’t come to this exhibition for staid displays of Judy Blame’s retro accessories from the 80s in glass cabinets as this is not what you will find!

Each artwork playfully alludes to Blame’s punk aesthetic and his rebellion against convention. And, rather than dusty relics of the past, each is created with the present day very much in mind. A montage of all sorts of objects and media, the exhibition throws together fashion editorials, sketchbooks, dollar bills and items of clothing.

And this is exactly how Blame creates, transforming the everyday into high fashion.

One of his favourite stores is Adidas on Oxford Street. A bright red Adidas logo forms a headpiece for the oversized winking portrait of a model in the exhibition. Another posing figure is adorned with £1 stickers, Fragile tape and No Smoking signs.

Marc Jacobs, who has often collaborated with Blame, says: ‘He makes the most extraordinary things out of ordinary bits and bobs, buttons and other rubbish’.

Oh, and that’s another fascinating thing about Blame: he has collaborated with and influenced some of the most famous creatives and performers of our time.

He has consulted for the likes of John Galliano, Gareth Pugh and Louis Vuitton’s Kim Jones. And he’s been style director for music icons from Boy George and Massive Attack to Kylie Minogue.

The art world is also no stranger to Blame. The top floor exhibition at the ICA brings together artists who have been directly linked to Blame’s work.

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Credit: Rachael Lindsay

Blame is perhaps most well known for his involvement in the House of Beauty and Culture, the boutique craft collective and design studio set up in the 80s in East London.

Blame says: ‘It was such a fertile well of ideas. You had Fric and Frack making furniture, John Moore making shoes, Richard Torre making knitwear, Dave Baby making art, Fiona Bowen making hats, Christopher Nemeth making clothes…we had it covered.’

And The House of Beauty and Culture was ridiculously influential. From Top Shop to Louis Vuitton, the punky, radical styles created by the group were copied over and over again for at least the next decade.

Although the House of Beauty and Culture was challenging the fashion norms at the time, the global fashion of the 90s took this group of creatives as their inspiration.

Blame’s Full Circle exhibit illustrates this fondly. The humdrum objects of the studio – an iron, a hat, some coins, cigarette butts in an ashtray – are uplifted to become the masterpiece itself. For me, this reflects the innovation, creativity and collaboration of the collective.

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Credit: Rachael Lindsay

In homage to the topsy-turvy style of Judy Blame, I’ve left it til last to bring up the title of the exhibition. It’s called Never Again.

Blame says he was inspired by an old t-shirt design and wanted to highlight the fact that he ‘comes from a world of paper, glue and scissors…I want people to understand the process of hand-made, one-off’.

To me, Never Again hints at nostalgia, almost grief, that the era is over.

The black paint splashed over an old magazine editorial and the single hanging black jacket seem to express a deep sadness at the loss of a moment in time.

Perhaps this is a lost era of ‘paper, glue and scissors’ in our world of mass production.

Or perhaps, more personally for Blame, it’s the lost ‘fertile well of ideas’ which flowed in the era of the House of Beauty and Culture.

Never Again…Though with the London art scene as vibrant as ever, at least Judy Blame and friends can rest assured that their legacy continues strong.

Judy Blame: Never Again runs at the ICA in London until 4 September 2016. Entry to the exhibitions, café and bar costs just £1.

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