BLITZ: A history, and the tale of 22 jackets

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Video Transcript

 

Carey Labovitch

I set up Blitz because there wasn’t a magazine that I wanted to read around. There were music magazines like NME, Melody Maker, Sounds for boys. There was absolutely nothing aimed at people like myself and my friends. I wanted to read a magazine that was aimed at both girls and boys,  but not aimed down at them I mean written by them and for them, and I suppose that’s where Blitz came in. 

So 1979, I had no money. I was a student. I was nineteen years old. I decided to set up BLITZ magazine. The subjects were going to be music, fashion, design, art, theatre, photography, general sort of media and arts which wasn’t available to our age group at all at the time. I obviously created the actual magazine on my bedroom floor by sending off for the type-setting, sticking it all together, having the plates made etc.

It could take three weeks from start to finish to actually get a page ready for printing. Collectively, BLITZ, The Face and ID formed a new breed of what was called style magazines: a completely new genre of magazines. It was a range of topics. We would be interviewing film celebrities; music celebrities; politicians; a brown-eyed curly brown-haired Madonna who had just come over from America.

It was a man’s world, publishing was a man’s world definitely. So I was seen, I suppose, as a young upstart. I remember going to see a bank manager with a business plan, my partner Simon Tesler was with me, and I presented this plan. I asked him lots of questions and he came back to Simon with the answers. I was shocked and humiliated and it happened quite a lot. But on the other hand, the good thing about being a young nineteen/twenty year old starting a business is that it attracted a lot of press publicity. BLITZ magazine won awards quite fast.

The fashion pages of BLITZ were very unusual and very creative. We had an amazing fashion editor called Iain R. Webb and he had visions for fashion that weren’t seen anywhere else. He would have babies wearing amazing designer outfits. He would have down-and-out tramps wearing designer outfits. He would have models wearing non-designer outfits. It was a whole eclectic mix of  exciting things.

 

Iain R. Webb

It was amazing the amount of people who wanted to work for BLITZ magazine. My approach was very much about whatever designers I liked that were interesting and exciting. So within BLITZ magazine you had Leigh Bowery, Rachel Auburn and BodyMap who were all mates of mine from the club scene. But I also featured people like Jean Muir who was, you know, an icon of classicism. But anything really that mixed and a lot of the clothes were also from charity shops and things we just sort of found. The ideas for shoots came from pretty much everywhere: I could be at home for the weekend and an old movie would come on TV. I remember seeing, one Sunday afternoon, a film called ‘Pandora and the Flying Dutchman’ and then went in on Monday morning and said we have to do a Spanish matador story and did a whole story based around that.

The designer denim jacket project (as it became) started as just a editorial idea for another shoot and again I think probably it was about taking that classic, iconic item of clothing and thinking we all have a denim jacket.

 

Carey Labovitch

We gave him free reign. So, he came to us with this idea: ‘I want to take the Levis denim jacket and give it to twenty-two top international and up-and-coming designers and see what they do with it.’ He went off and he gave a jacket to Katharine Hamnett. He gave a jacket to BodyMap. He gave a jacket to Jasper Conran. He gave a jacket to Hermes, they made very expensive scarves that only the Queen and Margret Thatcher would wear. So we had John Galliano, Stephen Jones who made hats - I mean, what on earth was Stephen Jones going to do with a jacket? I had no idea but anyway. Jean Muir, Zandra Rhodes, Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood, a whole range of different designers.

When he brought the images into the office and we looked at them, I just thought ‘this is amazing’. So we published them in our issue of BLITZ. It was our July 1986 edition and I just said ‘no, this is too good just for this, these are amazing jackets. What’re we going to do with them afterwards? We’re not going to have them hanging up in the offices. We’ve got to do something really big with this. Let’s try and sell the jackets and raise money for charity.’ I went to see the Princes Trust who were really keen. I then went and touted around a few theatres in central London and thought, ‘ if we could actually have a staged show, auctioned the jackets and then they go on display at the V&A that would be a dream come true.’ And that’s exactly what we did.

Yes, it was just the one show on the one night but the atmosphere was electric. It was so exciting, It was like one of our Blitz parties and we did have a lot of BLITZ parties.

 

Iain R. Webb

And different people did different performances. In a way I suppose it was like performance art.

 

Carey Labovitch

Fantastic cast of celebrities from Boy George to Patsy Kensit. We had a reading from Daniel Day Lewis.

 

Iain R. Webb

Leigh Bowery modelled his own jacket and did this spoof fall on stage.

 

Carey Labovitch

The BLITZ exhibition was the major three month exhibition at the V&A that summer. It then went on to the Louvre, it travelled to the musee des arts decoratifs, it went to Stockholm, it went to Australia and to Barneys in New York.

 

Iain R. Webb

I think It is very easy to become nostalgic about one’s own youth and the period that you were in but I would like to hope that the legacy of what we did then was to inspire young people to push the boundaries, to kick over the traces, to do their own thing – and scare me a bit, do something that scares me in the way that I think we scared the establishment back then. 

 

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In July 1986, era-defining style magazine BLITZ published an issue featuring images of 22 Levi’s denim jackets that had been customised by some of the world’s most lauded designers – Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Katherine Hamnett among them. The jackets went on to be worn during a special evening of performance, and were displayed at the V&A.

BLITZ founder and publisher Carey Labovitch and the magazine’s fashion editor, Iain R. Webb speak about the thrills of setting the magazine up, its unique editorial approach and give us the full story behind the designer denim jacket project.

Carey Labovitch & Iain R. Webb of BLITZ speak about the thrills of setting the magazine up, its unique editorial approach and give us the story behind the designer denim jacket project...