— June 14, 2011 —
In this column Dean Mayo Davies asks creatives to reveal how music has enriched their work and shaped their identity
Tim Blanks Photographed by Ronnie Cooke Newhouse“I've been doing what I've been doing for such a long time, but people don't really know that much about me,” Style.com and AnOther's intrepid Tim Blanks explains. “But after 20 years I guess people might wonder who's holding the microphone.”
Blanks rose to prominence celebrating and disseminating shows on video for Canada’s Fashion File, an international cult that gave thousands of viewers an insight to the world's most vibrant catwalks, opening a closed-door culture until then populated unflinchingly by the cliché of the editrix – fabulous fashion with a capital 'F'.
Discovering David Bowie’s Space Oddity whilst working his first job at a record store during high school in Auckland, Blanks became consumed by music in his adolescence. “I used to buy my records from a company called Tandy's mail order in England,” he explains. “They had a pre-release list and sent by air mail, so you'd have discs the minute they came out. I couldn’t wait six months for anything to hit our shores. I got the first Roxy Music album the week it came out in the UK. And I read about The Velvet Underground – which you'd never get in New Zealand – and bought the original release that had been deleted, with the peel-off banana. As well as the original White Light White Heat with the skull on the cover. The cliché is true: it was a voyage of discovery – and it felt more special than easy-access now because you had to make the effort.”
Whilst studying English at university Blanks began to put pen to paper for local music magazine, Hot Licks. “When I came to England in 1974 I used that as a passport! In those days you could call up anyone and say 'I'm here, I write for a music magazine and I want to interview you'. You never had to go through PR people, it was easy. I had a list of heroes and I called them all. I never got Bowie but I got Mick Ronson – the record company sent me to The Chateau where he was recording Slaughter on 10th Avenue. And I got Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Peter Hammill, Peter Gabriel. It was a great time to be young enough to get into whatever came along next – that very graphic swing through glam rock, disco, punk, new romantic and art rock was a perfect trajectory that segued really flawlessly. Everything came with music, there was always a look and there was always a drug.”
Growing up in Auckland, without resources, inventiveness was crucial for nailing The Look. “As a wannabe glam rocker, your access to fabulous places like Swanky Modes in Camden Town was severely curtailed. So we had to make things – it wasn't even vintage dressing, just wearing old clothes because there was nowhere to buy new ones. I knew people who sewed and I'd found this jacket that had a gold satin lining – we turned it inside out and retailored it. So I had a gold satin jacket. Perfect for The Stones’ ‘Exile’ tour.” Warhol, Bowie, Bryan Ferry and Marc Bolan were his catalysts. “You sort of osmosed the idea of fashion through them without knowing what it was,” he ponders. “I was enthralled. I didn't know Bowie was wearing Kansai Yamamoto until much later on, when I started buying it. I could've bought a Cindy Sherman for $50 in 1978 and instead I bought a Kansai Yamamoto coat. The moths ate it. Then I moved on to Comme des Garçons.”
Blanks began fashion reportage whilst living in Toronto. “A fashion magazine offered me a job. So I took it, it was as simple as that," he says. "Now, I get the odd sarcastic comment about reviewing the music more than the show, but to me, the role of music in a show is to amplify – or clarify – the designer's vision. I think about that Dries Van Noten show with the thousands of fairy lights [autumn/winter 2003] and Godspeed You Black Emperor! [Motherfucker=Redeemer (Part One)] surging as these curtains of light went up and down. I can't see pictures of my favourite Claude Montana show without thinking of S’Express’ Special and Golden. It's practically a Pavlovian response. I can probably rattle off 200 shows where the soundtrack had the same effect. Raf Simons does it so well – remember spring/summer 05 when the boys were going up and down the escalators? They looked like angels, in these billowing coats. The music was exquisite. It was like being in heaven.”
How would the well-read fashion authority – though he hates the connotations of that word – summarise his tastes? "I like music that is morbid and monotonous,” Blanks deadpans. This is the man who once followed Siouxsie and the Banshees on tour, who still nurses a deep-rooted passion for hardcore techno and metal.