Get tribal

Do you know what a fashion tribe is mate?
No. I am a part of none!
Well! Let me educate you.
If you ever lived in the UK in the 80’s, you will have seen and understood what tribal meant. It was there and then an explosion of tribal consciousness; the Brit’s were making their revolution without toppling the monarchy. The Sex Pistols brought God Save the Queen, Anarchy in the UK and Never Mind the Bollocks. Malcolm McLaren, the Rico suave of music understood that the British needed to wake up to a new lifestyle and a new orgasmic sense of music.

If you were a punk with no brain then you will listen to the Sex Pistols. If you were able to agitate one or two neurons then you will go for the Stranglers, maybe you will go for Ian Dury and the Blockheads, classier.

Of course it’s not my intention to forget other great bands. You had Spandau Ballet, Depeche Mode, Alison Moyet from Yazoo, Duran Duran (yes boys wore make-up), the Cure, the Smiths with the great good looks of Morrissey and Human League. All of these bands made you a tribe member and you had to choose your crib fashion wise. In all fairness it was easy. The punk look, new romantic, new wave or the classy one.

London was segmented into different neighbourhoods. I used to live on Ashburnham Road off the King’s Road, not far from the World’s End where McLaren and his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood hold court in their new temple of fashion called as simple it may sound World’s End. Few more tribes came out of that maverick Malcolm McLaren. To boost the sales of their shop they came up with the idea of a range of tribal fashion bands. Bow Wow Wow was the first, new romantic came along in a big wave. I used to listen all the time to Adam and the Ants another new wave band and again the brainchild of Svengali Malcolm.

Debbie the mother of my two great boys was a student in her final year at Ravensbourne College of Fashion and used to make great romantic outfits; we were all romantic in that community.

You have to understand, World’s End in the King’s Road was really the end of the world. Rent was cheap, you had few council estates and everyone used to go to the Water Rat to get drugs. So far so good, London was getting very tribal, an excess of bands flourishing within the city’s night-life. Steve Strange and Marilyn being more camp that Dame Edna. A hybrid between punkitude and the romance, a cross-over of Marie Shelley and Lord Byron.

From another borough, a sound had arrived, Notting Hill Gate a total radical kind of music. Due to the influx of Jamaican culture, reggae was the kingpin of the Notting Hill gang. SKA music was blasting out of radios. One of the greatest band of that time was Madness.

The point of being from Notting Hill you had to wear a very distinctive fashion look by John Smedley. A pork-pie hat and walk with a slouch and of course wear sunglasses. Remember James Bond, Doctor No and the three blind mice.

Tribes were piling up in the west end of London; the few clubs to really hang out in were in those days, the Blitz, Heaven, Madame Jojo’s tons of transvestites in attendance (boys wore tons of make up in that place). Being a photographic assistant in Covent Garden I was mingling with them even if I did look more like a cross between Omar Sharif and an intellectual from Paris’s left bank. London was segmented in many different tribal grounds from the Chelsea crowd, Notting Hill, to Soho. It was total fashion mayhem. Maybe this is the reason why the Brit’s are very good at understanding fashion trends and why for sure they are ahead of the game when it comes to magazines and modern art. It seems they have no fear of being ridiculous. As you know in art, the only thing that is important is, “don’t feel stupid, just do it” So far the British seem to understand that mantra very well.

We are in 1985-1987 and out of nowhere comes a tribe call Buffalo. At the time I am working for British Vogue shooting a lot of features around the world. A mutual acquaintance introduces me to Ray Petri a famous stylist and the creator of the Buffalo click. He has all around him a plethora of great looking guys from Tony Felix to Nick and Barry Kamen, Simon de Monford, Jamie Morgan, James and Marc Le Bon, Cameron McVey and one girl, Mitzi Lorenz, the girlfriend at the time of Jamie Morgan. Ray being a great stylist, does invent a style that is unique and very personal to his taste. Ray loved to wear suits and a pork–pie hat or sometimes a M1 jacket on top of a men’s jacket with maybe pin on the lapel or a small photo. Well! He realises he has this genuine sense of styling men. So, he will make carbon copies of his own attitude and style his mates the same way.

I was lucky to do a story for a hip magazine in Italy call Per Lui on theses kids. I have to admit, the guys did look very good, more masculine.

Ray was saying that London at this time fashion wise, was total chaos, too many tribes. He just focused on the essence of London’s great guys and it did not matter where they came from. Many designers and others did borrow his style. I don’t know if they recognised where this essence came from.

Here is a recollection how Ray Petri one night got the name Buffalo. At the time he was my agent and he had on his roster Roger Charity, Tony Viramontes, Jamie Morgan and Marc Le Bon.

One evening at Jamie Morgan’s house we are having a chat. He’d just came back from Paris where he went to the Bains Douches, a famous club. We realised the doorman was a mutual friend, Jack Negri with whom I used to do Thai boxing in Paris. He liked his look. Jack was always wearing a bomber jacket with a logo Buffalo on it. Ray was thinking about a name for this new attitude he was putting together with all his mates. I said, “well call it Buffalo boys. You seem to like buffalo soldiers from the Bob Marley song and your posse have a kind of army look like the 7th cavalry”. Then I saw a smile, he nailed the name of his tribe. He went on to style great shoots, saddest thing when Nick Logan, the boss of Arena asked me on board for the first issue. I had a long meeting with Ray as he was the fashion director. I recall the meeting, it was at the Café De Flore, Ray came with Talisa Soto. She was going out with Nick Kamen at the time. She sat between us, Ray and I started arguing about the way we should work together. He was a Scot after all, very strong minded, so I was; a hot head. I knew his powers, I was not ready to give in. He will have turned all my shoots into Ray Petri’s Buffalo, I was not prepared to have 20 stories going that way. Charming Talisa just said one sentence: “guys don’t even think of working together you are too much alike, why don’t you have a drink!"

We did of course remain friends. The last time I saw him at the Arena office, he wore very large glasses covering his eyes. He had some makeup covering the Kaposi’s sarcoma, one of many afflictions of an AIDS related disease. In that time people were scared to catch AIDS by mere contact as if AIDS was the plague. I did hold him in my arms and gave him a kiss on each cheek. My way of wishing him “bon voyage” where ever he was going. He was a remarkable man, in all fairness a great tribal leader in this fashion world. I could go on and on about the tribes from London, this is the peculiar thing about United Kingdom, they were tribal for a very long time. As you all know, the UK is made up of Scots, the Welsh, Irish, Saxon and Normans. The country is already very tribal, it is very deeply ingrained in their culture. Somehow, even if we don’t recognize it we all belong to a tribe whether we accept it or not.

Mine is very classy: a hand-made Saville Row suit by Anthony Sinclair Mayfair, where dark blue is the predominant colour. So yes, I belong to a tribe; the dapper one!

Michel Haddi