dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Memories of fashion store inspire photographer
It was more than 40 years ago that Gary Lindsay-Moore first stepped over the threshold of a Birmingham fashion store he had been hearing rumours about. And now an interest sparked as a teenager has led him to create an exhibition in homage of designers Patti Bell and Jane Kahn.
Together, Kahn and Bell revolutionised the city's fashion scene. They were at the vanguard of punk and new romanticism, creating hand-made clothes for a host of 70s and 80s icons including Birmingham's own Duran Duran, Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz and music and dance group Shock.
Talked of as Birmingham's Vivienne Westwood, Kahn and Bell gave people the opportunity to dress to express. And now, 45 years after their shop first opened in 1976 in the city's emerging Gay Quarter, Gary is paying homage to their innovation with a photography exhibition featuring some of their flamboyant clothing.
It's Not Unusual
The exhibition at the city's Rag Market between July 27-30 is called 'It's Not Unusual' as a nod to Patti's close relationship with music stars of the era including her friendship with singer Tom Jones.
Gary says: "I was about 16 or 17 and had only been allowed into the city with my cousin before. I lived about 14 miles away so getting on the bus and going into Birmingham on my own was a kind of adventure. I found the shop and I remember standing outside, pacing up and down nervously asking myself whether I should go in or not. I had no money but went in and Patti was in there although I didn't know it was Patti at the time. I just saw this seven-foot Amazon with massive blonde spiked hair, a massive set of heels and with leather and chains."
He remembers: "And it was 'Oh, my goodness, this is amazing'. I felt I'd found my cultural home – this was the kind of excitement I was looking for. This was like a bit of a gateway and the significance on me was huge and profound. I loved the connection between music and fashion and here it was. I really believe you should let your identity show through in what you wear and how you are – and I've believed that ever since."
The impact of that desire to liberate the individual in each person can be seen throughout Gary's ensuing work. His photographic portraits aim to give people free expression to be whoever they want to be and to be proud of however they look. And so, It's Not Unusual features a series of images of Kahn and Bell creations worn by some equally dramatic models.
The idea for an exhibition first came to Gary three years ago when he met Karen Jebb who owns 12 original pieces from the Kahn and Bell label. "When I saw the clothes, I knew they had to be photographed just because," he says. "Here was an opportunity to create something really incredible with these clothes."
But the project was stalled by a couple of major setbacks. Firstly, Gary suffered a heart attack and had to undergo a triple bypass operation and then, just when he was getting back into working again, COVID-19 struck. However, Gary was able to use the break creatively to plan both the images and the exhibition.
Gary wanted his images to be innovative, individual and full of the character of Kahn and Bell. However, another difficulty lay in the clothes themselves. "There was a minor issue that all these clothes were quite small, like sizes six or eight," Gary says. "A lot of the photography I do is about body positivity, acceptance and individuality and I didn't want to just use a skinny model. I wanted people who were modelling them to have the Kahn and Bell spirit."
Gary tracked down local models with their own sense of flair including many of the region's best-known drag artists such as Birmingham's Twiggy, who had a personal reason for wanting to be involved, having worked for Kahn and Bell in the past.
"I'm not trying to update pictures of Kahn and Bell which already exist, it's about putting my spin on it and all the models who I've worked with on this are exactly what I was looking for," Gary says. "They all did their own make-up although we talked about it beforehand to make sure it reflected the make-up of the time. So, there is lots of make-up, glitter and stick-on gemstones. They all look amazing."
Gary has created a book specially made for those involved in the project and has already presented Patti with her copy as a recent birthday present. Prints of the images will also be available to buy on Gary's website www.garylindsaymoorephotography.co.uk
Gary is hoping visitors to the free exhibition will take the images as a start point in their own journeys of discovery. "I'm going to be there and am happy to chat to people. I'd like people who don't already know Kahn and Bell to come along and ask a few questions and then do a bit of research themselves. I like to introduce the mystery of the adventure of finding out about things and finding out more about yourself. We have so much information at our fingertips now but 45 years ago it was all word of mouth."
And he adds: "For punks and new romantics, your clothes were so important, they were your calling card. In those days it wasn't just going out in jeans and a T-shirt. You would spend days planning what to wear. And that says so much about us as people. I've always wanted to have my own identity and to express that in how I look - it's the power of clothing."