Fiacha Harrington interviews Nick Triani on his personal perspectives on indie fashion. Triani grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s in suburban London. This was like getting a front row seat to the vibrant post-punk scene.
Being born in South London and growing up in Staines, Nick lived a short train ride to central London. At age seven it was the height of glam and his older sister exposed him to T.Rex and The Bay City Rollers. “I became quite conscious that she was wearing huge bell bottoms, platform shoes and that people in general were wearing those kinds of flamboyant clothes – your average Joe or factory worker walking around with stacked heels and wearing flares. My mother bought me a pair of flared trousers from Blackbushe Market and for the first time I felt cool because I had something fashionable.”
In 1979 Nick was 13, it was the dawn of the post-punk era, new wave was in full swing with Elvis Costello on Top Of The Pops. Nick was beginning to listen to John Peel on Radio 1 and buying the NME and other music magazines. Post-punk was the underground movement of the moment (and was soon to be joined by the burgeoning 2 Tone movement). The school playground reflected the times: you had skinheads and mods but you also had the teddy boys, “If you think of all three of these movements, they’re all old-school dating back to the 50s and 60s, so there was a lot of retro fashion being recycled. At the same time punk had infiltrated the mainstream. Punk fashion happened from the street up. Designers caught on quickly: for example, the emergence of Vivienne Westwood.”
The game changer was when Nick met a group of people in school who were a year above him. This collective were already playing in bands: “They were all ardent John Peel listeners and through them I got into bands like The Cure, Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, The Fall and significantly Joy Division and The Velvet Underground.” The Velvets were not of the same period but they were the one band you could arguably say patented the look of alternative music ever since. The VU with their black leather jackets, striped t-shirts, cuban heels, biker boots and tight jeans honed a look that has since become iconic. The band represented something dark – they came as a counter reaction to the San Francisco hippie movement of the late 1960s. “For me punk, punk aesthetics & post-punk were really drawn to the essence of that look… even though I admired the image of the Velvets, I don’t think I was really dressing like that then.”
Shoes, smart dressing and 2-Tone
“With Joy Division and early New Order you had a look that was recycling the 1940s working man’s clothes. The uniform was simple: a pair of lace-up shoes, big baggy pants with pleats and turn-ups, classic workman’s shirts and then of course there was the big overcoat.” Ian Curtis substituted the lace-up shoe with a pair of new Doc Marten shoes. It’s important to note that the punks wore the DM boot whereas the DM shoe was more synonymous with post-punk. “Joy Division had a bookish look about them. There wasn’t anything flashy, they reflected their surroundings and environment.”
The music was the catalyst to get into a band, then fandom took over and you got a real compulsion to be just like them.
“Oxfam shops and other charity stores are the equivalent of UFF and thrift stores in Helsinki, “Basically Oxfam was still stocking clothes from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, so you could really pick up quality second hand clothes for very reasonable prices. And DM shoe were relatively cheap in those days.”
In addition to thrift stores you had the emergence of the Flip clothing chain which predominantly stocked US vintage at very reasonable prices. “You could pick up classic button down shirts, vintage 501s, tweed jackets, denim jackets with fur collars and Dickies pants. That really tied in with the Joy Division thing, if you had a dark grey or black pair of Dickies pants, that could substitute your 50s Oxfam pant. Flip stores opened up a classic slice of rock n roll era Americana on the London clothes market.” I would never have associated Dickies pants with 80s indie, when I think of them I think more of 90s hip hop and skaters.
This brings us to the The Jam and Paul Weller. For Nick, they seemed aligned with the whole 2-Tone movement which he fell for in a big way, following bands like The Specials and Madness. “The Jam were very suited up and sharp, it was in keeping with the classic mod look. Even 2-Tone bands like The Beat and Specials wore parkas, so there was a cross pollination of that modernist style in that wider sense. Once The Jam became a Top 10 band, Weller started dressing in an increasingly flamboyant manner. Later with The Style Council, Weller became a lot more broader with his outlook. You had short pants, ankle socks and loafers – that whole Cafe Bleu period had a very stylish French flavour, Parisian chic even.”
Hair & face
If you had a killer haircut it was the icing on the cake. You had Ian McCulloch with the big hair, you had Weller with his floppy fringe and then Bernard Sumner (by this time of of New Order) had the 1950’s short back and sides. That look made its way into the mainstream when it was adopted by pop acts such as Wham and Bros.
I was a regular at early New Order London shows and everyone in the audience were sporting the Barney style short back and sides cut.
In addition to the weekly music titles like NME, Melody Maker and Sounds, in 1980 The Face magazine launched. The Face was initially focussed on left field music (with a sprinkle of fashion). Early issues of the magazine had acts like Jerry Dammers (The Specials), Elvis Costello, Joy Division and David Bowie gracing their covers “I think The Face was the first magazine that really joined up the dots between the underground music scene and fashion.”
“There was a lot of young designers coming through and then you had a collection of contributors that were writing about music in a new way. Many of those writers like Julie Burchill, Paul Morley, Tony Parsons, Ian Penman and Charles Shaar Murray, as well as being stalwarts of the punk era-NME (whose writing had so defined that publication at the time), became regular contributors to those early issues of The Face. The Face was important not only in how magazines could look but how music was presented within those pages, with a focus on the visual. It changed perceptions and even created its own movements (Hard Times being one). Its impact on the 1980s was in many ways defining. The Face was the first monthly magazine of it’s kind and was much copied. The magazine’s coverage of club culture was also influential in introducing a whole new subculture.”
“I became quite obsessed with the band Felt. They had this semi-retro look. Musically they were related to The Velvet Underground which was all consuming to me. Their appearance also had a lot of 1950s influences. They wore baggy pants, checked shirts, cardigans, tweed and leather jackets – they were very stylish. Frontman Lawrence would wear a lot of hats, from Trilbies to Fedoras and even big rimmed feminine numbers.”
“The 1980s was a very fashion-conscious era. My band from that time, The Bridge, all dressed along similar lines buying our clothes from outlets such as Oxfam. Dressing up and cultivating an image was important (though we didn’t buy into much of the futuristic/new romantic look). Felt were a touchstone in this respect. Felt had a specific aesthetic: Their musical sound was very different from what else was happening, very cultured in some sense, yet still abstract. Their record sleeves were distinctive and their look was consistent. Felt collectively wore Robot Shoes. Robot shoes were like brothel creepers but with a flat DM sole. Felt were a big influence on the clothes I wore at that time and again that was a a very attainable look in a monetary sense”
Where are we now?
I always love bands that look like bands – where there’s a common sense of style between the members. The problem with some younger bands – and I especially see this in Finland – they’re dressed all over the shop.
“You get one member who’s into metal, one is an indie kid, and then someone’s sporting the whole hip hop cliché, whilst the frontman is dressed like a hippy. I tend to think ‘wankers, sort your look out’. I’ve lost interest in some bands just because of their lack of dress sense. You do see a lot of bands nowadays that wear stuff off the peg at H&M. These bands have no personal sense of style, no individuality – and hence appreciation of the music suffers. It’s ok being able to play your instrument well, but if you’re gonna look terrible, why bother.”