There’s been a lot of talk about punk’s influence on fashion right now due to the Costume Institute’s upcoming Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibit (it opens on May 7). And there’s been a lot of talk about Vivienne Westwood–rightfully so–as she was so central to creating the look of punk in her native London.
The punk scene in London was so colorful and vibrant it’s easy to overlook that a similar movement was happening in tandem right here in New York. (New York’s punks wore more black and leather–go figure.) And if London had Vivienne Westwood, New York had Stephen Sprouse. In his obituary in the New York Times (Sprouse died in 2004 of lung cancer at age 50), Barneys’ Simon Doonan called his style “punk couture.”
KCD’s Julie Mannion worked with Sprouse from his first show to his last. (Along with Ed Filipowski, Mannion runs the fashion PR and production powerhouse.) While digging around in the KCD archives, Mannion and her team realized they were holding onto original footage (in VHS) of Sprouse’s first major fashion show–his 1984 fall collection staged at East Village club The Ritz (now Webster Hall) and set to Siouxsie and the Banshees. So they transferred it to digital, and teamed up with us to bring you this incredibly rare look at that special moment in time.
As you can see from the footage below, shows don’t quite look like this anymore. And, according to Mannion, they hadn’t looked like that before Sprouse either. “I don’t think people had really experienced anything like it–the energy and the vibe and the whole feeling was so electric that people just were kind of amazed by it,” she said. Before Sprouse’s show, Mannion says shows were more straightforward, held in showrooms, and featured up to 80 and 100 looks (they lasted for up to 45 minutes sometimes).
“It was groundbreaking,” she said. “Nobody was showing a punk collection and at that sort of couture level.” Sprouse was known for fusing his punk/pop graffiti style with couture materials and designs.
At his first show, Mannion worked as a “lowly assistant.”
“I had just started with Kezia Keeble and Paul Cavaco [KCD's founders] and I worked with Steven on the whole collection coordination and the whole backstage,” she said. One particular memory from backstage stands out: “At one point we were backstage lining the models up and getting ready to go and Stephen just throws this leather jacket down and whips out his marker, which was never out of his hand, and just starts writing the “Our Father” at the back of the jacket, literally in 30 seconds, put it on the model and the model walked out. We were all like, ‘Oh my god how did you just do that?’”
So with that to whet your appetite, take a look at the first installment of Sprouse’s 1984 show at The Ritz. Look out especially for transgendered model Teri Toye, Sprouse’s muse and undeniable star of this show. (Mannion didn’t even know Toye wasn’t a biological woman at the time–”I dressed her, and I didn’t even know!” she said.)