Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sue Clowes Designs for The Foundry and Culture Club

Sue Clowes is a British fashion and textile designer who first became known for her designs for The Foundry shop and the band Culture Club. George O'Dpwd, who worked at The Foundry before Culture Club's success, wore the religious symbolism inspired designs in New Sounds New Styles magazine and in The Face.

In the summer of 1982 I was eighteen years old and just about to move to London to study fashion as St Martins. My girlfriend at the time had already been living in London for a year and I had been visiting her and going to as many clubs and great shops as possible. These included World's End, Kensington Market, PX, Johnsons, Great Gear Market and of course The Foundry.

I had heard about Sue Clowes designs and saw George O'Dowd and his new band Culture Club wearing them in the magazine New Sounds New Styles and The Face. I felt that it was the first time screen printed 'message' t-shirts had made an impact on street fashion since punk and that was exciting. I also though the the mixture of religious imagery was great, a bit subversive and a reaction against the New Romantic Glam that had gone before.

I headed to The Foundry and was delighted to see George working in the shop. He was wearing some of the Sue Clowes designs, along with full make up and, strangely, a five o'clock shadow under his chin. Either he was really bad at shaving or this was some beauty tip that I had not heard of. George was very friendly and helped me choose a sleeveless t-shirt with the Star Of David design. I told him I liked his band-thier single White Boy had only been out for a few weeks and was a club hit, though not on the pop charts.

My girlfriend and I decided to head to the South of France for a budget camping holiday and we both took our Sue Clowes gear in our back packs, along with a tent and several packets of Pot Noodle. the t-shirts were our big fashion statement at that time and we visited St Tropez for a bit of a pilgrimage to go to the Papagayo Night club, where Spandau Ballet had been in residence before their fame. The club was rubbish though, over priced drinks and bad music, Spandau Ballet were long gone.

Whilst in St Tropez we had our portraits drawn by one of the tourist sketch artists, proudly wearing our Sue Clowes t-shirts. I remember someone looking confused and asking us "Are you Jewish?", because of the prominent Star Of David printed on our shirts, along with other religious iconography. The only religion we really subscribed to was street fashion.

By the Autumn of '82 I began my studies at art college and Culture Club had become a chart band. I think I wore the Sue Clowes shirt a few times to a club called Cha Cha's and then finally laid it to rest. It may have ended up being sold on the stall that my girlfriend and I briefly had at Camden Market.

Sue Clowes really influenced me as a designer. I got into textile design and saw that t-shirts could be a canvas for messages and not just promotional devices for bands. Now I wish I still had that t-shirt.

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