Tamara Sturtz-Filby: Behind the Gloss

Glamour, success and excess – Tamara Sturtz-Filby tells the true stories of the 1970s fashion world with the help of the legendary creative figures of the era, from Grace Coddington and Cheryl Tiegs to Clive Arrowsmith and Barbara Hulanicki. Emma Clegg chats to Tamara ahead of her appearance with Willie Christie at Topping & Co. bookshop

“The 1970s became the decade of experimentation in every sense of the word. Fashion became an ‘industry’ but also, more importantly, a community. Anybody could wear it and anyone could be a part of it, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, colour or race. As a result, it became a melting pot of creativity and boundary pushing. Dressing up, partying all night, disco, drugs and sex – anything went.” *

For those who associate the 1970s with bell-bottoms, tie-dyed t-shirts, peasant blouses and ponchos, think again. These styles were indeed a memorable part of the street scene, but they were by-products of a fashion industry in revolution. This was when the formal remnants of the 1950s that the 1960s had loosened up were properly shaken off, as the high-end fashion world swiftly evolved into something new. Models, photographers, art directors, stylists and later make-up and hair stylists were working at a time of high creativity and reinvention where indeed, “anything went”. Tamara Sturtz-Filby’s new book, Behind the Gloss looks at this phenomenon with over 25 interviews with ‘fashion royalty’ from Zandra Rhodes to Marie Helvin.

“The ’70s has this really outdated reputation for being the decade that style forgot, and that’s just not the case – this was the decade that changed everything in fashion”, says Tamara.

Grace Coddington was a powerhouse at the crux of the revolution. She started as a model for Vogue, became Fashion Editor of British Vogue and then in 1988 Creative Director at American Vogue. “Grace Coddington was given completely free rein, and she just pushed boundaries”, says Tamara. “And budgets weren’t an issue because they needed to get everything for free, so she would really push and go to the places that no one had been to before. And she had this real talent for finding talent for British Vogue. She found so many of the really special models like Marie Helvin and Jerry Hall, and really incredible photographers, such as Clive Arrowsmith and Barry Lategan.”

In the early ’70s photoshoots were not the polished events of today, crowded with a hierarchy of people from creative and marketing. Quite often they just involved models – who did their own hair and makeup – a photographer and a stylist. “Fashion shoots were almost all very studio-based until Grace came along. People didn’t go abroad on fashion shoots – she started that whole thing”, says Tamara.

“For Grace, the beauty of the 1970s’ aesthetic lay in the lack of perfection,” she continues. In Grace’s words, “These days, it’s very much about a team of people banding together to create perfection, it’s all about production, production, production. Personally, I think imperfection is a whole lot more beautiful. I remember working with Irving Penn and I noticed some hair pins had fallen out of the girl’s hair onto the floor. When I rushed onto the set to pick them up, he said, ‘No, no leave it.’ There was always imperfection in a picture that was so perfect, so beautiful, that made it breathe.”

At that time the formula of the industry was firmly embedded in the past. “When model Marie Helvin arrived in London, there were no catwalk shows, so Marie had to head to Paris, where the catwalk was still like the newsreels from the 1950s”, says Tamara. Marie explains in the book, “Designers would do catwalk shows in their ‘salons’, or showrooms. It was a highly stylised way of walking and turning, and most often you would have to hold a card in your right hand, with the number of the outfit you were wearing. It was so old-fashioned.”

It was models like Pat Cleveland who helped to change that, creating the idea of a model being a performer on a stage, Tamara explains. As Pat herself says, “I always wanted to be a dancer, but I was too tall. So when I was given the opportunity to go out on to the catwalk, it just turned into a dance for me. ‘My walking dance’, I called it.”

The photographers – among them David Bailey, Helmut Newton, Clive Arrowsmith and Willie Christie – each brought their own distinctive visual canvases. Clive Arrowsmith – who was not trained as a photographer – was inspired by the old French, Italian and English painters, aiming to create the same quality of light in his own photographs. He explains to Tamara how, “My first job with Grace [Coddington] was with white clothes and white doves. I had no protocols and I didn’t know what you’re not supposed to do, so I just did it my way. A lot of people thought my work was very avant-garde, but Vogue loved it.”

The same was happening in make-up, with styling firsts including “The smoky eye; pink and purple eye-shadows with a classic red-orange lip; plum and wine shades with lots of highlight.”* In this world was make-up artist Sandy Linter who “worked with the best of the best, but at no point did anybody tell her what to do with the faces. She had carte blanche… Her canvases also happened to be the most beautiful faces in the world, including Rosie Vela, Patti Hansen, Christie Brinkley, Gia Carangi, Jerry Hall and Iman.” *

The 1970s fashion world had no strict guidelines and many of the characters at its heart took advantage of this, leading hedonistic, wild lives pivoted around partying, drinking, sex and drugs. Indeed Tamara reminds us that, “Not all these party-goers survived, with many ending up either in rehab, going broke or dying.”

Take Sandy Linter who was at the centre of the New York fashion scene. “She went to Studio 54 every weeknight for the 33 months it was open. On the opening night in April 1977, wearing a vintage turquoise poodle skirt by Fiorucci and with no invitation – but armed with charm and youthful hustle… Sandy had no doubt she would get beyond the velvet rope of the hottest club in town. Along with Debbie Harry, Diana Ross, Keith Richards, Jerry Hall, David Bowie, Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol, Donna Summer and Grace Jones, Sandy entered into the realm of “Studio”, and there was no going back.”*

Behind the Gloss also tells stories of fashion retail with the opening of clothing store Biba by Barbara Hulanicki and Stephen Fitz-Simon. “Biba’s dark smudgy colours of olive, mushroom and aubergine became an instant hit,” says Tamara. “Biba’s success was down to the fact that Barbara gave her customers what they wanted. Young, girly shapes in just one size, with tights and accessories to match, and constantly changing stock. Biba created a new, frenzied kind of shopping for young women, a far cry from reluctant shopping trips with their mothers.”

Biba’s shop girls were briefed to be sullen and moody, and they had to be stick thin. Biba girl Kim Willott says, “We were all on diets… We would have an apple for lunch, and there was a little dairy around the corner where they would weigh out 2oz of cheese for us to have with our apple. You didn’t dare to be overweight – it just wasn’t Biba.”

These groundbreaking times also saw Beverly Johnson become the first Black model on the cover of American Vogue in 1974. While Beverly loved being a Black model – “It was incredible, it was James Brown, it was ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud’ – behind the scenes there was very little diversity. “There was always a white hairdresser and white make-up artist who knew nothing about Black hair and skin… I generally made up my own make-up by using a mixture of baby oil and iodine to bring out the redness in my skin, mascara and a little lip gloss.”

Behind the Gloss is full of fascinating interviews with (and about) those at the hub of the 1970s fashion world. When I asked Tamara who she would have most liked to have mixed with in that era she says that muse and make-up artist Corey Grant Tippin, illustrator Antonio Lopez and models Jane Forth and Donna Jordan would be her chosen circle. Here’s why: “Summers were spent in Saint-Tropez with Karl [Lagerfield], where he would rent a beautiful villa for them all to stay in. They ate in the best restaurants, danced on tables, indulged in sexual encounters and spent their days on the beach. The girls would swim in sunglasses, high heels and diamonds, and life was lived as though it was a fantasy.”*

*Quotes from Behind the Gloss by Tamara Sturtz-Filby

Tamara Sturtz-Filby and photographer Willie Christie are in conversation at Topping & Co, York Street, Bath on 10 November at 7.30pm as they explore the hedonistic decade of the 1970s and consider its impact on today. £25 including Tamara’s Behind the Gloss book. toppingbooks.co.uk