In the first of a new series of articles, we’ve decided to shine a light not on clothing itself, but the often intangible outside influences that make a simple garment somehow even more appealing.
Think of this article format as our take on those slightly GCSE ‘Shop the look’ pieces on more mainstream websites.
Naturally, instead of taking a paparazzi photo of someone who is famous for being famous, we’re gonna be delving deep into our own culture and coming up with things that maybe you already knew but hadn’t quite thought of as influential. We’ll be trying our best to take movies, tv, music and everything else we devour in our daily lives and give it (quite literally in some cases) a coat of thinking.
Think Jack Nicholson’s Margaret Howell Jacket in The Shining. Think Tony Soprano’s sometimes awful, sometimes cool as fuck shirts. Think Princess Leia’s Nepenthes-esque smock worn at Endor Fashion Week. Think about Terry Hall wearing Nike Omega Flame. Think about those four times when David Beckham dressed like something approaching acceptable. Think about whether the original film version of Papillon really did influence Massimo Osti’s compass patch. Think about Micky J Fox and his Nike Bruins.
See where I’m going?
To kick things off I’m heading to Netflix in Lanzarote. Struck down last month by covid while enjoying a family holiday, I was confined to Hotel Beatriz with only a VPN and my laptop to balance my sanity. The hotel food was awful, but the wifi? That really was to die for. So off to Netflix I went. That’s how this article formulated in my mind.
The thing that caught my eye was the somewhat obscure title named Blonde Fist. It sounded like something arty Dolph Lundgren might have appeared in before making it big in Rocky 4. But no, it was made much closer to home – Liverpool to be exact. As someone with enough years on the clock to remember a lot of the pre-internet cult TV of the 90s, this one completely passed me by.
Starring Margi Clarke and a very young Stephen Graham in a cameo role, the film was released in 1991 and was written Margi’s brother Frank, who also directed it. IMDB informs me his other writing credits include The Fruit Machine (1988) and the BAFTA-winning Letter to Brezhnev (1985). Naturally, he also had a stint on Brookside, something we’ll no doubt cover in this series at some future juncture.
Above all else, Blonde Fist is a snapshot of late 1980s/early 1990s Liverpool and New York at a time when both cities were somewhat different to what we find today. Margi Clarke’s character Ronnie O’Dowd is the estranged daughter of a notorious local bare-knuckle fighter, whose ducking and diving wasn’t limited to his fights. Consequently, after setting the scene early in the film, he disappears to an unknown location, and the film fast forwards to the final era of Conservative government in Liverpool which as any native will tell you was not really much fun.
You’ll watch films from this era that have aged far better and there will definitely be plenty that’ll hold your attention for longer. But purely as a snapshot social study, it has many merits. As clothing brands desperately try to find cultural resonance with their latest releases, some could do a lot worse than immerse themselves in a few months of 2nd generation Kitchen Sink Dramas set in the final decade of the 20th century. There’s a lot to like and some reminders of life just before the internet, when culture was still organic, authentic, honest and rough around the edges. Rough in the middle too, even.
Stephen Graham has gone on to attract accolades for his acting both at home and in Hollywood. He’s great isn’t he? The likelihood is the wardrobe department on this film was the opposite to what he encountered barely a decade later in his role in Gangs of New York but in the shell suits and colourblocking and even the orange plastic football, it evokes the era perfectly. To be fair, this isn’t a This is England style retrospective, it was made at the time so it should be of its time too.
Following a spot of misfortune, Clarke’s character ends up in a Prisoner Cell Block H meets Scum scene, in which she batters the fuck out of someone everyone else is scared of. She then somehow finds herself escaping the prison, collecting her daughter from a foster family, then jumping on a boat to New York to find her father. If this was set in Titanic-era Liverpool it’d be more believable, but as we’ve established, this post isn’t here to do a shit impression of Mark Kermode. It’s here to point at clothes and go “You know what, I might be tempted to wear that today”.
If you’re not from these parts and fancy a reliable slice of life in low budget filmatic form, give it a watch.