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Frances: Why I'll always be simply crazy about Mad Max

By Frances Burscough

Published 16/05/2015

Frances Burscough
Frances Burscough

There was a distinct and defining moment in the mid-1980s when fashion suddenly, irrevocably changed. I was a fashion student in Manchester at the time and until that point we had been completely and utterly immersed in the completely and utterly crazy “New Romantic” craze.

During that “belle époque”, getting ready for a night out on the town or even just a normal day at fashion college took a monumental amount of effort, because every outfit was effectively a costume and every day a costume drama.

I remember one evening standing at the bus stop at Whalley Range, on my way to the Haçienda nightclub, and looking down the queue at all the fashion victim freaks. There was one guy dressed as a pirate complete with a tricorn hat and swash-buckling buckled boots; another wearing a brocade frock coat and a powdered wig like Scaramouch; there was a “gender-bender” transvestite dressed up in full slap to look like the French chanteuse Edith Piaf; my best friend was wearing a burlesque-type outfit including a basque and fishnet stockings, whilst I was wearing a pair of paisley silk pyjamas and a velour smoking jacket, with a hip-flask filled with vodka in one pocket and a cigar in the other. For the fashion fraternity at least, there was nothing remotely casual or laid-back about clothing in those days. We didn’t “do” denim jeans, trainers and T-shirts. Not ever. Heaven forbid! If you wanted to be in with the in-crowd you had to work on your character almost as much as a method actor did and spend hours in hair and make-up before you would ever consider facing your public.

But then almost overnight, in the summer of 1985, everything changed. We ditched our cloak-and-dagger combos in favour of a completely new look. Gone were all the theatrical flourishes and foibles, packed away back again in the dressing-up boxes, charity shops and wardrobe departments from whence they came. Avaunt and quit my sight! There was a new kid in town and now everyone wanted to look like him. His name? Mad Max.

Although the films Mad Max 1 and 2 had until then had a cult following amongst the punks and biker fraternity, when Beyond Thunderdome was released in 1985 it caused a mass media meltdown on a global scale. The hype and hyperbole were phenomenal. Everyone went to see it and as soon as they did, their sense of style changed forever. We still wanted to be weird, but in a different way, like Tina Turner’s bizarre character Auntie Entity, or the freakish MasterBlaster. Fashion stepped down off the stage and went feral.

Apocalypse “survival wear” was now the order of the day. If it didn’t look like it had weathered a nuclear holocaust in the parched Australian outback, then you just wouldn’t wear it. As a true post-apocalypse poser I went along with the transition too, swapping my frills and flounces for battered leather and suede, canvas and tarp, rubber and PVC accessorised with rusty metal zips and chains, mirrored cyber cycling goggles and jackboots with some sackcloth and ashes thrown in for good measure. Women started shaving their heads and getting tattoos (something that was almost unheard of before then) while men all wanted a mullet like Mel. Personally, I didn’t go quite that far, but I did wear black make-up and back-comb my hair to look like I’d survived high-voltage electric shock treatment and had been living in a cave ever since.   

All of which brings us back to the future and the new Mad Max film, Fury Road, which opens this weekend — but I was lucky enough to see at a special press night this week. Just as MM last affected fashion 30 years ago, I predict the same again for 2015. So here’s your advance warning. This summer we will mostly be wearing battered leather and suede, canvas and tarp, rubber and PVC accessorised with rusty metal zips and chains, mirrored cyber cycling goggles and jackboots — plus some sackcloth and ashes thrown in for good measure.

Belfast Telegraph

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