© Martine Baronti
Iain R Webb has been working in fashion journalism for the best part of 40 years. He started his career in the early eighties, and was the Fashion Editor of Blitz magazine for five years from 1982. It was there that he worked with Barry and Nick Kamen. The brothers – whose mixed heritage of Burmese, Irish, English and Dutch extraction gave them striking looks – were models in shoots for Blitz, The Face and i-D, while Nick later starred in Levis ads, and collaborated with Madonna during a pop career. Here Webb, now Professor of Fashion & Design at Kingston School of Art, remembers how the Kamens became the faces of eighties London and beyond.
“We were all clubbing together and hanging out in Soho. I think I probably met Barry and Nick through Stevie Stewart and David Holah of Bodymap because they [the Kamens] appeared together in their shows, along with Stevie’s mum and David’s niece. We were all part of a family because we were the outcasts of society, whether that was by race, gender, sexuality, economically. We came from different places around the world and gathered together.
Being brothers they were very close and there was definitely a bond between them. They did a Buffalo shoot together for The Face in ski wear and I think that might have been one of the first ones they did together, in 1984. But Barry had long hair and he once told me that Ray [Petri] didn’t like it so he didn’t want to use him so much. That meant Barry became a bit of a Blitz model. He was like our poster boy. There’s a picture of him wearing English Eccentrics, which might have been the first shoot we did together. I used him again and again because he was such a lovely person.
with Patsy Kensit (Screen grabs) – BLITZ designer denim jacket show, June 1986
We did a story on the new beauty together, because there was such a backlash in the eighties from the mainstream about models, with these horrendous pieces saying they were so ugly. I did a shoot with Scarlett Cannon and Barry because he was a boy that didn’t look like a boy. He was exquisite and he loved dressing up, he didn’t mind wearing a dress. He was happier in things like that, and he was more uncomfortable in a suit doing an advertising campaign. He embraced what it was to be different.
At the time of Buffalo, there weren’t 50 model boys, there were maybe 10. There was a small crowd in that era, it was much more cult. The brothers made enough money to live on through modelling but they were both so talented in other ways. Barry was an amazing illustrator and he would always carry around a sketchbook with him. When Nick was chosen as the Levis boy, it felt like their look was moving into the mainstream – except it wasn’t like now, when you have 20million followers in a minute. Style was still relatively new then, with groups of friends collaborating together.
It was shocking when Barry died last year. I would always see him around, and we kept in touch via Instagram. We were still collaborating. I loved the art he made. I think the Kamens are still a major stylistic influence for people and they stand out for a certain exoticism. You would see them at clubs, in coffee bars in Soho. Everything was going on creatively, and they were at the centre of it.”
© Peter Brown
© David Hiscock
© Peter Brown
© David Hiscock
You can read more in As Seen in BLITZ: Fashioning 80s Style, (ACC Editions), edited by Iain R Webb
Interview by Lauren Cochrane / Published 23 May 2016