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What would Julia Do?

Tuesday 13 May 2014

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Words Darren Skene

The term ‘CV’ summons-up the mundane world and dehumanising spirit of an employment agency. With Princess Julia, its use is rather more exciting: hers includes international DJ, stylist (including for Kylie Minogue), and writer. Now, with this book, photographer Rebecca Zephyr Thomas gives us some glimpses of Julia’s world. 

But who is Princess Julia? As a teenager in the 1970s, Julia Fodor (there are varying accounts about how and why she eventually assumed the moniker of Princess) was a
crimper by day whilst by night she cut her clubbing teeth in the first flowering of Punk. Full female participation was encouraged in that scene (think Siouxsie Sioux, Vivienne
Westwood, bands like the Slits and X-Ray Spex), and the New Romantics continued this
enlightened approach. In the late 1970s, London’s Blitz club was the epicentre of this new
scene, a place where future leading figures in the arts and fashion worlds posed, partied and networked. It attracted people who would, for the following two decades, be cultural
achievers. Julia was a Blitz regular, and her career took off along with those of others such as film-makers John Maybury and Derek Jarman, fashion designers John Galliano and Jasper Conran, writer Robert Elms, milliner Stephen Jones, Daniel James (future founder of influential Mute Records), and musicians such as Midge Ure (of synthesizer band Ultravox).

Thomas’s photographs, taken over a period of five years, show Julia in various settings.
There’s a cornucopia of images which capture her different facets: vamping in her bedroom, partying in Hackney at Bistrotheque and the George and Dragon pub, looking coy yet tough at Louise Gray’s Brora launch, at Fashion East installations, and in her Islington shop. What sort of visual style does she manifest in them? That there’s nothing specific is the point of her personal aesthetic. In these photographs her attire displays the traditional Punk mix-and-match of styles approach – which was built-on by the New Romantics – all infused with a certain regal sense combining a perfect mixture of the gracious and the aloof. She is friendly, but not cuddly. Perhaps her family background is relevant here. Julia’s father was a refugee from the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, and in some of the photographs it’s not difficult to feel that she radiates the spirit of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that fascinating mixture of tradition and modernity which came to an end four years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914.  But if that sounds a bit serious, we see her in settings such as a Louis Vuitton dinner in Paris, or partying at London’s Ace Hotel, where she exemplifies the attitude and spirit of that 1984 disco classic by Sheryl Lee Ralph, ‘In the Evening’ (‘Life in the city can be so hard!/But after dark new energy finds me/And I light up like a star!’). The photographs also exemplify the care she takes with her appearance and, thus, the work ethic which enables her to do so.

Julia is important. Not only is she an example of what a woman can achieve in an area –
music – which has generally been patronising, if not downright hostile, to women who
presume to enter its technical world. She also shows how an individual can carve-out for
themselves a career by – well – being themselves, bringing to the table whatever skills they have and building upon them. Julia is a living example of how an outsider can become an insider without losing their personality, yielding to mindless conformism. So this book is valuable, not only for those who want to know about – and see fascinating images of – a leading figure in London’s fashion and music scenes, but also for people for whom life is a dark, storm-tossed tempest and the example of Princess Julia a beacon.

RRP: £13 (Available from Donlon Books, Art Words Books, The ICA, Society Books, Cock n Bull Gallery, and Maiden) There is an in-store event at Society Books on 27 May. 

Words: Nicky Charlish