Wednesday, 9 April 2008

R.I.P. BUFFALO RAY





A few years ago I came across a book called Buffalo and fell in love with the images immedately. Some of the Nick Kamen pictures I knew from old magazines from my childhood, but most of them were new to me and the whole Buffalo phenomenon was something I did not know about when it was all happening, so I was completely and utterly drawn to the world of Ray Petri and his gang of cool guys that rocked the streets of London some 20 years ago. I became a dedicated [post-factum] Buffalo follower.
I had the pleasure to do a tribute to Ray for WOUND magazine which published my article on Buffalo and a photoshoot we did with my dear friend and an incredible stylist, Tamer Wilde.
Here is my article in its entirety:

The year is 1984 and the January issue of The Face features on its cover an unknown mixed-raced model [Nick Kamen], wearing a ski-hat, orange roll-neck sweater and aviator sunglasses; his lips whitened with zinc; a yellow plaster over his eyebrow. Above him in large bold letters, the word ‘HOT’ ironically in the midst of a cold London winter.

This cover - iconic today - was clearly a statement, setting a new look, a different approach to fashion. It launched Kamen’s career, which later progressed from modelling to music. Such was the impact of the image.

The inspiration for the shoot was a 1930s Vogue story, though the clothes did not come from the fashion catwalks. At the time sportswear is still far from fashion and did not follow seasonal collection changes. It is still restricted to training and only a handful of American yuppies have developed a habit of wearing their trainers to the office.

This juxtaposition of styles – soccer T-shirts and ski-hats with tailored suit jackets pinned with old medals, was a far cry from the typical fashion spreads in the magazines at the time. The man behind it – Ray Petri – was responsible for the most unusual, challenging, trend-setting and provocative editorials that circulated in the media space in the 80s and 90s. A man, whose life and career were cut short in a time when it had just reached its peak, leaving a legacy that inspired many a fashion designer, photographer or stylist.

Born in 1948 in Scotland, Ray Petri first developed a taste for music. At the age of 15 he moved to Brisbane, Australia with his family, where he formed a band – The Chelsea Set, playing R’n’B and Motown. Australia did not hold much to amuse Petri and in 1969 he landed in London, where he held a stall at the Camden Street Market, attended classes in Antiques at Sotheby’s and enjoyed a hectic social life.

By the early 1980s the London scene had evolved into a fairground of styles: punk, teddy boys, new wave, ragamuffin, dandyism, sportswear and rock had saturated the streets and Petri embraced them all finding his strength mixing the different segments into a new, ‘HOT’ look, descending from whatever lived there. He took bits and pieces from African, Jamaican and Indian cultures, punk and new romantics, added his own fascination with rude boys, boxers and mods bringing black models into the limelight creating bold and challenging images. The face was his obsession – ‘Start with the face. If you have the right face, everything falls into place’, was his motto. The street was where his inspiration came from and naturally, most of the faces in his images came from the streets of London, rather than professional models. Similar direction he had in his styling, often turning his back to designer pieces in favour of second-hand items, found in thrift shops or car-boot sales. The clothes - heavily customised with brochures, medals and vintage pins - were always taped and pinned at the back in order to create the ideal silhouette; sleeves of shirts would be cut from the shoulder and attached with safety pins due to his obsession with extra-long sleeves. He would oversee every detail of the image and direct the whole process apart from taking the actual photograph. He would leave that to his friends – a group of young, creatively driven boys and girls whom he both inspired and took inspiration from. The Kamen brothers [Nick and Barry], photographers Jamie Morgan and Mark Lebon, Mitzi Lorens, Cameron McVey were his dedicated followers and as more projects came with time, the posse united under the name of Buffalo – Perti’s visual imaging company.
The name, borrowed from a French security services company, was also an obvious reference to Bob Marley’s Buffalo Soldier (a Caribbean expression for a rebel or rude boy). He liked the uniform of the bouncers at Club Les Bains Douches in Paris with their Air Force MA-1 jackets and ‘Buffalo’ stencilled across the back. Those jackets matched with a polo neck and jeans, became his gang’s uniform – cool, trendy, street and chic. But most of all it looked ‘tough’. Buffalo was a style with attitude. There was a lot of attitude, a tough, sexually charged attitude, mixed with sensuous androgyny - a predecessor of the today’s Metrosexual. Combining boxer shorts with Doctor Marten boots, day-glo dungarees and cashmere tops, army jackets with tailored trousers, jewellery and cycling-wear, trench coats with underwear, Ray was clearly breaking boundaries.

Bigger job offers came from all parts of the world and the gang gathered some international followers. In Paris, Ray befriended Jean-Baptiste Mondino and they collaborated on many projects from music videos for David Bowie to editorial spreads and advertisements. “He reshaped clothes and loved the idea of classic Italian tailoring done in a Caribbean way”, recalls Mondino. It was through him that Ray met Jean Paul Gaultier – another true friend, who admits how Petri’s photographs of men in skirts [run in The Face] had provoked him to test the sexual and commercial boundaries of fashion. The Buffalo phenomenon infiltrated every aspect of the industry through magazines, TV commercials and music videos, leaving a strong and long-lived influence on many artists and designers of today. John Galliano, Gaultier, Alexander McQueen and Watanabe have all featured hints of the Buffalo style. Neneh Cherry, another Buffalo member, recapped the time in her 1988 hit ‘Buffalo Stance’. In her own words: “The song is about our gang, our time and our mentor, Ray, who is still behind every word and every melody”.

Sadly, just as Petri started receiving greater recognition in his career, he was hit by AIDS and in a few short years it took his life. He is remembered as one of the most influential stylists in the world. “Fashion is really about styling, that was Ray’s talent. In his own way Ray was a genius; he left his own mark” said Gaultier. And this mark is still alive today. And is still ‘HOT’.

O.Yordanov                                                                                              WOUND MAGAZINE 2008 -Issue #2



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