On the eve of her catwalk show at The Vintage Festival, 80s icon Sue Tilley talks being a muse to Leigh Bowery and modelling for the late Lucian Freud
Next weekend's The Vintage Festival celebrates seven decades of British cool, taking into its sway a staggering array of classic music, dance, fashion, food, art, design and film. Conceived by Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway the festival is essentially a giant dressing-up box, and will feature everything from soul legends Percy Sledge and Booker T, to electronic pioneers Thomas Dolby and Alan Wilder. The Royal Festival Hall will be transformed into a multi-venue playground where over 13 hours each day, pass-holders can participate in 70 live performances, 150 exclusive DJ sets, and eight decade-specific nightclubs. They can also watch some decade-specific catwalk shows, one of which has been curated by 80s fashion icon Sue Tilley. Tilley was famously the late Lucian Freud's muse, and this interview was conducted before the sad news of the legendary painter's death.
Dazed Digital: What will you be capturing in your catwalk show at Vintage?
Sue Tilley: Hopefully I will be capturing the 80s… Well, my idea of the 80s anyway. I have tried to pick out certain youth cults of the time and portray them on the catwalk. A friend has also made me a fantastic slideshow of 80s images – some home photos, some pages from iD, The Face and Smash Hits, and other cultural references of the time. Because it’s me, it’s more pop, fashion and TV. I’ve always been a huge fan of popular culture… Leigh always told me that his taste was so much more sophisticated than mine.
DD: Who are the the designers you've decided to spotlight, and why in particular did you choose
Sue Tilley: The designers are Bodymap, who are having a little section of their own. Leigh Bowery and Rachel Auburn. Kim Jones has kindly agreed to lend them to me as he has a huge collection. Antony Price is also lending me a dress. I’m also having some Vivienne Westwood. I chose these designers because I know them, and they were what I aspired to in the 80s. Most people I know couldn’t afford designer clothes, so it was more a case of making do. That’s why I’m showing New Romantic and Hard Times clothes, as these were just knocked-up in people’s bedrooms. Oh, and I was always a big fan of Ray Petri’s styling, so I’m having some models wearing Buffalo-influenced looks.
DD: Being Lucian Freud's model and muse to Leigh Bowery, how did you feel becoming someone whose image is so iconic?
Sue Tilley: I never think about me being a muse to Leigh, I was just his friend. Some people thought that it was weird that he was friends with the girl from the Jobcentre, but I think he liked me because we had the same love of the bizarre and we both had a very regular upbringing, which was something that we could share. He also knew that I could be good fun and I wasn’t a pushover and would never become one of his ‘slaves’ (probably because I was too far too lazy). I often think how weird it is that my life has kind of become a bit famous. Even when I was picking out photos to go in the slide show I was thinking how weird it was that snaps that I took in my flat 30 years ago are now going to be shown in The Festival Hall. I even think how peculiar it is that I am asking Bodymap to be in my show. I used to look up to them so much in the 80s and was so excited when I finally got a ticket to one of their shows. As for working for Lucian... I didn’t even really know who he was when I started modelling for him, and never dreamt that one day one of my paintings would be the most expensive in the world, and has become some sort of iconic image. It is kind of exciting, and as I never had any children, it is great that a bit of me will last forever.
DD: Do you think in years to come this current generation will have a culture to celebrate in the way yours has?
Sue Tilley: I don’t really know, I mean when I was young and running about in the 80s I never thought that anyone would have any interest now. It’s weird, because things have moved on so much communications wise..it’s hard to be a cult as everyone will have heard about it in five minutes by Twitter or Facebook. However, over the last few years the cult of dressing up has really increased, but I don’t think that the kids call themselves anything. I like what my friend Dave Baby called them ‘The New New Romantics’.
Vintage Festival takes over the Southbank Centre; Friday 29 – Sunday 31 July 2011. Tickets here.