The Unsung ‘80s Style Movement That Predicted Fashion’s Genderless Present

As Dr. Martens revives Buffalo for fall, a photographer and a stylist explain why the scene’s spirit has endured.

With a manufacturing legacy spanning 68 years, Dr. Martens has survived its fair share of style movements. For its fall 2015 collection, the UK-bred brand dipped into its rich archives and found inspiration in the late-’80s Buffalo movement. Spearheaded by stylist Ray Petri, who passed away in 1989 from complications related to AIDS, the Buffalo movement linked a close-knit group of creatives that included photographers, stylists, models like a young Naomi Campbell, and musicians like Neneh Cherry—who penned an ode to the movement in her 1988 chart-topping hit, “Buffalo Stance.” Petri’s iconic editorials and cover shoots defined the look and feel of radical fashion magazines like The FACE, iD and Arena.

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Petri’s vision for Buffalo was almost prophetic; it foreshadowed contemporary fashion’s increasingly post-gender identity, laid the groundwork for the merging of sportswear and high fashion, and elevated youth street style to glossy new heights. Buffalo was more than a trend; it was more like a multi-faceted, avant-garde state of mind. Below, in an exclusive interview, seminal Buffalo photographer Jaime Morgan and stylist Barry Kamen tell The FADER how this largely unsung style movement came to be so influential, and how the inventive spirit of its late leader lives ons.

Something that stuck with me after watching the film (above) was how the Buffalo movement forecasted a lot of the trends that are dominating fashion right now: the merging of sportswear and high fashion, the rise of androgyny. Did it feel radical then to flout gender norms?

BARRY KAMEN: Obviously putting a guy in a skirt was radical.

JAMIE MORGAN: Especially because he wasn't wearing any underwear.

KAMEN: But at the same time, Ray [Petri] was from Scotland, and men wore kilts there. African men wore sarongs. So why can't other men wear them? There were some things that we were doing that we knew would make noise, but that wasn't the reason to do it. It's never the reason to do anything.

In regards to playing with gender, at that particular time, it wasn't just exclusive to what we were doing [with Buffalo]. We were going to the club, and it wasn't like this was a gay club—well it was—but we were hanging out gays, straights, whatever. We were taking what was happening on the street, looking around at the sexual politics, taking it out of context, and photographing it with Hollywood lighting. Suddenly, it became this incredible studio portrait and not just street style.

MORGAN: We used to come to New York a lot because they used to have the big military shops on Broadway. You could get some amazing stuff. We would come and get the firemen's jackets and military stuff. The hip-hop stuff as well. A lot of styling came from New York.

KAMEN: And Paris, and Jamaica, and Tokyo. It was eclectic.

Ray Petri, a stylist, was the visionary behind Buffalo. Can you tell me a bit about how the role of the stylist has changed over the past 30 years?

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KAMEN: Back then, we never made any money. We scraped bits and pieces together, and managed to get 500 quid in our pocket. Back then, it was like a jungle. We had a machete, so we paved the way. Now it's like a free road with fucking banks along the way. That's how much it's changed. That's the difference. But the relationship was created. Now, stylists advise even in the very beginning of the design process. People ask ‘Who's your stylist on this new collection?’ None of that existed. Ray created that dynamic.

MORGAN: That was the birth of the stylist. It's more than just the stylist, actually—it's the relationship between the street, the magazine, and the advertiser. Realizing that "cool" can be taken from youth culture and put into advertising. And now zzzzzip, it's a direct line.

“There were some things that we were doing that we knew would make noise, but that wasn’t the reason to do it. It’s never the reason to do anything.” - Barry Kamen

Jamie, as one of the photographers of the Buffalo movement, can you tell me a bit about importance of the image, and what you aimed to convey when there are no words and there are no credits like in the early days of Buffalo?

MORGAN: The integrity of the image is the integrity of the image. We weren't about broken boundaries, we were about breaking boundaries. You understand the difference? We didn't know what we were doing, we were just doing it.

KAMEN: Going back to what you said about playing with gender, Ray’s [goal] was actually to make a boy sexy for straight boys to look at. How do you do that? How do you put a guy in a pair of boxers so it's actually sexy, and boys know it's sexy? Boys get scared to admit that another boy is sexy without sounding like they're confused. I'm straight and I’m not confused at all.

MORGAN: Ray, being gay, wanted to show that a man can be sexy, well-groomed, beautiful—all the things that are associated now with gay men. He made it okay for heterosexuals to own that, whereas only women had before. Buffalo is very, very inclusive for all men, and you see it now when someone like David Beckham wears a sarong. He could have never worn that sarong if Buffalo hadn't put a man in one.

It's amazing that you say that because fashion in New York right now, and in America in general, is starting to heavily include the trans community, with brands like Hood By Air leading the way.

MORGAN: I shot the HBA cover story for Style.com with Joan Smalls. I was like you know about Buffalo and [HBA creator] Shayne Oliver was like, “Yeah, I know.” HBA are the only people that were doing it. Club, sport, street, sex, gay, straight, lesbian—all in one. But his is a little bit campier. He's got the weirdo cyber vibe, too. We didn't have cyber in those days; it was pre-digital, so ours was a bit more organic and downtown. It's a bit cyber crazy, but [HBA] is in the same spirit for sure.

Where is the spirit of Buffalo now?

MORGAN: The kids man. There's something about the way they are like, discovering Buffalo that made me realize that they didn't have to have "pretty" models. I could have models with character, I could use my race and my ethnicity and my diversity to express myself, and that makes me cool. I'm included. I'm not an outsider.

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KAMEN: You're supposed to be proud of that diversity. That is the legacy that Ray would love. That's where [the spirit] is, but the fashionistas just do what they like with it. They just take it and rip it and use it and abuse it and make as much money out of it as possible.

This writer Armand Limnander wrote a story on Ray where he went through every single show at New York Fashion Week, took a Buffalo image, and stuck it next to the new design. Every single look was linking back to the Buffalo movement. I was like, Wow—Ray is still the spirit. He changed the industry.

I feel like the influence of Buffalo has become so intrinsic that people don't even identify it. It's just the DNA of what we know.

KAMEN: That's what it is. And yet we’re still broke. Somebody's getting paid better than us!

The Unsung ‘80s Style Movement That Predicted Fashion’s Genderless Present