DEBBIE HARRY // QUEEN OF PUNK
3-5 Early Years & Career 6-7 Punk & Wave 8-13 70‘s/80‘s - New York Music & Fashion Scene 14-15 Chris & Debbie 16 Blondie 17-29 1974-1982 30-33 Solo Career 34-35 The Icon 36-37 Debbie Harry on Her Style & Image
Born July 1, 1945, Deborah Ann Harry was one of the most influential women of the 70’s and 80’s and one of the leading sex symbols of her generation. In 1999, she was deemed the 12th greatest woman of rock and roll by VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll, in 2002, she was called the 18th sexiest artist of all time by VH1's 100 Sexiest Artists and in 1981, Harper's Bazaar named her as one of the 10 Most Beautiful Women in America. Debbie Harry is most famous for being the lead singer of the punk rock/new wave band Blondie, but during the last 45 years she has appeared as an actress in over 50 titles (movies and television) as well as pursuing a solo career for a few years during the 90’s. “Being hot never hurts” - Debbie Harry
Early Years & Career Debbie Harry grew up in New Jersey but moved to New York in the late 60’s after dropping out of college. Before starting her life long career as a singer, she took various jobs in very different fields around the US. for She worked as a waitress (one of which at a music club her band would later become a regular at), a go-go dancer and a Playboy bunny. Harry began her music career as a back up singer for a folk-rock band called The Wind in the Willows. In 1974, she joined The Stilettos, a female trio. That is where she met Chris Stein, a guitar player who later became her life and music partner, which he still remains today as a guitarist in Blondie. The style of The Stilettos, concerning music and fashion, was very different from the punk style which has famously been Debbie Harry’s trademark throughout her career. Their style was more glamorous and girly, long skirts and dresses, less simple but more classic and theatrical than what Debbie Harry later became famous for. This type of band was never her destiny and she soon left to pursue something else. “Three girls trying to get along together is pretty hard . . . I wanted to do my own thing again and left", said Harry in an interview with Rolling Stone, 1979. The legendary band, Blondie was then born in 1974, formed by Chris Stein and Harry. Shortly after Blondie was formed, Debbie Harry became a punk icon. Her bleached blonde hair was one of her trademarks right from the start and is said to have inspired the name of the band. It was also her eclectic beauty, high cheekbones, full lips and girly punk style that made her such an icon. There were not many bands with women as lead singers at that time, especially not punk bands, and rock was still sort of a boys club in the 70’s but Harry gave male punk icons a run for their money. Debbie Harry has talked openly about her drug addiction, which started a while before Blondie’s days. Harry told the UK's Daily Mirror in 2003, "The drug experience was edifying and illuminating, but the other side of that is that it was habitual and destroyed brain cells" 3
Debbie as a Playboy bunny, 1969
The Stilettos, 1974
“The only place left for rock to go is toward more girl stars. There's nothing left for men to do. There's bound to be more male stars, but they can't express anything new” - Debbie Harry
Punk & New Wave The punk subculture that emerged in the US, UK and Australia in the 70’s, involved everything from music, dance, art and literature to fashion, ideology and film. In some ways, especially in the UK, it was a political act. The bands linked with the punk culture in NY at the time are The Ramones, Wayne County, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Blondie and the Talking Heads were playing regularly in the Bowery District, most notably at CBGB. Some of these bands became very successful abroad, including Blondie, which famously became big in the UK. Despite these bands all being linked to the punk culture, most of them were very different and experimenting with different genres. One of the most famous punk bands was the Sex Pistols, an English band that had obvious differences to Blondie for example. English designer Vivienne Westwood is often credited for making punk and new wave fashion mainstream. Her partner, Malcom McClaren was the manager of the Sex Pistols in the 70’s, at the time Westwood’s designs had started to gain attention from the public. A clothing store in London started by Westwood and McClaren, called SEX, was instrumental in creating the punk clothing style American artist Andy Warhol and his famous Factory studio played a large part in creating the New York punk scene, and pop art is known to have influenced punk visual art. Warhol, who is one of the most well known artists of the time was frequently seen at the music clubs in NY (CBGB and Max’s Kansas city) and named Debbie Harry as his favorite rock star. She was often seen wearing t-shirts designed by him and some of his most famous pieces of art were prints of Harry. New Wave was more commercial and in a way it could be understood as the complete opposite of punk. New wave music encompassed a wide variety of styles, which often shared a quirky casualness and sense of humor. While the music video age initially proved favorable for new wave acts, the popularity of MTV ultimately led to their demise. Many of these artists were photogenic and therefore thrived, but an emphasis on visuals almost always brings about an immediate outcry for the Next Big Thing. As the makeup- and costume-heavy synth pop began to replace guitar-based new wave, the form began to show a serious shelf life.1 Blondie would definitely fall into the category of photogenic acts, with Debbie Harry as the lead singer, the music video age would do nothing other than increase their success.
Punk style Debbie, Photo by Chris Stein For PUNK Magazine, 1976
70‘s/80‘s - New York Music & Fashion Scene The world's most famous rock club was opened in December 1973, when musician/actor/nightclub manager/concert impresario Hilly Kristal took over the decrepit Palace Bar and christened it CBGB & OMFUG (Country, Blue Grass, Blues & Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers). Beginning in early 1974, as Richard Hell later wrote in the New York Times, CBGB "housed the most influential cluster of bands ever to have grown up - or to implicitly reject the concept of growing up under one roof". Those bands include Blondie, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, the Heartbreakers (with Johnny Thunders), Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Ramones, Suicide, Talking Heads and Television. Though CBGB remained a hot spot for touring bands to hit when they came through New York, the scene that kept the bar alive during the 1980s was New York's underground hardcore punk scene. Blondie, The Ramones and The Patti Smith Group were some of the names who played the last show, before the club closed on October 15th, 2006 due to legal issues. Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye told the New York Times: "When I go into a rock club in Helsinki or London or Des Moines, it feels like CBGB to me there. The message from this tiny little Bowery bar has gone around the world. It has authenticated the rock experience wherever it has landed". The club most likely played a very large part in how the music and fashion scene developed at the time. The bands who played there had space to show their personal style and music, which would then influence others for years to come. “I certainly didn't love every band that played CBGB's but I did love to encourage them to do their own thing, to challenge the establishment. I've always felt the stronger you are about yourself and your own ideas, (in this case musical ideals) the more satisfying your success, hopefully, the more rewarding your future” - Hilly Kristal
Debbie Harry & Iggy Pop, 1979
Debbie Harry, Joan Jett & Suzie Q , 1978
The famous exterior of CBGB OMFUG
The bathrooms were let stand pretty much as they were, even though a store has now opened where the club used to be.
Debbie Harry in 1978, backstage at CBGB
Debbie at CBGB in 1977, Photo by Bob Gruen
70‘s/80‘s - New York Music & Fashion Scene From 1965-1982, Max’s Kansas City held it’s place New York City as a social club and sort of a melting pot for the music/art/fashion world’s most talented and original personalities, it was all about art glamour and rock’n’roll. Today it remains as one of New York’s most important cultural landmarks. Many of the names who were regulars at Max’s turned out to be some of the most influential personalities of this century, think Andy Warhol, the B-52s, Betsey Johnson, The Velvet Underground, Devo, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith John Chamberlain, Robert Raushenberg and many more. Often considered the birthplace of punk, glam-rock and pop art, Max’s Kansas City was also where some of rock’s most raw and iconic moments took place. People at Max’s displayed an extremely creative approach to art/fashion and music that in many cases was influenced by drug use. Bebe Buell, who was a regular and a model at the peak time of Max’s, described Debby Harry, who turned up one night swathed in a coat she had fashioned from a Hefty bag. “It was crazy the way she did it, but it really worked. If somebody pulled that look today, it wouldn’t seem authentic anymore”. “In the 1960s and early ’70s, it was a refuge for artists and outliers of every stripe, a kind of gated community where men in suits and chunky Rolex watches were about as welcome as termites. A defiant originality could get you in the door, past the bar and into the fabled back room” - New York Times “People looked different, but everybody looked right. If you wanted to do a real fashion magazine in those days, you should have gone to Max’s” - Oliviero Toscani, Milanese photographer “Stoned or straight, some in the crowd regarded Max’s as a screwball fashion laboratory, a place to try out their most audacious experiments. Fingerless gloves, pearls worn as lariats, tank tops cropped to show a wedge of navel — these were just a few of the flourishes that made their debut at Mr. Ruskin’s club” “Stylistically it was a free-for-all” - Fashion designer Betsey Johnson “People at Max’s prized originality, yet copied their peers unabashedly. Bowie would show up with one eyebrow, so we all shaved our eyebrows” - Bebe Buell "There was never a more exciting time, culturally, in New York, and all of it was brewing at Max's" - Steven Kasher, editor of the book “Max's Kansas City: Art, Glamour and Rock ‘n Roll”
Debbie Harry would often be seen in these knee high leather boots. She’d wear them with everything from a t-shirt and leggings to a wedding dress. "Those are the boots — I had one pair of boots and that was it. Steve [Sprouse] gave them to me; I think he got them from Halston. I would say the heel was probably 3 inches, so it was a pretty high heel but a walkable one. I wore them day in and day out. I used to wear wedding dresses a lot and just rip them off during 'Rip Her To Shreds,' and I'd have a little black dress underneath. Wedding dresses were one of my favorite things to rip. I'd get them at junk stores" - Debbie Harry, Interview with dujour.com
Debbie Harry Performing at Max’s Kansas City in 1976
Regulars at Maxâ€™s Kansas City included some of the most famous names related to everything from music and fashion to movies and art
Debbie & Chris Chris Stein was born in New York January 5, 1950. As well has being a musician, he has worked as a film producer, photographer and songwriter, writing many of Blondie’s top songs. The musical and personal relationship between Debbie Harry and Chris Stein is very well known. As previously stated they met when Harry joined the girl band The Stilettos and later formed Blondie together. Their love relationship ended around 1985 after Blondie splitting up and Harry taking time off to care for Stein who was very ill at the time with a rare skin disease. But they continued their musical partnership until the present day. Harry and Stein never married or had children but in 1999, Stein married an actress who today he has two children with.
“I'm very comfortable and happy with Chris, it's a good thing, something happens with our two minds, which automatically just fits together. Even now everything is sort of parallel. We don't even think about it, it just happens. I think we're lucky that we actually found each other. I never expected anything like that to happen, I never knew that anything like that even existed” - Debbie Harry on Chris Stein "She is like my closest relative" “Debbie and I will never get away from it, we must have known each other in a previous life” “I'm married with kids now, I have a bad habit ... I guess it's the male condition ... the fact that she is idealized by so many people kind of keeps me interested" - Chris Stein on Debbie Harry The last quote, taken from an interview with The Age, in 2005, suggests that it is this idealization of Debbie Harry as a sex symbol hat has kept her an icon in so many people’s minds for all those years.
Blondie Blondie was a pioneer in new wave and punk rock, music genres that developed in the US and UK, just around the time Blondie was born. The band became a regular at legendary American music clubs Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, and after the release of the second album in February 1978, became one of the first American new wave bands to have commercial success in the UK. But it was their third album, released only a few months later in 1978 that is still their biggest success, selling 20 million copies worldwide. In 1982, after releasing six studio albums and one Greatest Hits compilation, the band split up. The split is said to have been greatly affected by the enormous attention Debbie Harry was getting which was overshadowing the rest of the band, many stories were around and people confused the name of the band with being the name of the lead singer, making Harry the focus point. In 1997, Blondie was reformed and remains active today, with a career that spans nine studio albums and over 40 million records worldwide. What makes Blondie one of the most important bands of it’s generation, is the way they incorporated so many different genres of music together, reggae, rap, disco and pop, while being a punk/new wave band. Their innovative approach not only concerned their music, but also the image, with Harry as the lead singer, Blondie is one of, if not the first punk rock band with a female lead singer. Harry gained significant attention right from the start, only a year after Blondie’s first album was released, she was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. "Debbie Harry performs with utter aplomb and involvement throughout: even when she's portraying a character consummately obnoxious and spaced-out, there is a wink of awareness that is comforting and amusing yet never condescending.She (Harry) is the possessor of a bombshell zombie's voice that can sound dreamily seductive and woodenly Mansonite within the same song" - Rolling Stone Magazine (review of the band’s debut album; Blondie)
1974-1982 Punk, glam rock and disco are the types of fashion usually linked to the 70’s. The types of items most common in the punk scene included Dr Martens boots, leather jackets, bandanas, combat boots, studs, bleached or torn jeans and heavy chains. Punky leather jackets, vintage t-shirts and wayfarer sunglasses were some of Debbie Harry’s style staples in the 1970s and she was often seen wearing men's suit jackets and tailoring. But many of Harry’s most effective stage looks were very simple, t-shirts and high waist jeans or leggings. She mixed glam rock and punk styles with disco, giving the rough punk style a twist and making it sexy, which was rather unusual. Some hardcore punk women at that time would even adopt a kind of asexual style. Stephen Sprouse, was an American fashion designer and artist who was known for the revolutionary idea of mixing uptown sophistication in clothing with a downtown punk and pop sensibility, in the early 80’s. He was very involved in the cultural scene in New York in the 70’s and 80’s and had a very successful career before passing away in 2004 Sprouse and Debbie Harry met in 1975, when he moved into her apartment building on the Bowery and they began a working relationship. Sprouse designed many of Harry’s most memorable pieces (for example the t-strap dress she wears in the “Heart of glass” video) and styled her for shows and photo shoots. Harry has described her outfits prior to this period as “before Stephen”. This partnership turned out to be the stepping stone for Sprouse, who’s popularity began to grow as Heart of glass became a number one hit. The friendship between Sprouse and Harry most likely played a large part in their successful relationship, all of Sprouse’s designs for her would match perfectly to her glamour punk style and personality.
“Heart of glass” video, 1978
BLONDIE - 1976 Debut album of Blondie. Debbie Harry has her signature bleached hair and red lipstick as she so often displayed, wearing all black to match the rest of the band.
PLASTIC LETTERS - 1978 Debbie is wearing a pink dress by Anya Philips who was a friend of hers. Harry wore the dress on several other occasions, while performing. It was one of her more sexy, disco inspired looks.
PARALLEL LINES - 1978 The album cover for Blondieâ€™s third album was actually completed without consulting the band, leaving them unsatisfied with it. But nonetheless, Parallel Lines has been ranked at number 140 on Rolling Stoneâ€™s list of the 500 greatest albums of all times. And the cover has been copied by artists such as Blur.
EAT TO THE BEAT - 1979 Showing only three members of five, the main focus on the Eat to the Beat cover is the famous couple, Chris & Debbie. The artwork is obvious evidence of the album being a rock album even though it was under some influence of reggae, funk and pop.
AUTOAMERICAN - 1980 The bandmates insisted on having a cover photo from their home town, the photo was then made to look like a painting. Debbie Harry wears high waist pants and a bustier, looking somewhat like a pin-up girl.
THE HUNTER- 1982 Debbie Harry ditched her short blonde hair for the cover of this album. The styling looks like a parody of the classic 80â€™s rock star style.
The first dress that Stephen Sprouse put Debbie Harry in and turned out to be a very important part of her look. With a little ballet scoop-neck, sort of a trapeze style, made out of matte black silk jersey. Sprouse also suggested the hairstyle, brown under the bleached blonde locks, Harry usually colored it herself.
As mentioned before, one of Harryâ€™s signature pieces was the Wayfarer RayBan glasses. The glasses pictured here were actually not RayBan but Japanese golf glasses that she found in a bum store on the Bowery, close to where she lived at the time. The leather jacket from a thrift store in LA, Harry claimed in an interview recently that she still has the jacket even though it is too small today. â€œIf you look at my bracelets, you see a little lightning bolt that I collected from Bijou, who made jewelry for Aladdin Sane for David Bowie. It was painted with this candy apple red car paint, so it was a treasure"
Besides the simple reason of wanting to be creative with fashion, it was the economy that forced artists at the time to start customizing their own clothing to look punk. Here, Harry wears a Creem Dream Magazine t-shirt that she chopped up and put safety pins in.
Wearing a dress by Stephen Sprouse that Harry claimed to be â€œone of (her) ultimate all-time favorite dresses by Steveâ€?. It was a silk matte jersey with a halter top, she would usually wear this type of dress with very high boots.
Before meeting Stephen Sprouse, Harry’s looks were often 30’s/40’s and vintage inspired. Here she wears a vintage dress that she turned into a skirt.
Here, Harry wears a one piece knit outfit that she got in Tokyo, and a black skinny tie that she would often add to her outfits.
Wearing clear plastic heels, like on the cover of Plastic Letters, one of her favorite jeans and a vintage basketball shirt. With her bleach blonde/ brown hair and RayBan glasses.
Wearing a customized Vulture t-shirt she got as a gift and black high waist jeans she wore a lot, and a little beret she claimed to dedicate to two of her favorite images â€œPatty Hearst when she was Tania and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde"
"This is definitely pre-Stephen Sprouse; he probably would have objected to it. These were textured, over-the-knee, open-weave black socks with little Frederick's of Hollywood Springalatorsâ€”I think that's why they call them. That's a cut-off jeans skirt I cut myself. It was a different time. The city was totally bankrupt; it was a whole different era monetarily. People talk about a recession now, but there was no cession then." - Interview with DuJour Magazine, April 2013
Wearing her favorite black knee high boots for LIFE Magazine, early 80â€™s
Photographed by Brian Aris at Old Street Studio London, 1979
Island of Lost Souls video, 1982 25
One of Debbie Harryâ€™s most common stage looks was a vintage t-shirt worn with skin tight jeans, leggings or even a leather skirt or quirky accessories such as the knee caps shown below
Debbieâ€™s style would switch from punk to disco to glam rock. But she had some signature looks like the high waist pants and menâ€™s tailored clothing, she would also wear ties as an accessory.
Solo Career After Blondie split up in 1984, Debbie Harry pursued a solo career, already well known name within the industry she had quite a large fan group. Even though her solo career never lived up to the success of Blondie, she released five albums in the years working as a solo artist. At the same time, Chris Stein developed a potentially fatal skin disease, and Harry took a few years off to nurse him back to health. This is often interpreted as her sacrificing her solo career. In the 16 years between the split and the reunion of Blondie, Harry appeared in numerous films and TV roles while Stein mainly worked on Harry’s records and on getting well again from his illness. During these years, Harry also performed with the Jazz Passengers, an American jazz group that has also featured vocal contributions from artists like Jeff Buckley, Jimmy Scott, Bob Dorough and Mavis Staples. Harry later became a regular member of the band, appearing on a number of follow-up albums. Harry was initially not too keen on the Blondie reunion, but later said she was glad they went through with it. “My solo career was evolving, but Chris convinced me a reunion would be a good thing, so I capitulated, and it’s worked. A solo album will never have the same identity as a Blondie one”
Rockbird - 1986
Koo Koo - 1981 The cover art for the album was created by Swiss artist H.R. Giger, best known for his design work on the 1979 sci-fi/horror filmAlien. Based on a photograph of Harry taken by the renowned photographer Brian Aris.
Def, Dumb & Blonde - 1989
Debravation - 1993
Necessary Evil - 2007
Debbie Harryâ€™s style has always been about experimenting with new styles and mixing different things together. She kept on doing this throughout her solo career though many of her outfits in those years were more glamorous an in some cases grunge inspired.
Debbie Harry by Andy Warhol
The Icon It is often not appreciated, that Debbie Harry was playing a role in her public appearances, like an actress playing a rock singer. Just as her other icons like David Bowie and Jimmy Osterberg had the personae of Ziggy Stardust and Iggy Pop. Harry once claimed to believe that Marilyn Monroe was her biological mother (Harry was adopted at a young age and never knew her birthparents), she denies this today but admits to taking certain aspects of her Blondie image from the actress, one of those most likely, her bleached hair.
"She had this wonderful vulnerability about her, and femininity and strength all at the same time. And also seemingly a sense of humor. I thought those were all very powerful things" - Debbie Harry on Marilyn Monroe
The famous punk, girly style was created and chosen deliberately by Harry, she created a flashy, sexed-up version of herself, which turned out to be one of the key factors in her and Blondie’s success. She seems to have been confident with this personal style that she developed despite all criticism about being oversexed or other pressure from the public “I never paid much attention to criticism unless it was constructive and I could put it to good use. Why would I want to listen to someone else's opinion when I knew what I wanted to do?" Debbie Harry’s glamorous style might have been linked to Hollywood glamour in many people’s minds, Andy Warhol who named her as his favorite rock star also expressed his appreciation for Hollywood publicly and once said: "I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They're so beautiful. Everything's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic." “Harry’s look was as varied as it was ground-breaking; a mixture of thrift store finds and bespoke pieces from fashion designers such as Stephen Sprouse. From street-wear to formal attire, dresses and heels to tanks and cut-off denims. Her style was bold, eclectic and whilst leather and studs were often present, her look could never been singled out as purely ‘rock chick’, Harry was too exciting for that. As her fame increased, so did her ability to experiment with her look and her wardrobe. Suddenly, premium and luxury fashions were available to her but, instead of adopting a mannequin look and forgetting her punk roots, Blondie’s look continued to incorporate grungy knock-offs, vintage pieces and old favourites. As Debbie grew older, her clothes did too.”2
Debbie Harry on her style and image "It made me feel comfortable at the time. With my affection for those actresses, and that screen persona that was so attractive to me, I thought that other people might be excited by that as well. That was the strongest choice I could make at the time. I felt it was a good starting point for me, and it really worked. It got me going in a strong direction, and from there, little by little, I made it become much more personal" â€?Those were the images that were really exciting to me and I could relate to. I felt like that's what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a movie star, that incandescent, iridescent creature, glowing with that lightness of being. I always wanted to be that, but since it never worked out that I became a movie star, it was just the obvious thing for me to carry it through and do it in front of a band" â€œI did get a lot of criticism for being too overtly sexual and trying to use my sexuality, which was absurd. We all express ourselves sexually. It's one of the primary objectives of the human race"
Bibliography: Web www.thejayc.com www.dailymail.co.uk www.imdb.com www.nymag.com
Print I wish I’d invented sex Essay by Debbie Harry, late 70’s Deborah Harry: Platinum Blonde Cathay Che, 2001
Quotes: www.imdb.com www.nytimes.com Debbie Harry’s essay “I wish I’d invented sex”
Photos: www.vfiles.com www.vogue.co.uk www.blackwhitedenim.com
www.style.com www.dujour.com mtvimages.com www.gettyimages.com
Brief biography & history of Debbie Harry's style.