Blondie's Debbie Harry and Chris Stein Reminisce About Their Game-Changing Band's Early Days
Ever wonder where fashion and music first hit it off? Here's at least one answer: Bobern Bar & Grill, 42 W. 28th St., New York City. That's where a young photographer named Chris Stein saw Debbie Harry perform in 1973. At the time, she was part of the all-girl group the Stilettos, but soon the two would start Blondie. Their first show was at the now-legendary CBGB, today a John Varvatos boutique. Immediately, Harry's style, pixieish beauty, and punk ethos made her a fashion icon. Stein, meanwhile, captured the band's meteoric rise, and the ever-closer commingling of the fashion and music industries, with his camera. Forty-one years after that fateful moment, the sometime lovers, friends, and bandmates remember the early days:
Chris Stein: The first time I saw you perform, you were wearing a glittery silver pantsuit thing. I thought you looked cool.
Debbie Harry: In those days we were pretty experimental, inheriting clothes or swapping them, or picking up stuff from the thrift stores on the Bowery. But you were a good critic. You could always tell me if something looked good or not. A lot of guys can't do that.
Stein: We didn't read fashion magazines back then—that was a whole other reality for us. We were in this fringe downtown clique.
Harry: I could never really afford anything in them anyway. By necessity I tried to go for a rougher edge. I'd take dresses from the 1940s, break them apart, wear them in sections. I'd mess things up.
Stein: The whole punk aesthetic was as much about a destruction of style as it was of music.
Harry: We went through periods of evolution, style-wise. I guess we still are. When [fashion designer] Stephen Sprouse came on the scene, he cleaned us up. He was into minimalist androgynous '60s looks. Remember we used to swap clothes? I remember going down to a loft on Chrystie Street where the New York Dolls lived. There was just a pile of clothing in this huge loft. When they had a gig, they'd dig into the pile. Watching them get dressed was better than the show.
Stein: Sprouse changed everything. With his appearance in the milieu, fashion and music became a lot closer. He was friends with Andy Warhol and was always emulating him.
Harry: The relationship between fashion and music has gotten much more important through the years.
Stein: Yes, it's much more refined and defined now. The model of a rock star now is completely different.
Harry: Yes, I remember, when I was exploring those thrift stores on the Bowery, I was obsessed with the tailoring, the pleats, the cuffs. You can still find them today, but now it's couture.
Stein: Yeah, unless you're lucky, the only things left in junk shops are junk.
To find out more about Blondie, nab Chris Stein's new book, Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk ($55; barnesandnoble.com).
This interview was featured in our special Fashion Rocks magazine for InStyle subscribers. (Not a subscriber? Become one here.)