Neneh Cherry and Judy Blame first met on a sweaty dance-floor in 1985. Fast forward thirty years and they’re both icons in their respective fields, firm friends and collaborators with a hell of a story to tell. Photographed by Mark Lebon, Neneh and Judy celebrate good times and friendship as they talk to Tom Ryling.
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Neneh Cherry and Judy Blame have been collaborating since their first meeting on a “sweaty dance-floor” in London 1985. Theirs is a partnership where music and fashion collide to form sounds and visuals that continually inspire new audiences; it’s a collaboration based on respect, creativity and love. It was the late Ray Petri, influential Scottish stylist and architect of London’s Buffalo fashion collective, who first brought Neneh, the up and coming singer from Sweden, and Judy, the stylist and jewellery designer, together professionally. Ray mentored both, and alongside their friends (including Mark Lebon, who shot this story, and a host of photographers, models, musicians, hair and make-up artists) they created a new family based on ideas, culture, respect and most importantly style.
We meet in Judy’s studio in East London, over twenty years since their first project together. I find them talking about Neneh’s new upcoming solo album, The Cherry Thing, and Judy’s ideas for the visuals. I’m here to discuss how they continue to be a massive source of inspiration to new generations of young artists, here’s the conversation that unfurled.
This is The Wise Up Issue of i-D, what advice would you pass on to the younger generation?
Judy: It turns out the work we did in the 80s, early 90s has inspired a lot of young creatives today. They were kids back then, buying Neneh’s records and watching her music videos. Now they’re all running the business and it seems they’ve “iconed” us a bit, haven’t they Tom?
I’d say there’s a fair amount of creative 20/30-something fandom towards you two.
Neneh: Today I was actually remembering one of mine and Judy’s first meetings in my kitchen in Willesden. It must have been before Ray (Petri) died and Ray was like, “Look, I’m too ill, I can’t do this project right now but Judy’s definitely the guy for you.” So we had this funny meeting and I remember you had a book with all these drawings in… and now, here we are today.
Judy: Back then we worked as such a tight unit. I’m not saying we ignored what other people said, or did, we just got on with what we were doing at the time.
Neneh: We became a family. We had a real group intuition, and really fed off each other’s creativity. We were always aware of how valuable that was but it was still funny when everything started rolling so fast.
Did you never have a definite vision or ‘career plan’ as such?
Neneh: No, not at all.
Judy: It was all very organic, especially when it came to clothes and visuals. It wasn’t like it is today when a singer works with a label or a look. I’d go out looking for things and think, ‘Oh, Neneh would love that.’ When Neneh performed her first hit record, Buffalo Stance, on Top of the Pops, she was seven months pregnant with her daughter and people were shocked at the pure vision of that, but to us it was totally normal. We were just getting on with our work, but people were shocked to see a pregnant woman dancing around.
Neneh: I felt like my pregnancy – with all that crazy stuff going on – definitely became a form of protection. At the time, there were a lot of stereotypes about women in the music business and a lot of cliches. Having ‘the bump’ was a way of feeling powerful in the face of those things. I never felt like it was just me on my own. Me, Judy, all of us, we were in a tribe and it was the teamwork that made it work and made it what it was.
Neneh wears hoodie Y-3.