THE HARDER THEY COME, THE BETTER (Ray Petri, The Face, March 1985)
This is the story of the legendary Ray Petri and his gang Buffalo, who started a revolution in the 1980s in the world of fashion and style. Starting from the street and bringing together all their different influences, backgrounds and individual talents, mixing them with music and photography, Buffalo was born, and soon in demand by high fashion establishments around the world.
Mitzi Lorenz was by her own definition a fifteen year-old ragga/punk chick when she first met Ray Petri. He bought her a cappuccino and they chatted for over two hours. So was born the beginning of a lifelong friendship and collaboration together, that was tragically cut short by Ray's death from AIDS at the end of the 1980s.
Over their years together, and along with other founding members, photographers Jamie Morgan, Cameron McVey and Mark Lebon, and brothers Nick and Barry Kamen, they started a revolution in the world of fashion, beginning the evolution and definition of the term 'stylist'.
Before this fashion shoots had clothes and had photographers, but there was no one who brought to the shoot their own interpretation of a look, their own style. Ray was inspirational in the way he could put together an outfit, mixing up streetwear with high fashion labels, sportswear with ripped up headlines from newspapers. Mitzi remembers how Ray would start going along to Jamie Morgan's shoots - then even high fashion establishments such as Vogue would operate without such a thing as a stylist at their shoots, something unheard of today, where stylists are known almost as much in their own right as the designers. "At this point", says Mitzi, "fashion shoots as we know it were pretty dry. The clothes would turn up and someone was in charge of bringing them together, but we were there getting the beers in and turning the music up".
New magazines that had sprung up, such as The Face, iD and Arena, owed a lot of their groundbreaking shoots and covers to Ray and the Buffalo crowd. At the time the magazines were mostly music based, with some fashion. When Ray turned up on their door, it blew the lid off what they had worked with before. "It was definitely us approaching the magazines, not the other way round. It was us who came up with the ideas and styled the shoots, and then they loved what we did. It was a really organic process". As Nick Logan, editor of The Face from 1980-90 puts it, "Nick Kamen in a leather skirt, boys in Doc Martens and their underpants, ring-scarred black boxers in nursery-pink bobble hats. Were they serious? Of course they were. Could we run this stuff? How could we not?"
Armani suit jackets, boxing gear, flags wrapped as sarongs, headlines ripped out and pinned to lapels, this was men's fashion as it had never been done before. Mitzi herself would don suits, mix it up with hats and accessories, blur the boundaries. "Buffalo was androgynous in many ways. I was a bit of a tomboy. Women weren't women and men weren't men."
Even age didn't matter, Felix Howard (cover) was 8 years old when he appeared on the front cover of The Face in March 1985, full of Buffalo attitude with a scowl, suit and the word 'Killer' stuck to his hat. How did he end up doing it? "Oh he was just the son of one of our friends." Naomi Campbell was fourteen when she started to hang with the gang, her portrait showing her before the small scar on her top lip was removed, by all accounts "just really quiet and sweet." In fact using black models and models of other races was something pioneered by Ray, "no one had done it before." It was about the face, as they would say, "Start with the face and the rest falls into place."
Ray Petri died in 1989. Mitzi had been closest to him, nursing him through his final months and abandoning fashion as the impact of her friend's illness took hold. Petri's inspiration and influence continues still. Fashion may come and go, but style, as Buffalo will show you, lives forever.