Another Girl, Another Planet


Posted by in October's Magazine

“Jordan created punk rock. She was selling it on the front line.” Adam Ant

The revival of interest in Punk saw the story told from all kinds of viewpoints but there was one last great story still to be told and here it is Defying Gravity – Jordan’s Story. Told with the help of Cathi Unsworth, an author with a real sense of style both writing and sartorial, this is a real treat for the class of 1976 and those seeking to understand why we were revolting.

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Before she was Jordan, a name chosen to be deliberately gender neutral, Pamela Rooke was forged by family life in Seaford. Her Dad stretched the family income so that Pamela could read the glossy monthly Dancing Times and her Mum took her to see the Royal Ballet perform Coppelia in Eastbourne. It was the discipline of ballet that forged her identity along with a sense of style.  

She became adept at sewing and repairing her ballet shoes a skill that was to be exploited later by Vivienne Westwood. The importance of clothes is a constant. ‘My parents approach was always save for something better made than the cheaper alternative, and it’s something that I’ve stuck to all my life’.

It was hairstyles that first set her apart at school, a Mia Farrow followed by a Rod Stewart. One school crush opted for another girl as the synthetic python skin dress she made herself was just “too out there.” 

By the time David Bowie held her hand from the stage at a gig and asked for her homemade earring replete with found starlings feathers she had enough chutzpah in her to say “No” to her hero.

The Bowie Look was not widely welcomed in early 70s Britain, neither was punk later, and it was the gay club scene in Brighton and London that proved the finishing school for Jordan. On arriving one night with a copy of Vogue fashioned into a clutch handbag she earned a round of applause for her attire alone, from the clientele.

When Sex opened on the Kings Road in 1974 she knew she had to work there. Sex and Jordan were made for each other. With her white beehive, Mondrian inspired make up and wearing the shop’s clothes, Jordan made entering the shop intimidating to quite a few beyond the cognoscenti who came for the rubber and fetish wear. 

Indeed she relates that the ITN Newsreader Reginald Bosanquet would give a wink at the end of the programme if he was wearing the rubber underwear he bought from the shop. 

Wearing clothing from Sex and commuting to London from Seaford led to some tricky situations, on the train she was regularly upgraded to First Class due to the outraged attention her attire provoked in fellow passengers. 

Not so Derek Jarman, filmmaker and artist, who noted in his diary ‘Jordan wore white patent boots clattering down the platform, transparent plastic miniskirt revealing a hazy pudenda. Venus T-shirt. Smudged black eye paint, covered with a flaming blond beehive, the face that launched a thousand tabloids; art history as makeup’. Jarman had found his muse. 

And he made the link with her right away when the Sex Pistols performed at Duggie Fields and Andrew Logan’s Valentines Ball. This crowd liked to think they were anti-establishment but even Peter York thought the band’s followers “rather bourgeois“ and by the end of the evening their time had passed… 

Rotten gave Vivienne a black eye in rage at finding out the drink had gone. Excited that NME journalist Nick Kent was there Malcolm McLaren urged Jordan ‘do something’ to get his attention and the infamous photo of Rotten and Jordan made their reputation and the papers. Jarman however, felt kinship with them and shortly afterwards asked Jordan to appear in Jubilee making her a poster girl. 

Jordan wore white patent boots, transparent plastic miniskirt revealing a hazy pudenda…the face that launched a thousand tabloids; art history as makeup 

Sex became Seditionaries, a shop where customers had to justify to Jordan why they were entitled to buy the clothes on sale. Bianca Jagger was turned away but others sometimes got a discount if they could not afford items. If it meant a sale then the clothes Jordan was wearing were taken off to make the sale.

Jordan then managed the first incarnation of Adam and the Ants making a regular appearance with her song Lou, a howl of rage about her disappointment with a gig they did. Andy Warhol was a fan and she met Bowie again at Cannes for the premiere of Jubilee where he faked shock at her appearance. Yet the real shock was her piece in the film where she used her ballet skills in Jordan’s Dance, dancing round a fire till her feet bled.  

Westwood was so pissed off at Jarman for Jubilee that she made a T-shirt, now a museum artefact of course, where she vented her spleen at him. She fired from the shop on her wedding day…  

Derek Jarman again: “As far as I was concerned Jordan was the original. Everyone else in the fashion side follows on from her, without Jordan Vivienne’s shop wouldn’t have worked. Everyone who came in saw Jordan’s dress sense and attitude and it all took off from there. She was the Godfather, the Godmother, if you like. She was the purest example of all.”

Info: Defying Gravity: Jordan’s Story by Cathi Unsworth & Jordan Mooney (Omnibus Press £20)


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