Judy Blame (1960–2018)

Judy Blame. Photo: Sophie Green.


Judy Blame is dead.

Blame was the best jeweler of the punk era.

Some of his jewelry was shit.

There’s a photo I love: Blame in a Blame, a necklace made of shit, a bib necklace featuring fake turds cascading down his chest.

This is what fashion calls a statement piece. What was the statement? That fashion is shit? That shit is fashion?

Who would say such a thing?

Le Shit?

The Shit?

What was that necklace called?

Fake shit is funny. It doesn’t look like shit. It looks like something that’s trying to look like shit.

Judy Blame’s necklace wasn’t jewelry. It was something that looked like joke jewelry. A fuck you to fakeness. A fuck you from fakeness.

Wasn’t that what punk was?

Whatever Judy Blame did—he made jewelry, yes, but he also styled shoots, singers, and fashion shows—was magic to me.

I’ve been a fan forever, since finding his work in the magazines that I memorized as a teenager: The Face, i-D, Blitz.

He was a punk, which is what I wanted to be. He was a jeweler, which I wanted to be.

He was a faggot.

I am a faggot too, though I think he was better at it.

I wanted to be his kind of punk, but had to settle for writing. I think of words as brooches pinned to paper. I think of sentences as shit necklaces.

There are fourteen turds in this sentence.

So this story’s for Judy.

In 1977, the year of the Silver Jubilee, the year the Sex Pistols got busted playing on a boat on the Thames, he was seventeen and squatting in London.

He wore the clothes that punks wore: He went down to Seditionaries and bought bondage pants.

He wore the jewelry that punks wore: safety pins, zippers, badges. He stuck them to his clothes. He stuck them to his body. He wrapped a zipper around his head. It made him look like he’d had a new brain put in.

Like Vivienne Westwood was his surgeon.

Punk created Judy Blame. He created punk, too.

He took its tropes and twisted them, then twisted them some more.

He screen-printed safety pins onto badges. He bound badges in tartan, and then speared them with safety pins.

He mudlarked.

It sounds scatological. It means he rummaged for treasures in riverbanks, especially the banks of the Thames. The treasures—bones, bottle caps, broken bits of crockery—he transformed into finery: bijoux de la boue.

Toys, charms, pinchbeck chains: He collected all sorts of crap. He combined it in beautiful objets that he wore when he went clubbing, or to tea. It didn’t matter what it was—a newspaper headdress, or cutlery tucked into a hatband, or a cap so encrusted with buttons and beads that it looks like memoryware—he looked brilliant, like nothing before him.

He looked like Judy Blame.

He made jewelry for himself to wear. He made it for his friends to wear. Sometimes he sold some.

In the mid-1980s, he co-founded House of Beauty and Culture alongside designer Christopher Nemeth and shoemaker John Moore and more.

It was a cult store: not easy to find, not easy to find open.

The people who went paid mind to what was in it.

Jean-Paul Gaultier came, as did his assistant, Martin Margiela.

Blame’s salvaged style—a brooch might be a high heel with a pin glued to it—would come to be called Deconstruction when Margiela developed it in his own classic collections.

With time, the whole fashion world would come calling on Blame. In 2005, Rei Kawakubo commissioned jewelry for the boys in Comme des Garçons’s Homme Plus collection; he came up with brooches of gold chain and fluorescent pink plastic soldiers. In the following decade came collaborations with Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Paco Rabanne.

I don’t know why none of those designers did an edition of the shit necklace.

A few years ago, doctors discovered cancer in me. I had surgeries. I had therapies. I spent a lot of time in bed, and a lot of time shitting.

I did both at the same time sometimes.

Instagram was a wonderful waste of time. I followed Judy. He posted pictures of his work, pictures of his world, pictures that annoyed or amused him.

I posted a picture of him in his shit necklace. He liked it.   

After my cancer, the necklace seemed—well, not serious, but more serious.

It was still funny, but also fearsome; still sickening, but also sickly.

The turds are mostly the same shape: swirly. They’re all different consistencies and colors—a brown, a yellow-brown, an orange-brown—that shit shouldn’t necessarily be.

The necklace is a symptom of something.

When I heard that Blame had died of cancer-related causes, another of his masterworks came to mind.

It’s a necklace made from chain, a set of brass knuckles, and a pair of plastic skeleton claws that seem to be grabbing at a cigarette that dangles between them.

Who turns a burning fag into a piece of a parure?

Jewelry is anything—this was part of his proposition. The other part was this: Everything is jewelry.

What does this mean?

It means the cigarette he smoked was jewelry; his lips wore it. The cigarette smoke was jewelry; his lungs wore it. The cancer was jewelry; his body wore it.

Is it too much to say that cancer’s something you wear?

I’ll say this: It wears you out.

Derek McCormack’s most recent novel is The Well-Dressed Wound (Semiotext(e)). It’s about Martin Margiela.