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New Romanticism was a fashion movement that peaked in the United Kingdom during the early 1980s. Originally part of the New Wave music movement, it has seen several revivals since then, and continues to influence popular culture. Developing in London nightclubs such as Billy’s and The Blitz, the movement was associated with bands such as Visage, Adam and the Ants, Ultravox and Spandau Ballet. Brian Eno and Roxy Music were also influences.
New Romanticism’s genesis took place largely through clubs such as Billy’s in Dean Street, London, which ran David Bowie and Roxy Music nights in the aftermath of punk. This evolved into the Blitz Club in Great Queen Street, and later Hell, which were hosted by Steve Strange, who was also the doorman, and Rusty Egan who was the DJ. These two, together with Billy Currie and Midge Ure (both from Ultravox) formed the band Visage. Boy George was the cloakroom attendant until he got fired. Singer Marilyn also worked as a cloakroom attendant, doing impersonations of Marilyn Monroe. The club spawned several spin-offs, in London and in the surrounding area, including Croc’s in Rayleigh, Essex, and The Regency in Chadwell Heath, where Depeche Mode and Culture Club had their debut gigs.
David Bowie has been cited as a major influence of the movement and his 1980 single “Ashes to Ashes” was influenced by, and was simultaneously considered to be an anthem for the New Romantics. However, as with many art school-based youth movements, by the time this anthem was pronounced, many commentators felt that the movement had been excessively commercialized and lost its original glamour.
Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club also became associated with the New Romantic period, with Duran Duran becoming house band of the Birmingham club Rum Runner.These later groups formed one of the offshoots of the scene, New Pop, and helped by the rise of the music video and MTV such bands managed to succesfully commercialise the New Romantic look as style became a marketable commodity. The peak of the movement was the Live Aid concert of July 1985, after which, according to Rimmer, “everyone seemed to take hubristic tumbles”.
New Romantic fashions were similar to that of glam rock during the early 1970s, in that male New Romantics often dressed in caricaturally counter-sexual or androgynous clothing, and wore cosmetics (such as eyeliner), frilly fop shirts in the style of the English Romantic period, or exaggerated versions of upscale fashion and grooming. The quiff was a common hairstyle.
In the mid-1990s, New Romanticism was an inspiration for the short lived musical movement Romo.The movement was based at a small number of club nights in London, including the Human League inspired “Don’t You Want Me Baby” and Planet Earth, a Duran Duran themed night club whose promoter told The Sunday Times “It’s more of a celebration than a revival”. The movement was championed by Melody Maker, whose free cover tape spotlighted the leading bands, Dex Dexter, Hollywood, Plastic Fantastic, Viva and Orlando. Melody Maker writers Simon Price and Taylor Parkes organised a tour which proved unsuccesful and saw the movement disband.