Style

Because You Can: Buffalo Stance

You’re lookin’ good today. You’re lookin’ good in every way.

These days everyone goes on and on about mixing high fashion with vintage and mass-market clothes, but it was not always this way. Fashion used to be a pretty top-down thing: fashion magazines showed models wearing fancy designer clothes from head to toe. But in the 1980s, a group of friends from West London changed all that. They were a collective of photographers, models, and artists led by the Scottish-born stylist Ray Petri, and they called themselves Buffalo.

Buffalo created striking images of men and women for the British style magazines The Face, i-D, and Arena, and they did it on their own terms. The Buffalo look was tough and androgynous—men in skirts, women in baggy suits—and it mixed streetwear, sportswear, and even underwear with designer clothes. When Ray couldn’t find a designer jacket he liked for a photo shoot, he bought one from a junk shop. When he couldn’t find a skirt he liked, he’d wrap a flag or a blanket around a model’s waist like a sarong.

When the photographer Jamie Morgan couldn’t find models he liked in the nearly all-white casting books at modeling agencies, he went out and found his own, casting awkward teenagers, girls selling vegetables at farmer’s markets, or guys working the door at clubs.

For one of Buffalo’s earliest shoots for The Face, he cast one of his friend’s kids, eight-year-old Felix Howard, as a baby-faced gangster in a secondhand chalk-stripe suit with the word “KILLER” ripped from a tabloid and stuck to his hat (if Felix looks familiar, you probably know him from Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” video). The idea behind Buffalo was that an ordinary girl who worked in a shop was as worthy of attention as any model, and it was revolutionary. The dramatic black-and-white photos Buffalo created made heroes of the kind of people you see every day, and proved you could easily find stars on the street or in the corner store.

It was important to the collective that Buffalo was a look, not a label. Ray Petri was obsessive about not using only designer clothes for his photo shoots. When Ray did use, say, an Armani jacket, it was because he loved its baggy cut, not because of its label. Ray used to say that there was nothing in a Buffalo photo shoot that you couldn’t re-create in a thrift store or your granddad’s closet, and he’s right. The point of these clothes is the way they’re worn, not how much they cost.

Take this photo of Naomi Campbell—Buffalo shot some of the earliest images of her back when she was a sweet-tempered 14-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, not yet given to swearing or throwing phones. You could easily re-create this look with any sharp-shouldered ’80s blazer (how amazing is this one?!) and a bit of fake rabbit fur from the craft store. I really like the button of Haile Selassie too, but feel free to substitute your icon of choice.

A lot of Buffalo looks are even easier than that. I love this one—a simple men’s henley worn backwards and with the sleeves cut off. It’s so very “Oh, hey, welcome to my studio. This is where I paint, and these are the effortlessly chic clothes I just happened to pull out from under the cat this morning.”

This one’s great too: imagine yourself in all black with a simple white scarf knotted at your neck and a photo of a prizefighter pinned to your shoulder (bonus points if you manage to look like a Caravaggio painting, if Caravaggio painted sad chiaroscuro cowboys).

The Swedish MC Neneh Cherry was an important part of the Buffalo crew too. Her style—bomber jackets worn with bike shorts and big gold chains—was a huge influence on Ray and the Buffalo gang, and her song “Buffalo Stance” was their anthem. PLEASE watch this video if you haven’t seen it already, it is amazing and will also make M.I.A. make a lot more sense:

If dressing like an androgynous Mafia don isn’t your thing, then you can go for Neneh’s look instead. Eighties-style bike shorts are easy to find in the workout section of thrift stores (my favorite section because it is FILLED with shiny spandex goodness), and they look amazing with a classic MA-1 flight jacket. Or you can go for the more colorful look below. Probably the most important thing to remember is to wear it with attitude. Like Ray used to say, “Start with the face and the rest falls in place.”

Captain’s Hat, vintage (find similar). Crop tee, $16, Topshop. Comme des Garçons sneakers, $150, Coggles. Red Kap Overalls, $37, Tough Weld. The Face magazine, vintage (find similar). Smile i-D: The Best From 20 Years of i-D, $40, Amazon. Swatch watch, $52, Lazy Oaf. 8. Chain bracelet, $14, ASOS. Baggu backpack, $30, Fred Flare.

30 Comments

  • Abby May 22nd, 2012 7:09 PM

    I may be mistaken, but the guy in the picture appears to be wearing a kilt, not a skirt. But it may be a skirt made to look like a kilt…

  • missblack May 22nd, 2012 7:11 PM

    Damn, this is cool. I wish more magazines today had a Buffalo-like approach; using vintage clothes and having cool, normal people model them.

    I guess that’s what Rookie is for…yes?

    And I’m totally going to dress up like that ‘killer’ kid for Halloween this year. :D

    Little&Trivial

  • Naomi May 22nd, 2012 7:18 PM

    ughhh i love this. i feel educated

  • Lucy23 May 22nd, 2012 7:20 PM

    I love this to death. Thank you thank you THANK YOU ROOKIE!! <3 I'm gonna try this out tomorrow

  • kacela98 May 22nd, 2012 8:10 PM

    I love this! Matter of fact I am going through my closet right now to find something that is my version of the buffalo style!

  • lylsoy May 22nd, 2012 8:17 PM

    OMG, I love Naomi <3 great article

  • indigosunday May 22nd, 2012 8:33 PM

    I think Naomi Campbell looks so purdy!!!

  • Tara May 22nd, 2012 11:20 PM

    How did I not know about this? IT IS PERFECT. I am obsessed. I want to dress like an androgynous mafia person. also my mother totally recommended neneh cherry’s song to me. girl hero.

  • Tyknos93 May 22nd, 2012 11:27 PM

    I’ve seen alot of these things separately at some point and had no idea they were connected! So many cool points for using chiaroscuro in a sentence.

    That Neneh Cherry video has always reminded me of Galang lol.

    http://blazoningpens.blogspot.com/

  • Susann May 22nd, 2012 11:48 PM

    I didn’t know about this and it’s so interesting!

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

  • kittenmix May 23rd, 2012 1:22 AM

    This is so weird because I had no idea the way I dressed was pretty much a result of this! Cray. And also that asos bracelet is exactly like one of diane’s necklaces in the good wife that I have been lusting after so yaaay.

  • Pia May 23rd, 2012 1:34 AM

    Buffalo changed my life. The suggested outfit at the end makes it look so safe and generic. GO CRAZY with this stuff. That’s the real spirit.

    Ray Petri : all my love

  • Caden May 23rd, 2012 1:51 AM

    These photos are AMAZING! Thank you for sharing yet another cool but largely unknown part of style history.

    Caden x
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/pinkpoppies1991

  • mayaautumn May 23rd, 2012 2:11 AM

    i love neneh cherry! recently, i read an amazing article about her in i-D ….don’t you just LOVE i-D too?!

    http://cottonmixblog.blogspot.com

  • Evelanche May 23rd, 2012 2:57 AM

    Loving this article.
    But hey,
    Neneh Cherry is Swedish!

    • Anaheed May 23rd, 2012 3:04 AM

      Fixed — thank you, Evelanche!

  • laurenniee May 23rd, 2012 4:07 AM

    Day has been made seeing this article; Buffalo Stance is in my top 5 favourite songs.

  • hillary May 23rd, 2012 5:02 AM

    omg how did i not know about this?! buffalo is my new favourite thing. fo realz.

  • Jamia May 23rd, 2012 7:59 AM

    I LOVE Neneh Cherry. She’s done some really cool activist songs as well. I still think she deserved the Grammy she was nominated for in 1990 over Milli Vanilli.

  • caro nation May 23rd, 2012 8:15 AM

    NENEH!!!!!!!!!

    OH MY GOD!!!!!!

  • Juwi May 23rd, 2012 10:59 AM

    This is really so damn c0oo000ooool!

  • Dagmara May 23rd, 2012 11:17 AM

    Wow, this is too great!

  • thedoctorhastwohearts May 23rd, 2012 12:25 PM

    I loved this! Definitely style inspiration. This part is awesome: “The idea behind Buffalo was that an ordinary girl who worked in a shop was as worthy of attention as any model, and it was revolutionary”

    The Naomi Campbell part kinda made me stop straight in my tracks cuz I’m a (okay usually) sweet tempered 14 year old Jehovah’s Witness and I was like ‘woah they’re watching me oh no wait they’re talking about someone else lol’ :) – Hiccup

  • YangHaizi May 24th, 2012 1:57 AM

    this is my fav song of neneh and the post was so educational..tnx

  • YangHaizi May 24th, 2012 1:58 AM

    plus i’m searching for reasons to wear overalls :D

  • Chimdi June 5th, 2012 7:04 PM

    CARAVAGGIO

    I’m so sorry I know this is going to sound really pretentious but Caravaggio is my favorite artist EVER!!!

  • maddiemeow June 6th, 2012 3:45 PM

    absolutely love articles like this when something we don’t think twice about since it’s part of everyday culture, such as ‘mixing high-fashion with mass-market’, is put into context and how it originated is explained. definitely one of my favourites :)

  • 2dmmg June 20th, 2012 12:47 PM

    LOVE! leeann, did you catch the “buffalo family collections” spread in arena homme plus? the photo of nenah cherry’s daughter is especially cool since nenah was pregnant with her in the video for buffalo stance!
    check it: http://tinyurl.com/8484z9r

  • Hannnah June 22nd, 2012 6:22 AM

    Can Neneh Cherry be my best friend please?!

  • Hannnah June 22nd, 2012 6:28 AM

    ahh my god and I just realised Tavi that’s where you got “style rookie” from!