Mr. Blackwell has been a high-fashion designer for more than a decade, commanding a far-flung fashion empire from the heart of the Los Angeles garment district. Yet he remains an enigma—a modern-day maverick in an industry heavily influenced by designers in Europe and New York.
Blackwell’s disdain for fads and his refusal to bow to the pronouncements from traditional fashion capitals have earned him fame, fortune, and no small measure of controversy. His annual “Ten Worst-Dressed Women” list, for example, is Blackwell’s way of taking a satirical jab at the endless best-dressed selections.
In his role as a network media commentator on a two-hour program heard Monday through Saturday, the controversial designer gives his opinion on anything his listeners want to discuss. (“I happen to think it’s more damaging to whisper than to speak out in public.”)
Today his fight is against a world obsessed with bold nudity, crudity, restlessness, rioting, disenchantment, disorder, chaos, shock, and rock.
One of the most sought-after interview guests in the USA and abroad, Mr. Blackwell is seen throughout the year on many television talk shows. Several times each year his charity fashion shows raise thousands of dollars for worthy causes, and he is in great demand on the lecture circuit internationally.
Young Latter-day Saints interviewing Mr. Blackwell are Carol Clark, Sherryl Walker, and Lee Chambers, members of the Chatsworth Second Ward, Reseda Stake.
CAROL: Mr. Blackwell, what is the difference between fashion and fads? I think we young people are generally confused between the two.
MR. BLACKWELL: Young people have never known good fashion. They have grown up in a period of fadism. Indeed, I think they have grown up in the worst period of fadism that our industry has ever known. They have been intimidated by the fashion industry to the point where they have no sense of dignity. It has been a really bad scene—a disgrace! Each person has been attempting to say, “I’m doing my own thing.” And each of them thinks he is individual. But in reality they are all wearing uniforms. So the uniform has become the disastrous kind of grubby thing that someone, for the sake of selling another a piece of trash, calls fashion. I don’t think very many young girls have ever really known what pretty is.
SHERRYL: Isn’t it society’s or parents’ fault too?
MR. BLACKWELL: It’s both. Young girls have been given little chance to grow up. They become adults before they have finished childhood. Many youngsters today, in my opinion, are too aware, unfortunately, and they are incapable of handling all that awareness. You know, too much knowledge to someone who can’t handle it can be a dangerous thing. Most youngsters have falsely gone through adulthood in their teens. It’s a pity. It doesn’t give them a chance to really grow up. Youth is fabulous, but not many are taking advantage of it. Many twelve-year-old girls look like sixteen-year-olds. Oh my, what are they doing to themselves? It would be marvelous if, for a young girl, there were some degree of being naïve. There is a certain amount of beauty in naivity. That’s what makes kids so charming. Who wants a sixteen-year-old girl using the kind of tough language one hears so often? It’s dreadful.
CAROL: What is considered to be good fashion now? What is the difference between the kind of clothes the “grubbies” wear and the “nice” clothes, for example?
MR. BLACKWELL: It’s pretty obvious. You’ve answered your own question. The grubby look is garbage. The pity of it is that many youngsters are being educated to trashy fads instead of some form of standard. If it is all for fun and kicks, that’s fine. If you are at home or if you are visiting a close friend and you want to lie on the floor or patio and listen to music, grubbies are fine. But on campus or any place else I would be very opposed to them.
SHERRYL: With the new fashions there is a lot of emphasis, alternately, on different parts of the body—it’s legs and then something else. What do you think about that?
MR. BLACKWELL: I am disgusted with that kind of fashion. It’s a disgrace to the industry itself. When you look back five years from now, you’ll agree with me. Not many young people agree with me now because they have never known differently. You have had nothing with which to compare. There has not been a standard. That’s what is wrong. If there is no standard, then how do you compare? And how do you evaluate fashion as a young adult? There is no way if you only read the fashion magazines or fashion ads.
SHERRYL: Are you saying that five years from now we will have no use for the clothes we are now wearing?
MR. BLACKWELL: I say you’ll have no respect for most of them. You won’t want to have any use for them as soon as you’re shown something different.
CAROL: Do you like anything at all about the things you see now?
MR. BLACKWELL: I like the layered look for young people. I think it is good for school or college wear. I like long dresses worn moderately, but I think they are often too intimidating. The long dress is too contrived or constrictive for all-day wear at school, for example. But it’s great for evening occasions, for dinner parties, and for going out. I think it’s good for social functions in your church, also.
I like some of the new sportswear too, but I love to go to a prom and see girls who look really beautiful. Pretty! Young pretty! Not so grown-up and not with all this junk many of them wear. It’s very simple to be pretty. To be a girl is pretty in itself.
CAROL: What about skirt lengths? Should they be knee-length ?
MR. BLACKWELL: You simply have to know what’s good and what’s bad taste. That’s the main thing. Most of those who wear short skirts have revolution or rebellion in their heads rather than a desire to be in good fashion. Revolution is often fun, but it is dangerous. Evolution is good, and fashion should evolve.
SHERRYL: What is in store for skirt lengths? I noticed in your fashion show that your skirt designs were longer. Could girls our age wear them?
MR. BLACKWELL: Of course! Many young people wear my clothes. If your awareness is there, if you know where you’re going, many of these styles could adapt to you. But if you have nothing to compare it to, then you have no standard except for what the clothing manufacturers throw at you. And I mean throw at you.
CAROL: How should a girl start her wardrobe? What should she look for first?
MR. BLACKWELL: I think before she even begins her wardrobe she should become aware of some of the aspects of good fashion—not only what’s good for her, but actually create a standard for herself. Fundamentally speaking, basic colors, not prints, should begin anyone’s wardrobe. Prints are the second thing you buy, but first get colors you can wear again and again. Once you’ve seen a print, that’s it. Prints should enhance the basic colors. I’d start with basic colors. I’d start with a good-looking skirt, a smart blouse and sweater, and some good-looking shoes if I were you. Then you can buy some nice accessories. But keep your whole look as simple as possible.
SHERRYL: What about materials? In your show it looked like you used a lot of silks.
MR. BLACKWELL: No, there were no silks. Those are sanlons and nylons. They look like silks, though.
CAROL: Well, what would you suggest for those girls who enjoy making their own clothes?
MR. BLACKWELL: I’m sure there is a favorable climate in your church for making your own clothes. You could use some of the new fantastic cottons that don’t look like cotton. You can wear these all year round. They are great. Corduroy is a great fabric. Velvet is beautiful on young people. There is nothing more beautiful on youth than a velvet gown done right. It’s gorgeous! It sort of makes the face glow. You can use acrylics also. There are some marvelous blends like polyester that are good. If you make your own clothes, remember you must use fabrics that press well, that handle well. The soft jerseys are also very good, and they are easy to care for.
SHERRYL: Will fashions recycle again? I am now wearing the kind of clothes my mother says she once wore.
MR. BLACKWELL: Everything evolves. And so should fashion; at least that is my view. It is really a sick subject because in the last ten years we have seen a fashion revolution not evolution. There has been nothing to look up to. What do youngsters look up to? Many of them saw their mothers make fools of themselves the way they dressed. Mother thought she looked young in all those trashy fashions, but she looked foolish. And now women’s lib has mothers thinking they want to compete mentally and physically. It is a disaster.
LEE: Let’s speak about fashion for men. Are the eccentric things we’ve seen in women’s fashions coming into men’s fashions now?
MR. BLACKWELL: It already phased through. Freaks are freaks, male or female; there is no difference. I do like form, and I like some of the brighter colors for men’s clothes, but here, too, I think we should have the right to do what is in good taste. For example, I always thought I looked fairly up to date, but I never believed in fads for myself. I do not want to wear something that would look ridiculous on me.
LEE: Mr. Blackwell, do you like long hair on men?
MR. BLACKWELL: Well, I don’t think the length of your hair is necessarily a standard of your morality, for instance. The thing wrong with long hair for guys is that it is unfortunately symbolic of revolution. It is not the long hair I object to, it’s the way some fellows tell society: “I’m going to do what I please, and the devil with you.”
LEE: Then how can fellows go about changing their standard in clothes?
MR. BLACKWELL: Actually, I think it’s the girls who need basic standards more than the fellows. The higher the standard of women’s fashion, the higher the men’s will be. For example, if a girl assumes the boy’s aggressive role, then she is no longer a girl. I really like the fact that a girl needs to have the door opened for her, and that a man is going to marry and protect her. And I like the fact that he should respect her. When he respects her, his own fashion will be in good taste, you see.
To be a successful woman is in itself a fantastic thing. There is no successful man in the world without a good woman at his side. To raise a family is a major thing, isn’t it? So it starts with a woman.
LEE: Are you saying that some men’s fashions have been too feminine?
MR. BLACKWELL: Yes, I think you can degenderize yourself with some of the feminine men’s clothing now fashionable. Wearing them, you often begin walking like a woman, you begin to move your hands like a woman, you begin to comb your hair like a woman, every five seconds. You’ve seen them. They’ve got you thinking they have the hiccups.
In fashion, the more masculine the women go, the more feminine men become. And the minute women go back to being feminine, the men will return to being masculine. When women started wearing the pants, guys went to the most she-she fashion available. The minute gals cut off their hair, boys let it all hang down. Now, when she goes back to being feminine, he will go back to tradition, and he will take pride in being a male, which is very important.
SHERRYL: What is it that first attracts men to a girl? Is it the clothes they notice?
MR. BLACKWELL: When a fellow is attracted to a young woman, he is involved in her eyes, her hair, her make-up or lack of make-up, and of course her clothes. She cannot be masculine in her attire. Fellows want to see a girl, which means pretty, and that doesn’t mean she is going to be competitive.
LEE: You think, then, that many women today wear clothes that are too masculine?
MR. BLACKWELL: Yes, and if a woman is wearing pants and is too busy to care much, she misses a lot of life. If she doesn’t think being a woman is in itself a major thing, then she is lost. She has got to decide that being a woman is one of the best things that ever happened to her and then enjoy it and work with it and live with it. Many of the young girls today are so busy being good guys that they have forgotten to be great, great girls.
CAROL: Do you think that there is any relationship between fashion and conditions in society?
MR. BLACKWELL: Yes, I think fashion has had much to do with the permissiveness in society, for example. If fashion is permissive, so also is the standard of living. If fashion is not permissive, the standard of living will not be either. With see-through blouses, what do you expect? I think it is wrong. Fashion tries to tell you the see-through is good, that no-bra is good. I think that’s just nonsense. First of all, the no-bra is unhealthy. By not wearing a bra in her youth, any young woman at 22 will be sorry. There is no way to repair stretched muscles, you know. A girl needs support. Without it, she’ll look terrible in a few years.
In fact, my whole concept is not so much the dress in itself but rather the whole sensitive standard by which society will live. Any dress is only a covering, but it also is a reflection or a mirror of the person who wears it.
LEE: Thank you, Mr. Blackwell, for taking time to talk with us about fashions. We really enjoyed your show.
MR. BLACKWELL: It has been my pleasure. But if fashion is the most important thing I’ve said today, we have wasted your whole time. My concept and my feeling is that society is a reflection of the fashion of our time. If I just made dresses, if that has been my whole life, then I am a failure. But I have never made a woman look worse; I have always made her look pretty. That is my aim. Everything in my line is basically pretty, severely pretty, some say, but still pretty. And I’m not trying to make young adults stuffy or anything like that—I’m just trying to make them realize that they, too, must begin with a standard.