Books: The totem of Taboo

Chris Savage King on an Eighties icon
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The Independent Culture
If London really is a centre of culture again, it's largely due to applied art-school intelligence. Leigh Bowery was one of the brightest blooms on this circuit in the 1980s. Sue Tilley's memoir of him, Leigh Bowery: portrait of an icon (Hodder, pounds 9.99), is honest and affectionate. A consummate objet d'art, Bowery got on best with people with whom he could show off intellectually. He is best remembered for his outrageous fashion designs, but was also a sitter for Lucian Freud, a performance artist, a keen shoplifter, and an inveterate liar.

The Eighties were a time of naked ambition and hardcore hedonism. The door policy of Bowery's club - Taboo - was unequivocal: "Dress as if your life depends on it, or don't bother". Yet if you ever managed to get in, it was surprisingly friendly.

Bowery was a trouper. When he was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1988, he kept it secret for a long while. He wasn't interested in becoming a professional victim. We'll never know what Bowery would have made of the 1990s. The get-out-of-my-way-or-I'll-kill-you ethos that he embodied with such aplomb is no longer popular. The Me generation has been replaced by "me too" and the current rave-style of clubbing - in which you leave your ego at the door - would not have suited him at all.

Still, his legacy lingers in those he inspired, and in a few convictions he shared with them: "Be brave, do what you want, and don't be afraid of failure - never give up". This is a charming and raffish book, a fitting tribute to someone who lived fast, died young and stayed pretty. He packed more into his time than many manage in a much longer life.

Left: Lucian Freud's 1993 portrait of Leigh Bowery

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