Buffalo Style: An Introduction

Naomi Campbell photographed by Jaimie Morgan for magazine Pitti Trend, February 1987

Naomi Campbell photographed by Jaimie Morgan for magazine Pitti Trend, February 1987

Definition of the Buffalo style: a counter culture style created by Ray Petri in 1984 inspired by American (US) and English sartorial histories.

Definition of Buffalo collective: a creative team of artists, models, and musicians led by Ray Petri that worked in England between 1984 and 1989.

The study of subcultures impact on fashion has not been fully analyzed or interpreted. The mid-1980s was a cultural hotbed in many international cities and included New York, Paris, Tokyo, and London. Buffalo, a subculture collective working out of London and run by creative director Ray Petri, are a great entity to research. There are plenty of visual sources, but nothing in-depth written about Buffalo in scholarly sources.

Buffalo was less about a group of young individuals subverting mainstream, and more a mixed-age group of creatives that wanted to affect change on style, using publications as an outlet. When Ray Petri, the founder of Buffalo, set foot on English soil in the 1969 he was a soul musician in a band that hoped to make it big in London. Petri didn’t know that he would impact the role of the contemporary fashion stylist in London and abroad by creating the Buffalo collective.

Buffalo appropriated high and low culture, as well as sportswear and Americana, to create a unique sense of style. They were also influenced by street style and club culture, attitude verses clothing, Reggae, Africa, and Cowboys. The collective went on to influenced street style and fashion directly from 1984-1989. There are several ways to approach interpreting Buffalo’s impact on fashion.

Ray Petri in the 1980s. Photographer unknown.

Ray Petri in the 1980s. Photographer unknown.

Ray Petrie (who later dropped the “e” from his name) was born in Dundee, Scotland on September 16,1948. In 1963, Petri moved to Brisbane, Australia with his family at age 15. Petri joined a band called The Chelsea Set, they were inspired by reggae, blues, and 1950s’ R&B and moved from their small town to Sydney. Music played a major role in Petri’s life and influenced his work, even when he became a stylist. His ex-wife, Cheryl Delalande, recounts that his style of dress and unusual style of music influenced many people in Australia. In 1969, Petri and Cheryl moved to London where he ran a jewellery booth at the Camden Street antiques market.

He spent a year travelling aimlessly through India to return to selling antiques and taking Sotheby’s courses in antique buying and art history. As an antique seller, he honed his skills for window dressing and shop display. At the same time Petri began to photograph in clubs and on the street.

Through a series of fortunate events, Petri became a photographers’ agent representing Jaimie Morgan and Cameron McVey, two soon to be Buffalo participants. Morgan approached Nick Logan, editor and chief of The Face magazine, about shooting style features in his magazine. Morgan then introduced Petri to Logan. Petri spent the rest of his life styling for Logan’s publications. Between 1983 and 1989, Petri worked freelance for The Face, as well as i-D and Arena. Petri was in good company; he shared the pages of The Face with Judy Blame, Neville Brody, Nick Knight, and Juergen Teller. However, what was most important to him were the creative minds within his own group.

Buffalo began small and grew to create a successful collective. Petri’s collective expanded beyond Morgan and McVey to include stylist Mitzi Lorenz, models (Barry Kamen, Tony Felix, Wade Tolera, Simon De Montford, Talisa Soto, Naomi Campbell, Leon Reid, Felix Howard, and Howard Napper), singers (Neneh Cherry and Nick Kamen), hairdressers (James Lebon and his Cuts salon employees) and photographers (Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Martin Brading, Roger Charity, Marc Lebon, and Norman Watson).  Petri and company wore blue bomber jackets that were embroidered with Buffalo on the back and the name stuck. Petri blended offbeat models and overtly passionate photographers to define Buffalo style and create a shift in how fashion was seen in a magazine, seen above in Dazed and Confused's video.

Each model had their own way of exuding the “coolness” that Buffalo was trying to achieve. Mitzi Lorenz, the only other Buffalo stylist and close friend of Petri, stated in 2009: "The models had to have the right spirit, the look wasn't enough, it had to go deeper. They had to be humble but proud at the same time." Each photographer used their passion to give spatiality, movement, playfulness, and cool images in front of a matte backdrop. As the collective grew, more London scene kids took interest and The Face’s sales increased, giving them more exposure.

Before the mid-1980s the first stylists were editors who worked exclusively for one fashion magazine. They edited the clothing and their placement on models and within the pages of the magazine. Editors also chose the designers to be featured in the magazine. Under the direction of the editor were the photographers, who would provide their own equipment, and models, who would do their own hair and makeup as well as provide accessories. Magazines like The Face, Blitz, and i-D relied on freelance stylists to create the attitude of their brands. Through his work Petri has convinced many journalists that he popularized the freelance fashion stylist job, paving the way for English stylists such as Katie Grand. 

In 1989 Ray Petri passed away due to complications from AIDS, but his ideas and motivations are seen in ex-members of the Buffalo collective. The collective sought style over fashion in some cases, and promoted fashion in others. Many journalists take artistic license and credit Petri and Buffalo interchangeably for creating a real place for fashion stylists and bringing the idea of style to a magazine.