This interest in fashion intensified when designer Stephen Sprouse moved into the building’s top floor. “I invited Stephen to live there sometime after I met him at Reno Sweeney, when Holly Woodlawn was performing there,” Benton Quin said. “Stephen began designing and making a few things for Debbie, and also loaned her things. She was just basically wearing a lot of thrift shop stuff, so Stephen ramped up her glamour several notches.” Sprouse had a professional background working for Halston, a major designer at the time, and he created clothes for everyone in the band. “He was very much an artist who was aggressive about how he would cut up materials,” Chris Stein said. “He was just so far ahead of his time.” “Stephen would find things for me to wear,” Debbie Harry recalled, “or go through my collection of rags and put them together so that it had a strong visual look. He had all that experience at Halston of creating collections, so he was able to compile things.” Roberta Bayley added, “Dressing Debbie was probably inspirational for him, and it was great for her because she really developed her look—going from a thrift shop look, because nobody had money, to actually having dresses that were made for her to be onstage.” Sprouse did other graphic design work for the group, and in 1976 he was tapped to be the art director on the first two Blondie videos, “X Offender” and “In the Flesh.” From the very beginning, Blondie understood that visuals matter. The group started making music videos five years before MTV debuted in 1981, and photos of Harry circulated widely well before the band ever had an American hit, which undoubtedly laid the foundation for their later success. Although Blondie began as the runts of the CBGB scene, the group became its biggest global export by the end of the decade.
From Chapter 31 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore