I remember working one night in a tavern during the mid-1990s, a place where the patrons coaxed an endless soundtrack of grunge and punk from the jukebox, when someone dropped a quarter in for Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.” Almost immediately, the mood across the room shifted, with the biker dudes singing along and sort of both mock dancing and actually dancing, and one of the regulars leaned across the bar and posed this rhetorical question: “What kind of sick f— wouldn’t like this song?” What kind indeed. Released on this day in 1979, “Heart of Glass” is a dreamy pop hit that at the very least is pleasing to anyone sane and addictive to those who love to dance. And the video delivered so much more: a beautiful blonde front woman whose delivery matched her persona: Detached, willful, feminine, feminist, bored, flirtatious and standoffish. And the style! Was she disco, New Wave, rock or punk? Was she an uptown princess or downtown cokehead? Her outfit—a scrap of a dress paired with clear plastic heels—hints at posh but also feels like a one-off. The dichotomies made Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry endlessly alluring and enigmatic. We didn’t know it at the time, but through “Heart of Glass,” Harry was introducing the world to fashion designer Stephen Sprouse, who styled her rock goddess image from the tips of her bleached roots to the transparent toes of her Cinderella slippers, East Village style.
Sprouse met Harry in 1975, after Sprouse quit school to work for Halston and moved into the East Village loft above a liquor store where Harry lived. The two shared a kitchen and bathroom, and Harry would often feed the designer’s cats. Sprouse had some clothes he’d “been dragging around for years,” and started to put a look together, cutting up dance tights and T-shirts into outfits and helping her dress. Rock music was a primary source of inspiration for Sprouse, and in 1978 he took a picture of lines of pixels dancing across the TV, photo-printed the enlarged image onto diaphanous chiffon and designed what became “the Heart of Glass dress” for Harry. When that song shot to number one on the dance charts, even in those pre-MTV days, Sprouse’s reputation quietly crept above ground and uptown.
Watch any Blondie video and it quickly becomes clear that it is next to impossible to draw attention away from stunning Harry—her band mates tried in vain to do so through the lifespan of the group—but Sprouse’s dress does it. In fact, all of the costumes he created for her various videos and appearances hold their own against Harry’s magnetic “It factor,” precisely because they are so perfectly styled for her; they are her. The Heart of Glass dress, for instance, fits and drapes superbly and, with its hip-high asymmetrical hemline, might have looked Halstonesque were it not for the single, off-kilter strap and DIY print. It hangs from her tiny frame like an oversize kerchief; torn, filmy and strangely unforgettable. Years later, Harry told People magazine that Sprouse “put a layer of cotton fabric underneath and a layer of chiffon on top, and then the scan-lines would do this op-art thing.” A shadow of a stripe is repeated on the thin scarf Harry bats about and on the coordinated T-shirts the rest of the band wears. In the world’s first glimpse of the band, Sprouse’s styling created the image of Blondie, a group not quite disco and not quite pop, one with punk-rock roots that appeals to the upper-crust set.
Sprouse launched his first collection four years later and became a star. Harry occasionally performs today, but we only have photos and videos to remember Blondie. The music is the main thing, of course, but when we think of Blondie, without ever knowing it, we are thinking of Sprouse. —Ali Basye