Jordan poses at Vivienne Westwood’s SEX shop: ‘I’m not sure why I lifted my top, but it felt right’

Pamela Rooke, aka Jordan, recalls a photoshoot at the iconic London shop, 1976

In 1976, punk was exploding across London. I was working at Sex, the Kings Road boutique owned by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, where this picture was taken. Chrissie Hynde, Sid Vicious and Glen Matlock all had jobs there at different times; John Lydon auditioned for the Sex Pistols by singing along to the shop’s jukebox. In my first week, two of the New York Dolls came in for a browse.

It was my dream job. Since I was 13, I’d been pushing the limits of how I looked. I wanted to turn myself into a work of art. I started going by the name Jordan, after a character in The Great Gatsby, and would search my home town, Seaford, and nearby Brighton for vintage clothes to transform with studs, rips, vinyl patches and ballerina accessories.

At 14, I was excluded from school for having a pink mohawk. At 16, I was in the front row of a David Bowie concert when he walked over and asked if he could have my earrings. I said no. I liked Bowie, but I liked the earrings more.

At Sex, I’d wear net tops, rubber skirts, stilettos. When I started, I was still commuting from Seaford; British Rail put me in first class because other passengers complained about my clothes. I’d not been working there long when this shot was taken; it was for a magazine article about risque shops. The photographer only came to get some interior images, but the six of us in this shot happened to be there and I suppose we took over. It was spontaneous. What I’m wearing – the racoon makeup, the PVC skirt – was what I’d turned up in that day.

Vivienne was insistent the pictures should capture some spirit. Punk was about inspiring people to rip up rules and push boundaries. That’s what we were trying to convey. I’m not sure why I lifted my top, but it felt right, and still does. There’s nothing sexual about it. It’s empowering: a young woman who is comfortable in her own skin. After, I went back to serving customers. It was all fairly matter-of-fact.

Not long after, the Sex Pistols made their TV debut, and Malcolm, who managed them, asked me to go along and get on stage. He said I’d add weight to their look. It was fun and I started doing it at a few of their gigs. After that, I’d occasionally end up in the tabloids as a face of punk. It wasn’t something I looked for, but I never minded. I managed Adam and the Ants for a while and starred in the cult films Sebastiane and Jubilee.

People have since said that seeing me gave them the courage to dress differently. That was never my intention, but it makes me very proud. I still get teenagers saying it to me today. I tell them: be inspired by others, but always be yourself.

I left London and Sex – by then called World’s End – in 1984. I was 28 and a little disillusioned. There was terrible sexism in the music industry, which I had no desire to be part of any more. It felt the right time to move on. But I never stopped believing in the ethos of punk. Those years showed me, if you just have the courage, you can be anyone you want to be – I still believe that as much as I did in 1976. In that way, I’m the same person today as that 20-year-old in the picture.

• Jordan is In Conversation today at the Louder Than Words music and literary festival, Manchester, which ends tomorrow.
Are you in a notable photograph? Email thatsme@theguardian.com

Contributor

Colin Drury

The GuardianTramp

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