If, like me, you were utterly disappointed by the mainstream being definitely more celebrated than the subcultures and the underground during the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympic Games, you may have rejoyced last week when the Victoria & Albert Museum announced its 2013 exhibition curated by the V&A Head of Fashion, Claire Wilcox, focusing on '80s clubwear.
The event, entitled “Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s” and opening in July 2013, will explore the '80s club scene and its influence on global fashion through 85 outfits including creations by designers inspired by the capital's underground clubs (John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, Katharine Hamnett, Pam Hogg and Stephen Jones among the others) and actual clubbing creations seen at infamous venues such as Blitz and Taboo.
The clubbing wear will be divided according to themes (Fetish, Goth, Rave, High Camp and New Romantics) and will also include some of the Levi Strauss & Co denim jackets commissioned by Blitz club magazine to 22 London designers and originally displayed at the V&A in 1986 (and auctioned in aid of the Prince's Trust in July of the same year; there will also be the denim jacket customised by Leigh Bowery with fringes of hairgrips).
The event will be completed by a series of accessories (by Judy Blame, Bernstock Speirs, Patrick Cox, Johnny Moke to mention a few) and archive magazines (The Face, i-D and Blitz) and will hopefully rediscover rebel designers such as Melissa Caplan, Willie Brown, Fiona Dealey and the rest of the Axiom cooperative and the importance of the “getting ready” concept behind the clubbing scene.
This is actually a vitally important point of that decade: think about the difference between getting ready to go out then and doing it for yourself, and getting ready nowadays and to all the people who do so hoping to be spotted by trendsetters or by high profile style bloggers (think also about the damages we have done by creating an entire generation of “global icons” who only live to be photographed during fashion shows...).
Exploring the creative impact of Britain's clubbing culture is actually very interesting not only from a retrospective point of view, as this theme poses interesting questions also about the future role of London as trendsetting capital.
In the '80s London was still considered as a terrifically inspiring place where everything was still possible not only fashion-wise. In the last few years London has successfully been working towards a total restyling that turned it from irresistibly hip into a moderately conservative place: while gaining ground as a proper Fashion Week capital proudly represented by the Prime Minister's wife Samantha Cameron opting to wear British designers at official events and meetings, and as the underground scenes gravitating around the East End were co-opted by dark market forces and powerful brands, London has somehow lost its more riotous and rebellious subcultural forces.
While punk was about protest (something that doesn't exist anymore also thanks to a clever re-marketing of the Royal Family as inspiring icons of style), the 80s were not only years of excess, but also a place of ideas, a decade during which people who were creating fashion could have actually been working in other creative industries, from art to music. The scene was indeed a sort of creative bubble in which ideas easily passed from musician to fashion designer and from designer to artist and dance performer.
Leigh Bowery was the embodiment of this concept: a sort of constant living art performance capable of physically morphing and passing from one scene to another, Bowery was an artist, costume and fashion designer, someone who easily bridged the gaps between different forms of expression often provoking the audience with his outrageous costumes and behaviour.
Rarely in recent years we have seen such flamboyant and disturbing artists, while we have witnessed plenty of official “collaborations” between artists and fashion houses or brands with absolutely no cultural relevance or impact, while music has turned from a place for talented performers to a canvas for brands, designers and stylists.
During an interview in 1984 artist Stephen Willats asked Leigh Bowery if the fact that he was poor at the time made him more creative and ingenious. Bowery stated, "Maybe more resourceful. If I had more money I'm sure I could do even more, but this way, the options aren't so great and so I suppose resourcefulness is a sign of the times as well, when you have to. For us, it's how I wanted to use shag pile carpet, but instead we're using the cheapest fun fur I can get, but I think the effect will be more interesting and also, perhaps it says something about the time I bought it."
Who knows maybe “Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s” and The Met's “Punk: Chaos to Couture” event opening in May 2013, will bring back a dose of healthy rebellion, subversion, individual expression and resourcefulness not only in the fashion industry in general, but also among consumers.
Credits: All photographs (c) V&A Images
Dress designed by Willy Brown, 1980,
Fallen Angel suit designed by John Galliano, 1985
Denim jacket, 'BLITZ', by Levi Strauss & Co., customised by Vivienne Westwood, 1986
Sketch for Levi Strauss & Co. denim jacket, 'BLITZ', by Stephen Jones, 1986
Sketch for Levi Strauss & Co. denim jacket, 'BLITZ', by Stephen Linnard, 1986
Sketch for Levi Strauss & Co. denim jacket, 'BLITZ', by John Galliano, 1986
Denim jacket, 'BLITZ', by Levi Strauss & Co., customised by Leigh Bowery, 1986
Sketch for Levi Strauss & Co. denim jacket, 'BLITZ', by Enrico Coveri, 1986
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