Yesterday we visited the V&A museum to see the Club to Catwalk exhibition. As a lover of vintage fashion as well as 1980s music, this seemed like must have viewing. It sure didn’t disappoint!
Tracing the evolution and revolution of fashion through the decade, taking in the influence of the London club scene as well as new magazines such as ID and The Face, the exhibition showcases designs by the now uber famous as well as some lesser known (to me) designers. All of this, alongside great tunes makes the experience a nostalgic one that made me smile and reminisce.
The ground floor is dedicated to the catwalk fashion, although the club scene is ever-present in the tunes played. The first outfit on display is by Michiko Koshini, who introduced sportswear as fashion with new stretch fabrics alongside trainers and skateboards. ID jumped on this look which was to evolve throughout the decade.
The Margaret Thatcher quote “Fashion is important because it raises the quality of life when people take the trouble to dress well, and it also provided employment for many, many people” contracts against Katherine Hamnett’s “Thatcher Out” T’s. Both are on display in close proximity.
Early fashions are influenced by 1920s worker’s uniforms, with designs by Willy Brown, sold through his Shoreditch store, Modern Classics. I love that he never advertised; the word of mouth was strong through the club scene and if you were in the know you shopped there. He made clothing for Spandau Ballet and Bowie; his work was described as “Industrial workwear with fantastic detailing”, Philip Hoare.
With London Fashion Week launching in 1984, the graduates of St Martins College were given the opportunity to showcase their work. One of their most successful students was John Galliano. Influenced by the French revolutionary dress, he created layered clothing with fantastical headdresses designed by Stephen Jones. His words “the club scene fed me…” highlights how his nights out impacted his creations.
The Blitz club asked young designers to customise and design a denim jacket which were then auctioned for charity. The video of the catwalk show is shown, where Daniel Day Lewis, Patsy Kensit, Nick Heywood and Boy George all perform. Vivienne Westwood’s show was my favourite, with a dancer/model performing to Kate Bush.
With the British Fashion Council set up in 1983, the potential for our designers to export, fashion became one of our biggest industries by the end of the decade.
Knitwear was huge: oversized jumpers, matching jumper and skirts often made by machines. Knitting patterns saw a resurgence with everyone knitting their own. Shops like Joseph were famous for their chunky knits which were also shown on the catwalk at Fashion Aid in 1985.
I took some time, sat down to watch the event. What I saw were Bretons with blazers, oversized knits, campaign T’s, colour blocking…infact pretty much of what I’ve been selling well for the last few years. Looking about at this point, I realise that most of the people at the exhibition were young, fashion students (they were sketching) all wearing very similar styles to what we were watching on the screen.
Throughout this floor there were many styles clearly influenced by times gone by. The 1940s Zoot Suit kept appearing; no better than Betty Jackson’s design. Androgynous yet feminised with large diamante brooches. Beaded 1920s flapper style dresses by Helen Storey stood out for me in the evening wear section.
We went upstairs to the club section where the outfits become more flamboyant ; we were met on the stairs by a mirror with the words “Would you let you in?”…reminding us that the way we look was paramount especially to Steve Strange in the Blitz Club. So far the designs and fashion were quite sedated..not any more! Where else will you find a purple mini dress with a sections for your genitals!
Broken down to key looks such as the Hard Times look: think ripped denims, leather jackets, caps….very Brando, the Fetish look: think punk but now in gold leather, and one that made me smile the Goth Look. As a goth for a lot of the 1980s it took me back to Siouxie and the Banshees, Hyper Hyper and the indoor market on Kensington High Street.
Customising was a trend I remember well; patches on jackets, making jackets from Post Office sacks (Christophe Nemeth). Both ID and The Face celebrated real fashion often photographing people on the street or in the clubs, something that wasn’t done before.
The high camp section takes us to Taboo and Kinky Gerlinky: Rachel Aubern’s super cropped blouse, Y fronts, 1970s platforms and gartered stockings isn’t really for me…but boy was it fun! The New Romantics were swash buckling cool with costumes worn by Adam Ant and Toyah through to Westwood/Maclarens pirate collection.
Boy George appears throughout as a model as well as his fashions particularly with Culture Club. Foundry designed their washed up on a desert island style complete with espadrills.
The exhibition ends with Bodycon and Rave: white and silver sequined hotpants..now who remembers wearing these (er me!) Smiley face badges, high top Filas…of the memories.
Overall I must say I learnt tonnes, remembered tonnes, and felt slightly sad that I missed so much back then (being slightly too young and listening to Sisters of Mercy too much). They looked to the past for inspiration as well as to club life, it was a time of discovery and a no holds barred approach; a group of young London designers conquered and changed the way we dressed.
Finally there is a room with a club soundtrack and film made by Jeffrey Hinton, who DJ’d at Taboo and other clubs. I sat on the floor at the edge and watched and listened. I remember nights doing the same in clubs, listening to very similar tunes (albeit a little later). Turned out I was the last one sitting there as everyone else had left. He dedicated this to ” all the shining stars we have lost to Aids” reminding us of a time that wasnt just about wearing outlandish outfits, but a time where people lost loved ones…..
Many people perceive 1980s fashion as neither stylish nor vintage. It clearly is, whether you call it retro, vintage, whatever. It is so of a time, influenced by our surroundings and politics, brave, bright and brash and still influencing us today…..Go see!
Images courtesy of V&A press office.
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