Jean Paul Gaultier’s spring/summer 2013 womenswear show was a nostalgic backwards glance to the designer’s 1980s origins. The collection referenced Madonna, Michael Jackson, Annie Lennox and Boy George – cue conical bras, lone silver gloves, pinstripe suits and, yes, kimonos, braids, hairbands and felt hats perched at the back of the models’ heads. The message was clear: the 1980s club scene was back. And Gaultier was not the only designer to think so.
Alexandre Herchcovitch’s S/S ’13 collection was similarly inspired by Boy George – think outsized alphabet prints and gingham shirt dresses – and back in A/W ’12 forward-thinking London duo Meadham Kirchhoff devoted their whole collection to iconic 1980s clubs Taboo and Kinky Gerlinky. On the high street, too, the 1980s are in full view: from T-shirts sporting bold letters to Dr Martens boots, tube skirts and dungarees.
This most recent resurgence might have taken some consumers by surprise, but not Claire Wilcox, head of fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which last week unveiled a new exhibition entitled Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s.
“This was the decade when London designer fashion became professionalised, but also when the club and music scene took off, inspiring both street and catwalk fashion,” says Wilcox. “A lot of very important designers, such as John Galliano, found their voices in these years.”
More than 90 fully accessorised outfits by names including Galliano (represented by two menswear looks from his 1985 Fallen Angel collection), Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett are on show, alongside accessories from milliner Stephen Jones and shoe guru Patrick Cox. “We felt that the London 1980s scene hadn’t been well represented in recent exhibitions,” continues Wilcox, who curated the show.
The show is divided into two parts, with the ground floor focusing on the catwalk, and the first floor on club wear, including examples of Fetish, Goth, Rave, High Camp and New Romantic work. “The 1980s is impossible to summarise with one trend,” says Wilcox. “That’s why it is so exciting – we hope everyone will find something they love, whether it’s a Tiger jumper by Joseph or Body Map’s monochrome club wear.”
Garments on display in the Fetish section include a gold leather Pam Hogg bodysuit, while the Rave section showcases a Rifat Ozbek ensemble of trainers, miniskirt, jacket and shorts from the end of the decade. In New Romantics, there is an outfit from Adam Ant, with his customary leather trousers, sash and boots.
Also on view are items from the designs and wardrobe of Leigh Bowery, designer/performer/promoter/ringmaster of the London club Taboo. These include a bodysuit and jacket designed by Bowery and worn with a James Montgomery hat; his yellow star coat and sequinned cap; and a purple stretch satin bodysuit with tubes of fabric hanging from breasts and crotch, which Bowery wore with a stretch turquoise corduroy jacket lined in purple-and-white striped silk.
Elsewhere, a mannequin recreates an outfit worn by Boy George in his New Romantic era, featuring a multicoloured jacket and trousers worn with a white T-shirt. The bright clothes of Chrissie Walsh and Georgina Godley are also here, and there is plenty of Lycra.
One of Wilcox’s favourite sections is a collection of customised Levi’s denim jackets, which were commissioned in 1986 by the British style magazine Blitz. Twenty-two London designers made a contribution and the jackets were exhibited at the V&A then auctioned in aid of the Prince’s Trust.
“Each is quite different, from Leigh Bowery’s [which is] covered with golden hair grips, to Vivienne Westwood’s bleached and distressed ‘Blue Sky’ jacket,” Wilcox says. “Stephen Linard’s is festooned with metal cutlery.”
While the show puts the spotlight on the connection between 1980s designers and the club scene, it does little to put the trend into the context of what came before (ie the punk movement) or of the present – too bad, given how much influence the decade currently wields in the designer imagination.
Indeed, quips the Indian fashion designer Manish Arora, “I think that the whole of [contemporary] Indian fashion was influenced by the [London] club scene. There was a naivety to what these kids were doing, what they were trying to create with no money,” he says, “and that is inspiring to designers.”
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‘Club to Catwalk’, until February 16 2014, Victoria and Albert Museum, London SW7; www.vam.ac.uk
Dress up and drop out: Peace, love and paisley
Museums on both sides of the Atlantic are investigating influential fashion moments this summer, writes Rachel Felder. Hippie Chic, which opens at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts on Tuesday, focuses on high-end designer pieces from the peace-and-love era, often in the flowing silhouettes and statement prints that have become emblematic of that period.
“What we’re not showing is some hippie guy that went and patched his jeans,” says Lauren Whitley, the exhibition’s curator. “We’re really talking about designers who were very much tapped into the counterculture, and translated that up the scale.”
Those designers include Yves Saint Laurent – whose autumn 1969 patchwork dress Whitley describes as “the most perfect example of how hippie fashion trickled up”– as well as Giorgio di Sant’Angelo and Rudi Gernreich. The show also features work by Ossie Clark, Bill Gibb and Thea Porter, along with London boutiques such as Granny Takes a Trip, Biba and Alkasura.
“In the mid-60s, London was way ahead of America when it came to forward fashion,” says Whitley. “The English really pushed the envelope.”
Although the show focuses on womenswear, it includes a selection of dandyish outfits for men, often in kaleidoscope prints that suggest hallucinogenic influences. The overall aesthetic has clearly influenced modern-day designers such as Marc Jacobs and Isabel Marant.
Hippie Chic also features pieces by designers who aren’t typically linked with the hippie movement, such as Bill Blass, Adolfo, Geoffrey Beene and Halston. Their inclusion reinforces the show’s message – that hippie style was unconventional but influential. As Whitley puts it, “These clothes were meant to be fun. Everyone had this wonderful colourful attitude that said, ‘Dress up in fashion, do your own thing and express yourself.’ ”
‘Hippie Chic’ runs from July 16 to November 11, www.mfa.org