Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s


London’s Victoria and Albert museum has been home to the Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s exhibition since early July 2013 and its doors remain open until 16th February this year. Showcasing the cool, the trendy and the goddamn outrageous, the exhibition, which was curated by Claire Wilcox (V&A), is a big fat slice of nostalgia that even the biggest party-pooper won’t be able to resist.

We’ve all witnessed and probably been a part of the rave culture revival, whether it be through purchasing a high street knock-off of Katherine Hamnet’s bold statement tees or simply dancing our tits off until the sun comes up. So while the exhibition to some is a blast from the past and a big “you’re too old to party” kind of slap in the face, to others it is a taster of the here and now – but with an extra helping of Lycra and spandex. While it’s all of those things it’s also an educational trip and a chance to laugh at what your mum or dad once wore – and I’m not talking chunky knitwear and Reeboks Classic but rather extremely accommodating (emphasis on accommodating) morph-suits (see below pics and gasp!).

One of the big designers of the moment, John Galliano, was once reported to have said “the club scene fed me,” and indeed it did. Each of his designs displayed in the V&A screams that he was a gluten for the London nightlife and he was obviously inspired by the overtly sexy icons of the time such as Boy George.  Outfits by Wendy Dagworthy and Betty Jackson were also on display; casual silhouettes, bold prints, and wide-brim hats. Sound familiar?

Soon the strict dress codes of clubs like London’s Taboo club (run by designer and performance artist Leigh Bowery) were replaced with more sweat-friendly attire; futuristic, camp, fetish and punk. In the 80s a club night wasn’t just about listening to music and dancing but it was very much about what you wore and how you expressed yourself – the clothes, the fashion, the catwalk and your creativity. The fashion hungry, the expressionists, the party-animals and the dam right weird all fell head over heels in love with the rave scene and London in return opened its arms.

The 80s was very much the ‘DIY’ era. The decade of customisation. So, in 1986 Blitz magazine’s fashion editor, Iain R. Webb, challenged several designers to customise the popular albeit plain Levi‑Strauss denim jacket to create something incredible. Leigh Bowery’s design, which is one of the seven displayed at the exhibition, was customised with thousands of gold kirby grips and was transformed into a statement piece like no other. Expressionism was very much the drug of the 80s – along with Ecstasy.

The exhibition, which will only set you back a fiver, takes you on a stroll through the decade that flung London into the shadows of a hedonistic Ibiza and into the blinding – and eventually adoring – spotlight of America. Vintage catwalk footage flickers across the walls and clubbing memories echo throughout the two-floor space as the V&A delicately documents an era that was unique and free.




Words: Hannah Davies




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