Club To Catwalk: London Fashion In The 1980s

The exhibition everyone's talking about is here.

Would you let you in? A variation on Steve Strange’s infamous door policy for the BLITZ club stands between the mezzanine gallery and the ground floor gallery of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s latest exhibition. Below, several glass cabinets host work by specific designers, upstairs, clothing is grouped by tribe.

A mirror with a few choice words, the discouraging phrase that once separated the club kids from the wannabe club kids, in this case distinguishes between designers of the decade and outfits produced with the club in mind. Though by the nature of what’s on display, the lines are a little blurry.

‘Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s’ is the exhibition likely to take the ‘must see’ title from ‘David Bowie Is’ when the latter ends in August. And what a perfect showcase to debut next; post-Bowie, the kids that he inspired (see Strange, Leigh Bowery and Boy George all duly noted).

A Rain Jacket by Michiko Koshunko (bright orange, inflatable) greets visitors as they enter the exhibit, though our attention was quickly stolen by the designer colourways. Vivienne Westwood is pastel pink with light grey, John Galliano is yellow with grey and Betty Jackson is blue and orange – these colours cover the walls while exhibit notes stand off kilter along the bottom of each cabinet.

‘We’re trying to set the record straight,’ curator Claire Wilcox told assembled press on Monday. ‘In the 80s there were lots of talented designers, some made it, some didn’t.’ Those that made it to the V&A include BodyMap, Joseph and Wendy Dagworthy.

A successful designer at the time, today Dagworthy is a Professor, Head of Programmes and Dean of School at the Royal College of Art. Visible at the preview in a white frock and lime plastic bag, she worked closely with Wilcox to get the display just right. GQ editor Dylan Jones, we are told, also helped with the set-up, lending a pair of ripped jeans at the last minute.

Upstairs groups include New Romantic, Customised, Body Conscious, Goth, High Camp, Rave and Glam Fetish. Alongside the towering mannequins – glitter trainers and bondage boots at eye level – there lies a ‘small club-like area’. A lit up BLITZ sign hangs overhead while inside 20 screens show footage complied by Jeffrey Hinton (the DJ is also responsible for the sounds you’ll hear when in there).

It’s one of the nicest features of the show, alongside other footage such as The BLITZ Collection at The Albery Theatre from 1986, displaying the clothes, people and spirit of the time. The latter specifically, is what comes across throughout the two floors (and indeed in the collective Twitter cheer the exhibit has garnered).

‘This show is about something much more personal,’ Charlie Porter has said. And he’s right. In her speech to press, Wilcox mentioned the time Spandau Ballet went to New York and took their friends out there too, and the time designers were invited to Downing Street. The parallels between then and now are clear, from the politics to the fashion weeks (the first London Fashion Week took place in 1984, last year London Collections: Men debuted).

The collective sense felt then is echoed today – take the recent ‘Den Mothers’ feature in The Sunday Times Style Magazine, looking at Lulu Kennedy and Katie Grand’s gangs – that feeling of being part of a family. It’s this that makes the exhibition more relevant today than ever before.

Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s opens tomorrow until the 16th February 2014. A series of events are set to take place alongside it, including a talk from millinery duo Bernstock Speirs (6th September) and Caryn Franklin in conversation with Toyah Willcox and Brit Smith-Start; By Women for Women on the 8th November.

Words: Zoe Whitfield


Get the best of Clash on your iPhone – download the app here

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.