What We Wore: Nina Manandhar

"Sometimes the future feels frightening, the past is safe, warm and cosy."

In 2014 nostalgia is the leading card in the pack. Social channels are dominated with TBT hashtags, fashion is dressed up with glaring familiarity, festivals are headlined by our teenage favourites.

And a host of coffee table books demand Tumblr doesn’t hog the action: See Ewan Spencer’s photographs of the UK garage scene in ‘UKG’: Alasdair McLellan’s (contemporary) glance at his beloved Yorkshire for ‘Ultimate Clothing Company’; Bob Mazzer’s salute to pre-smoking ban tube rides in ‘Underground’; Derek Ridgers’ snapshot of London youth via ‘78-87’.

The latest to feed the trend is perhaps the most personal, featuring images and words contributed by the subjects, amongst them Sharamadean Reid, Fred Butler and BodyMap founders David Holah and Stevie Stewart.

“It’s a tribute to the 16 year old me, and my friends,” Nina Manandhar tells Clash, editor of ‘What We Wore: A People’s History of British Style’, and founder of the accompanying website.

“I think it came about because I miss the simpler sense of belonging that comes with teen style and identification,” she says. “Clothes were a big deal to me as a means of self expression and that’s stayed with me to this day.”

Manandar is a photographer by profession – adidas and Nike are clients – and released her debut photobook last year, the London centric ‘Money On My Oyster’. Another personal project, it’s described online as “An anthropology of the local, a tour of chance encounters through zones one to six and back again.”

Unlike MOMO, WWW boasts an inclusive gaze, the default of its fruition via contributions. “I wanted to create a project which brought people together to share their memories,” Nina offers, “But also to reflect and begin to understand things are different now with the onset of the Internet.”

A reaction to ‘subculture photographers’ she glimpsed on Flickr, WWW began five years ago; in 2011 it became a weekly feature on the site she co-founded with Cieron Magat, ISYS (I Saw You Standing), while last year it moved to a standalone space on the world wide web. The book has just dropped, with Eve Dawoud on board as research partner.

“Most people like the attention and talking about themselves,” she confirms of her participants in an echo of selfie/snapchat/status update culture. Many though, were busy or embarrassed she notes: “But it’s never too late, I’m just as interested in ordinary people as ‘celebs’.”

Realising she was onto a good thing when the V&A and Tate became interested (she would hold Live Archive events at each, and will hold another next month at LondonNewcastle project as part of Boxfresh’s 25th anniversary celebrations), Manandhar is hopeful the Prestel publishing will create “something of a big deal” following a “really long slog and lots of hard work”.

It should. The book is unique and intelligent, plus it features Tracey Emin in a red Kappa tracksuit top. It’s like a collection of those personal shots celebrities slide into their autobiographies, but instead of three there’s 190 pages, or discovering your aunt’s hidden photo albums; it’s ideal for nosy characters, better still if fashion’s your focus.

“I like seeing the parallels – often visual parallels between different times and what the photos can reveal about the social backdrop,” Nina responds when quizzed on her favourite aspect.

“It’s like being an archeologist, it’s exciting when new stuff comes in ‘cause you don’t know what you’re going to get… I like the way people’s photos can help memories come alive again to relative strangers.”

Acknowledging the power of the web and observing the c word for the first time, she reckons it’s a useful tool, stating: “The Internet has spawned a thousand subcultural revival communities, websites and Facebook pages which What We Wore turned to for help in gathering a broad selection of images that showcase the history of British youth style.”

Though words and photos feature from as early as 1954, the book is predominantly drawn towards the recent past, the 90’s and early 00’s, which makes it a possible easy target for would-be naysayers who might try to class it as something it’s not, simultaneously though, it does well to pay homage to the backstory of contemporary figures.

So why does Manandhar think people like to look back? “Sometimes the future feels frightening, the past is safe, warm and cosy.”

Words: Zoe Whitfeld

Get involved with What We Wore here

What We Wore By Nina Manandhar is out now, published by Prestel (£22.50).


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