Club-kid culture of the 1980s has long been the stuff of legend—now, it’s getting its own retrospective. Curators at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum have announced an upcoming exhibit, Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s, citing the scene as a bellwether for the fashion world at large.
London in the ’80s was a time of sharp contrasts. On the one hand, you had the emergence of "Mrs. Thatcher’s Children," the yuppies Malcolm Bradbury described in 1988 with the phrase "a satellite dish on the Elizabethan roof, a Rolls Royce and two Porsches on the gravelled drive, a helicopter pad in the old rose garden." On the other hand, you had roiling post-industrial class tension and a burgeoning underground arts scene.
For young people in London, clubs became hubs of creative culture. Or as Body Map’s Stevie Stewart puts it: "Each group of people, whether they were fashion designers, musicians or dancers, filmmakers or whatever, living together, going out together and at the same clubs had a passion then for creating something new … that was almost infectious." The confluence of people and creativity produced an incredible culture of avant-garde fashion. The V&A will examine it by breaking it up into several discrete parts. They plan to devote one gallery to young designers who "found themselves" in the scene, like John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood. Another gallery on the mezzanine will focus on the many sub-genres (Fetish, Goth, Rave, High Camp, and New Romantics) that sprang up within just a few years, codified by special theme nights at clubs.
While the show will include plenty of works by well-known designers, the curators are also including garments that were worn as one-off costumes by the scene’s leaders, like Leigh Bowery. The bricolage of high and low, established and underground, is illustrative of how this relatively small community of artists and designers quickly became a vanguard for high fashion. Credit for that goes largely to magazines like The Face and i-D, which broadcast street fashion to the world at large.
Of course, limiting the exhibition to London seems like kind of a snub for Manchester, which produced much of the music and design that eventually migrated south to London. Let’s just hope a second retrospective is in the works for 2014. Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s will open in July.