10 July 2013–16 February 2014
by CHRISTIANA SPENS
Through more than 85 outfits, from club wear and fetish outfits to high fashion and internationally renowned – and infamous – pieces (such as Hamnett’s oversized T-shirt with the slogan “58% DON’T WANT PERSHING” that she wore to Downing Street to meet Margaret Thatcher in 1984), the exhibition does a great job of accounting for the beginnings of the 80s fashion scene as well as its most famous moments and figures. With a great combination of people, as well as clothes, we see the way that movements develop in fashion – through friendships and relationships, as well as fashion shows and catwalks – and how those dynamics related to wider world developments and national grievances. The recession of the early 80s and hostility towards Thatcherism gave rise to a culture of escapism and entrepreneurship. As designer Georgina Godley recalls: “Young London was all about taking risks and creating something out of nothing through passion and ambition.”
Fashion, then, is shown to be deeply rooted in the cultural and political world of its era, as well as the intimate club scene in London at that time, where counterculture gradually became the mainstream, such that many of these ideas and designs are still worn, or at least imitated, today. Magazines that started during this time – i-D and The Face, for example – also began a style and approach to fashion that persisted through the 90s and into the 21st century. This sense of community and purpose was brought about by a spirit that had its genesis – as the exhibition entertainingly shows (with a mini club area, as well as the Fetish, Goth, High Camp and New Romantics clubbing attire that were worn there) – in a specific group of friends. As fashion designer Stevie Stewart of Body Map explains: “Each group of people, whether they were fashion designers, musicians or dancers, film-makers or whatever, living together, going out together and at the same clubs ... had a passion then for creating something new ... that was almost infectious.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition is the realisation that small groups of friends, who care about their work, and have big ideas, can change the way a whole generation of young people dress, dance and live; and these ideas conceived in the 80s are still very much in circulation today. Fashion, and especially the 80s, are often dismissed as hedonistic and vacuous – but this show highlights the wider cultural significance and effect that a group of people and their subversive ideas can have, even if expressed with fetish outfits and melodrama.
Amie Siegel: Strata
From the world’s deepest underground marble quarry to a fragment of pink marble from Trump Towers, via Freud’s consulting room, Siegel takes us on a journey to explore how objects come to represent status and success
The Neo Naturists
Disaffected by the politics of Thatcherism and an art world overtaken by masculine neo-expressionism, the Neo Naturists covered their nude bodies in paint and burst on to the 1980s’ London club scene in an attempt to explore body image and identity
Francesca Woodman: On Being An Angel
Influenced by surrealism and the Gothic revival, as well as speaking to the contemporary 1970s feminist zeitgeist, Francesca Woodman’s photography offers a timeless representation of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood
Safety Pin Chic: Punk Invades the Met
When punk music emerged in the mid 1970s, a vibrant, cheeky subculture grew to amplify the message in art, literature, film, and most visibly fashion. To this day, punk and its many variations make up a large slice of popular culture and commerce.
Elsa Schiaparelli, the flamboyant fashion designer of the Art Deco period, is renowned for her fabulous eccentricity and innovation. She changed fashion and people's attitudes to it with her scandalous dresses and colourful personality. Her legacy of spectacular designs and an entirely innovative approach to fashion design has moulded contemporary fashion and inspired countless fashion designers, including Galliano, McQueen, Gaultier and Yves Saint Laurent. In short, Elsa Schiaparelli was the woman who shaped fashion as we know it today - creating the pattern for all dresses to come.