Having lived through the 80s I was excited about seeing this exhibition when I was in London last week. I’m not sure what I was expecting but this really took me by surprise. I think my memory of the 80s had morphed into Dynasty style, power dressing, Thatcherite-ness but this fantastic exhibition focuses on what was almost a cult of young British designers, musicians. club owners and outrageous personalities. Following on from the fun loving psychedelic 70s and adding into the mix an increasing acceptance of sub-cultures and the emergence of the gay scene, 1980s London became a hedonistic drug and drink fuelled party zone.
The exhibition is laid out over two floors with the displays on the ground floor showing clothes from the catwalk collections and upstairs the over-the-top outfits which were born from the club scene in London.
The vibe downstairs is classic 80s with music playing and catwalk shows projected onto the white walls. The atmosphere transports you back 30 years instantly.
There are pieces from Vivienne Westwood’s third collection (and final collaboration with Malcolm McLaren) “Nostalgia of Mud” from AW 1982-83. Her inspiration was mud, raw sheepskin and bras worn as outerwear.
There are slogan t-shirts by Katharine Hamnett’s which are so evocative of the time of policital unrest and economic crisis.
And my favorite section, the Blitz magazine denim jackets. In 1986 the magazine commissioned 22 British designers to customise denim jackets provided by Levi Strauss & Co. The jackets were exhibited at the V&A and auctioned in aid of the Prince’s Trust on 10 July 1986. These jackets are so different and so individual to each designer, it is inspiring to see them displayed together and to see the designers’ original sketches.
Upstairs the atmosphere is completely different. Neon lighting and a much more club-like feel. Here you are treated to fashion from Glam Fetish, High Camp and New Romantic through to Punk. Every sub-culture of the 80s is featured and you get a real sense of frenzy, of young people desperate to have fun with no boundaries, wanting to live for the time. It is reminiscent of the youth culture of the 1920s who were reacting to the end of the first world war and wanted to live for the moment with no thoughts of the future. I wonder whether the increasing awareness of AIDS and the devastating effect it began to have on the London scene had an impact on the behaviour of 80s clubbers.
Don’t miss the booth on this floor showing video clips from catwalk shows and club life which really bring the clothes to life.
Whatever the reasons it was a decade where personalities burned brightly and, in my opinion, this floor of the exhibition captures the essence of this and gives us a glimpse into their world.