Whilst the bold, outlandish and extravagant fashions of the 1980s are perhaps not remembered with the fond nostalgia evoked by more elegant eras, there’s no doubt that the designs and creativity of the decade have had a considerable influence upon both catwalk and street fashion since.
The styles of the 80s witnessed the evolution of a palpable relationship between social style and high fashion, with designers directly influenced by the clothes they saw on the streets and in the clubs. Not only did this result in the emergence of a variety of new fashion aesthetics, but the link forged between the design process and social interaction was something which fed into a broadening artistic landscape throughout the course of the decade, and nowhere was this more noticeable than in London.
Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s, is the V&A’s latest design exhibition, centering upon the work of a variety of London based creatives throughout the 1980s, as well as focusing on the vibrant club scene which inspired their collections.
Incorporating work by designers including Vivienne Westwood, Bruce Oldfield and Katharine Hamnett, as well as a vivid spectrum of pieces which trace how fashion was utilised by a myriad of social groups during the decade, Club to Catwalk presents a lively picture of the audacious, daring and groundbreaking styles which defined the era:
First looking at the ascension of London fashion both at home and internationally, the exhibition transports us back to the decade where London Fashion Week was just beginning, where The Clothes Show proved regular weekly viewing for fashion fans and where the work of London based designers was in demand all over the world.
As well as incorporating an array of pieces which evidence the conspicuous consumption of the era, the exhibition also reminds us of the freedom of creativity which existed at the time through a shift towards more androgynous styling, evolving textile technology and designers emphatically using fashion to project a clear political and social message.
Other highlights of this part of the exhibition include designs by co-curator Wendy Dagworthy, work by Betty Jackson and an array of customised Blitz denim jackets.
As the exhibition incorporates elements of club style, the ostentatious and in-your -face attitudes of the 1980s come into full effect. Tracing the distinct sartorial approaches of 80s style tribes including the New Romantics, Goths, Punks and the emergence of the Rave scene, you get a real sense of the creativity of each group and how they evolved their own signature aesthetic through designing and making their own clothes as well as customising off the peg pieces.
Nowhere does this become more evident than when looking at the work of Leigh Bowery, who epitomised how club culture and fashion became inextricably linked during the period through the vivid styles seen at his Taboo club and the cult of personality which he established. Here the exhibition also focuses on the work of BodyMap as a counterpoint to the establishment, presenting unconventional designs which went on to be phenomenally popular with the fashion press, stylists and consumers alike.
With the emergence of new fashion publications such as i-D magazine and The Face, as well as the growth of fashion PR, the 80s was undoubtedly the decade which modeled fashion as a lucrative business. This was a period which presented a cool, covetable alternative to much of the conservative culture which had preceded it, and which has undoubtedly defined fashion as we know and consume it today.
Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s runs at the V&A, South Kensington, SW7 2RL until 16th February 2014. Entry £5. To find out more at to book tickets, visit www.vam.ac.uk.
Sarah Farrell is a fashion and lifestyle blogger at My Sentimental Heart. A regular contributor to Aesthetic Magazine, Sarah’s main interests lie in baking and style. Sarah is also the Features Editor of Aesthetic Online. She Tweets @sarah_sentiment.