❚ EX-ST MARTIN’S AND WAG CLUB HOST Chris Sullivan says: “I’ll be deejay at the V&A again for next Friday’s free event. I’ll be doing a typical 80s club set from Kraftwerk to house with hip hop, rockabilly and mutant disco, to seminal electro and rare groove. It’s an evening of all sorts of shenanigans to do with the Club to Catwalk exhibition.”
The monthly Friday Late on October 25 at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is inspired by the current exhibition Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s, which celebrates the creativity and theatricality of the capital’s dynamic fashion and club scenes. Assistant curator Kate Bethune is running a busy programme of free events, including art and design workshops, art installations, expert talks, performances and deejay sets throughout the gallery.
DIY fashionistas will discover how to make their own Scarlett Dress (named after Scarlett Cannon, 80s Cha-Cha club hostess and now “key identity” for the exhibition, seen at left) by downloading the dress pattern from the V&A’s website. An example of the toile is being displayed in the Sackler Centre on Friday evening.
Kate reports: “Our free Friday Lates tend to attract upwards of 4,000 visitors and our Club to Catwalk exhibition, London Fashion in the 1980s, continues to prove extremely popular and is averaging 5,000 visitors a week.”
“ It was 27 April 1985 and the opening party for the second floor of the Wag Club – the nightspot I founded and ran in Soho – was in full, unrestrained swing. Fuelled by the unlimited free bar, the place was totally off the hook, the crowd dressed to the nines in their own inimitable fashion – pirates, preachers, punks and picture-postcard peaches – throwing themselves about with Bacchanalian abandon to a soundtrack as arcane and varied as they were.
“ High jinks indeed, yet looking around I realised that we as a group had come of age, were taken seriously and that this moment was ours. George Michael danced next to Siobhan of Bananarama overlooking Sade who nodded to the music in front of Suggs and Martin Kemp. Over the way, John Galliano camped it up alongside Leigh Bowery, Judy Blame, Boy George and one of the scene’s most innovative dressers and designers, Stephen Linard, while behind them stood Steve Strange and Princess Julia chatting to Vivienne Westwood… ” / Continued at High Life
➢ Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s runs at the Victoria & Albert Museum, July 10–Feb 16, 2014. Featuring more than 85 outfits, it showcases new looks from the decade’s most experimental designers and some remarkable photography from back in the day
Monica Curtin’s 1985 pic of Scarlett Cannon as “key identity” for the V&A Club to Catwalk show… Outfit by BodyMap’s AW 1984 collection, Cat in the hat takes a rumble with a techno fish. Stylist John Derry-Bunce. Background painting Simon Josebury. Hair and makeup Jalle Bakke
❚ “FASHION???” SCOFFED THE FASHION EDITOR of a leading women’s magazine who shared my flat in 1980, after meeting one of the more ornamental Blitz Kids over our breakfast table. “Those aren’t even clothes!” Yet within five years she was as keen as every other editor to be featuring BodyMap, Galliano, Jones, Auburn, Hogg, Hamnett, Bernstock Speirs et al. Scroll forward 30 years and London’s world-beating decorative arts museum, the V&A, weighs in with a necessary exhibition reappraising the UK’s style revolution of the 80s. What’s coming under scrutiny in its dedicated fashion galleries are the unique silhouettes of that extravagant shape-shifting decade and the clubland forces that moulded them. Only two weeks to go before Club to Catwalk, London Fashion in the 1980s, and there’s one crucial tipping point at its heart: the moment fashion became style.
Let’s hand over to fashion guru Iain R Webb, one of the central figures who defined his generation and whose impressive book As Seen in Blitz was published last month. Here’s a taste of the mighty personal essay he has written for the summer issue of the V&A Magazine…
V&A Magazine summer issue: the 80s deconstructed by Iain R Webb
Webb writes: “ The 1980s were all about being photographed. We dressed as if every day were a photo shoot and every night a party (it usually was). But there was another revolution happening.
The advent of the stylist who approached fashion as an artistic construct was something new. Alongside the contributors to BLITZ, The Face and i-D (Ray Petri, Judy Blame, Caroline Baker, Helen Roberts, Beth Summers, Simon Foxton, Mitzi Lorenz, Maxine Siwan and Caryn Franklin among them) were two thought-provoking arbiters whose importance is often overlooked. Michael Roberts at Tatler and Amanda Grieve at Harper’s and Queen added a subversive edge to their respective glossy titles. Roberts poking fun at old-school mores while Grieve (later Harlech) befriended St Martin’s graduate John Galliano and helped create the romantic whirlwind that shaped fashion for decades to follow.
The images produced by all these stylists merged fashion and art, questioned the accepted ideals of beauty and social status and enjoyed a sense of experimentation. Their vanguard imagery often highlighted specific issues such as the superficiality of fashion and consumerism with humour.
“At that time there was a group of stylists who were as creative as the designers, if not more so,” remembers PR Lynne Franks, who represented BodyMap, Katharine Hamnett and Wendy Dagworthy. “It prompted the question: What came first, the styling or the clothes? It was very spontaneous, like playing dress-up.”
Stefano Tonchi, editor of W magazine, then editor of Westuff, an alternative style periodical published in Florence, says: “Fashion was no longer fashionable. Style was used to describe many areas of the creative arts that came together. It made for a new category. Music dictated a lot of the emerging trends and there was experimentation in both photography and graphic design, but fashion was where these exciting changes were most evident. Think of the BodyMap fashion shows, they weren’t just about the clothes but involved music, graphic design and theatre… ”
“ The Blitz designer collection of Levis denim jackets celebrates some of the most talented and creative designers working out of London in 1986 and it has been 27 years since London’s V&A museum last displayed them. These unique jackets were commissioned by the 80s style magazine Blitz in 1986 and customised by a host of top designers, including John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, Bernstock Speirs and Paul Smith. In quirky twists on the classic Levis denim number, the 21 jackets, of which the V&A owns nine, push the boundaries of the term ‘customisation’. Onetime Blitz Kid Stephen Linard experimented by attaching a leather backpack and cutlery to his…
Seven of the nine jackets in the V&A’s collection will be on display in the summer exhibition Club to Catwalk, London Fashion in the 1980s (opening July 10), in addition to a loan of Zandra Rhodes’s jacket, which has been recently reunited with the group, and a Stephen Jones hat that was customised as part of the same project. The jackets will be displayed alongside many of their original sketches and a video wall which will show footage of the 1986 fashion gala… ” / Continued online
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MORE INTERESTING THAN MOST PEOPLE’S FANTASIES — THE SWINGING EIGHTIES 1978-1984
They didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did.
“I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real” — Stephen Jones, hatmaker, 1983. (Illustration courtesy Iain R Webb, 1983)
“The truth about those Blitz club people was more interesting than most people’s fantasies” — Steve Dagger, pop group manager, 1983
“See David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapers of the 80s to which I am hugely indebted” – Political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
“The (velvet) goldmine that is Shapers of the 80s” – Verdict of Chris O’Leary, respected author and blogger who analyses Bowie song by song at Pushing Ahead of the Dame
“The rather brilliant Shapers of the 80s website” – Dylan Jones in his Sweet Dreams paperback, 2021
A UNIQUE HISTORY
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❏ Header artwork by Kat Starchild shows Blitz Kids Darla Jane Gilroy, Elise Brazier, Judi Frankland and Steve Strange, with David Bowie at centre in his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes
VINCENT ON AIR 2022
✱ Deejay legend Robbie Vincent returned to JazzFM on Sundays 1-3pm in 2021… Catch Robbie’s JazzFM August Bank Holiday 2020 session thanks to AhhhhhSoul with four hours of “nothing but essential rhythms of soul, jazz and funk”.
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UNTOLD BLITZ STORIES
✱ If you thought there was no more to know about the birth of Blitz culture in 1980 then get your hands on a sensational book by an obsessive music fan called David Barrat. It is gripping, original and epic – a spooky tale of coincidence and parallel lives as mind-tingling as a Sherlock Holmes yarn. Titled both New Romantics Who Never Were and The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet! Sample this initial taster here at Shapers of the 80s
CHEWING THE FAT
✱ Jawing at Soho Radio on the 80s clubland revolution (from 32 mins) and on art (@55 mins) is probably the most influential shaper of the 80s, former Wag-club director Chris Sullivan (pictured) with editor of this website David Johnson
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