Style: V&A Club to Catwalk | London Fa-fa-fashion in the 80s – why aren’t we that free?

Guest post by Caner Daywood

Bowie beating his face

Bowie beating his face

As I write this post I am proudly blaring out some vintage 80s classics from Bowie (above), George Michael and even some Spandau Ballet because I felt so inspired and transported into this era after I attended the fantastic Club To Catwalk exhibition of 80s London fashion at the V & A. I had always wanted to be a teen in the 80s as a kid (I’m an 88 baby) and seeing the fashion, hearing the music, feeling the care-free rebelliousness, boundary breaking attitudes with the nuts drag queens and fetishistic fashions I was sure I would fit in with these gender f*cked up guys.

Ironically when we think of 80s fashion I think we sometimes mistake the silly garish thoughts of cheesy 80s-themed parties with lots of neon and Madonna (eekkk) as reality for this era, but it was never intended to be tacky or cheesy back then, quite the contrary, fashion was far more evolutionary in the 80s with edgy takes on evening wear and flamboyant prints and designs that sought to test genders and turn conventional ideas upside down.

Evening wear with some edge

Evening wear with some edge

Eccentric much?

Eccentric much?

Men wore tonnes of make-up and lots of colour and people weren’t afraid to stick out – in fact that was the name of the game. Some of the fashion pioneers of the 80s rebellious movement that exploded around London were Betty Jackson with her slogan print tops and dresses, Vivienne Westwood fronting the punk movement with her whalebone structured skirts done in contemporary fabrics such as denim, and John Galliano coining his iconic mad, theatrical structured suits and crazy head pieces as featured below.

Galliano pre-antisemitic phase

Galliano pre-antisemitic phase

Icons of the 80s were obviously totally unforgettable like Bowie, Boy George and Leigh Bowery and were stars everywhere in the exhibition in video content and images, including a wonderful catwalk of the leggy bombshell blond Jerry Hall walking for Anthony Price and the androgyny queen Grace Jones.

Jerry Hall and Grace Kelly - before Rita and Cara

Jerry Hall and Grace Kelly – before Rita and Cara

The funniest thing was that after I settled down a little from my euphoria of walking around this timewarp of fashion and culture, I started realise that so much of this fashion is inspiring current trends right now. Extremes in fashion are totally re-emerging with structured power suits and oversized designs featuring heavily next season for Celine and Dior and even crop tops/ fetishistic fashions are massively en vogue which were all showcased in the exhibition.

Come on rude BOY LONDON - pre-Rihanna hype

Come on rude BOY LONDON – pre-Rihanna hype

Get strapped in

Get strapped in

Is this not like a Saint Laurent moment right now

Is this not like a Saint Laurent moment right now

I think even if I haven’t inspired you to visit this exhibition through these images and content the most inspirational element I took from the show was the state of mind that came across through everything – a state of abandon, of rebellion, of true expression and fashion freedom, which felt so lacking when I left the exhibition and had a look around me in Chelsea. BUT things aren’t this bleak and as the rise of RuPaul’s Drag Race TV Series shows fashion and true boundary-breaking expression is still around with great new gender-f*ck icons like Sharon Needles (below) paving the way for revolutionary fashion for men and women everywhere.

Sharon Needles

Sharon Needles (yes he is a boy)

Ultimately fashion back then wasn’t JUST about aesthetics and/ or even comfort (probably rarely so), it was rather the truest form of expression for people and conveyed their freedom in the 80s be that for gays, straights, trannies and everything/anyone in between, and this sense of purity and confidence to be so outspoken has become somewhat swallowed down in today’s PC society. SO what I suggest is that you *right now* go book your ticket to this show and express and enjoy the 80s fashion moment at the V & A and then take some of that freedom back home with you and apply it to your daily life….(thank me in fabulousness… and bags).

Arts & Culture: V&A: Postmodernism Style & Subversion 1970-1990

I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting of the V&A’s current major exhibition Postmodernism: Style & Subversion 1970-1990 because the problem with postmodernism is that is it so damn hard to define. From the promotional image of Grace Jones, I expected lots of bright 80s pop culture references but actually the exhibit aims to cover everything from art to architecture, clubbing to music. With the promotional video fast-cutting between so many different subjects,  I wondered how they would fit it all in.

The answer to this question reflects the very nature of postmodernism itself: they decided to just stuff the lot together. The very definition of postmodernism (if it has one) is to sample inspiration from the past and put it together in a beautiful pastiche. This has promoted some criticisms from other reviewers. TimeOut complained that the decent art works the exhibition did have were placed so badly, it was impossible to appreciate them. I have to say, I went on a weekday and there are parts of the exhibition that are so packed in, I wondered if this would be a problem when was is busy. The exhibition presents us with some  pieces of questionable taste, for example a coffin in the shape of a car, and challenges the viewer to make their own mind up by placing them alongside more respected work and well-known work.

The house Robert Venturi built for his mother shocked the architecture community at the time, Philadelphia 1962

The exhibition starts with an overview of where the movement started in architecture. As a bit of an architecture junkie, I found this really informative and fascinating. The exhibition explained how postmodernist architects like Aldo Rossi and Robert Ventri were rebelling against Modernist idealism and trying to find a form of design that would protect them from what they saw as the increased alienation and decay of capitalism. The Modernists had believed that with order and simplicity they could create a Utopian society. However, as a housing project in Missouri exemplified when it became a hotbed of crime and had to be pulled down just 16 years after completion, Modernism failed to achieve its dreams for unison. The outcome of this was a mish-mash of architectural influences being used for purely aesthetic purposes: a bricolage of cultural references both high and low, past and present. Las Vegas in the 70s is a perfect example of a postmodern city, with all it’s flashing lights and faux classical buildings rising like a mirage from the desert.

James Vines showroom for Best, Texas 1975. The decaying nature of the building itself symbolises the decay of Modernism's ideals

Charles Jencks Garagia Rotunda, Cape Cod, 1975

Having felt I really understood what Postmodernism meant, the exhibition then moved onto home wares and interior design, which included Mickey Mouse tea sets, futuristic vacuum cleaners and crazy lamps, by way of Vivienne Westwood and a projection of a clip from the film Blade Runner. Then suddenly we were thrust into the New Wave club scene of the 80s and I started to get a bit confused. The exhibition explored pop culture’s fascination with superficiality and consumerism, giving way to postmodernism’s supposed downfall which was that it the couldn’t escape its own commercialism. We saw Jones, Warhol, Lagerfeld and i-D magazine before New Order asked us if we really knew who we were anymore.

Interior of the exhibition

Super Lamp Martine Bedin

Helmut Newton questioned ideas on gender and sexuality and mixed high fashion with low cultural references

One thing that really struck me as being problematic about an exhibition about Postmodernism is that it’s not clear that it is really over yet. The curators chose to stay between 1970 and 1990 but watching the Grace Jones’ videos, I couldn’t help but note that the stylings of Gaga and Rihanna haven’t moved on very much at all. Also the values that make Blade Runner Postmodern such as sampling different genres, such as film noir, and mixing them with modern themes are exactly what lots of directors are still doing today. Some people have criticised the exhibition for not being very clear, but maybe that is exactly the point, Postmodernism isn’t very clear. Does Postmodernism really exist as a clear genre or are we still just rebelling against the ideals of Modernism without a clue how to find a better solution?  With all the stresses and uncertainties facing our society today, are we still pacifying ourselves with the aesthetics and ideas of the past because we don’t actually know how to move forward?

Jenny Holzer’s Times Square Billboard, 'Protect Me From What I Want' ,1983-85

Clip from Blade Runner, where the fake humans think they are real