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: David Bowie Is

Unless you’ve been living in complete isolation for the past few months you will have invariably heard the hype surrounding the new David Bowie Is exhibition at the V&A. You may well be thinking that it couldn’t possibly live up to the media’s expectations and scoffing at your friends and family clamouring to buy tickets. Well then, you would be wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. It’s the best thing they’ve curated in years and more than justifies the frenzy surrounding it.

I pretty much leaped out of my chair when offered the chance to go and see this and walked around the exhibition with a big fat grin on my face from start to finish. It’s honestly that good.

bowie border

I know no one who dislikes David Bowie. His music seems to transcend boundaries and add an uncannily celebratory power when played. The end credit sequence of Lars Von Trier’s Dogville; Young Americans played over images of Depression-era families and children is so powerful with or without the context of the film it gives me goosebumps every time. And what kind of person didn’t kind of fancy the Goblin King in Labyrinth? I mean, come on now.

But I digress…

It would be impossible to categorise ‘David Bowie Is’ as simply an exhibition of music memorabilia, it is so much more. Part fashion retrospective, part art installation, it tracks a journey from small town anonymity to all-encompassing, boundless expression, floating through space and back again, through drug hazes, ludicrous outfits to piercing, stripped-down clarity. Sure, I’m gushing a tad, but rightly so. The curators have included every conceivable variety of memorabilia, from scrawled lyrics on cigarette packs to some of his most iconic images.

bowie yama 2

This exhibition is fantastic in so many ways, a beautiful multimedia celebration of a career so varied and intertwined with popular and niche culture. Every facet of Bowie’s ever-changing image and artistic intention is lovingly explored through a mixture of photography, video installation, literature and, of course, costume. It chronologically charts his progress through varying sounds and identities yet still allows him to remain enigmatic.

I was half expecting him to be roaming round the galleries himself, disguised and slipping unnoticed around the journalists and bloggers. Alas, he wasn’t.

The breadth of Bowie’s immersion in and influence on culture is astounding and thought-provoking. Unlike the majority of today’s crop of “out there” performers, Bowie put a great deal of consideration into his influences, twisting them into something new rather than simply referencing. The exhibition pays special attention to the influence of the work of J.G Ballard, George Orwell and Stanley Kubrick on his music and image, with key pieces of their work positioned in the context of Bowie’s vision. The hollow, savage worlds of Ballard are dangerous yet fascinating, referencing the strange beauty of huge abandoned swimming pools and high-rises while emphasising aggressive sexuality in the smallest of facial curvature, magnified beyond all recognition, as in The Atrocity Exhibition. The exploration of inner space brought out by these works fascinated Bowie and allowed him to construct new identities, new worlds for his music to play in. He invites transformation and expression in himself and his fans, an aspect the exhibition pays homage to.

bowie yama

His lavish and iconic costumes populate the space on thin white mannequins; of particular interest are an Alexander McQueen tyre track printed suit and the extravagant shapes and textures of  Kansai Yamamoto’s all in ones. There is such a kaleidoscope of colour and effect in these pieces it’s quite difficult to absorb all at once, but the curation places them in the context of transformation and evolution, it all somehow makes sense. For me the most impressive part of the collection is the huge video installation in the central room, thirty foot high translucent screens with concert footage projected, speakers cranked to the hilt. Completely immersive and awe-inspiring, it is an experience that will stick with me for a good long while.

bowie video

Whether or not you’re into David Bowie you can’t deny the effect he has had on music, fashion and the way we express ourselves. The exhibition is truly comprehensive, and regardless of if you view him as a highly skilled plagiarist (no) or a trailblazer who was / is way ahead of his time (yes!) it’s well worth spending a good few hours in.

The exhibition opens on the 23rd, as far as I know tickets are selling fast so get in there swiftly…

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