Club to Catwalk (Lawfully Chic)

As a child of the 1980s my memories of that era are of baggy sweatshirts, floral leggings and hair that had not yet discovered the power of a good blow dry. Or of Thatcher in a pussy bow blouse, or Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, all perm and shoulder pads. But as the V&A’s Club to Catwalk exhibition makes clear, it was also a decade in which fashion pushed the boundaries in an unexpectedly glamorous way.
The exhibition, which brings together 85 iconic outfits along with accessories, looks at “the creative explosion of London fashion in the 1980″. It’s a whirlwind tour of how key designers interpreted the trends of the time – including loud, garish prints, unforgiving knitwear and androgyny – and how fashion was an inherent part of the burgeoning underground club scene, with design schools deserted on Fridays as students rushed to create thrilling, subversive outfits for the weekend.Interspersed with the outfits are photographs and videos (look for a glimpse of a young Daniel Day-Lewis in one clip), a darkened “club area” showing footage from 1980s clubs, and copies of magazines like The Face that lived and

breathed the culture of the time, all set to the strains of suc

h 80s hits as Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics.

The work of several still-talked-about designers is featured, from John Galliano’s post-Central Saint Martins collection (drapery that reworked French revolutionary fashion) to the post-punk offerings of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. Highlights include a selection of Katherine Hamnett’s early slogan T-shirts – a reminder of a time before wearing a campaign on your chest became ubiquitous – and the lurid colours of Chrissie Walsh’s 1980 Fringe and Flapjack collection, which looks like something the costume designer on a spoof superhero film would come up with.

Arranged by theme, such as Rave, High Camp and New Romantics, the display highlights not just specific designers but how dominant the desire to reinvent and take risks was. In the 1980s, the exhibition suggests, clothes were a canvas for expression, and club culture was a way of exhibiting yourself. And the fashion was radical, rebellious – but also exciting, from Antony price’s sensational bird wing evening dress to Betty Jackson’s unexpectedly fabulous Zoot suit, inspired by cross dressing. Designer Georgina Godley is quoted as commenting: “the words commercial or accessible were not it our vocabulary” and you can well believe her.

What’s interesting is how so many of these counter-cultural trends have survived to this day and how much of what was once rather radical has transitioned to the modern mainstream wardrobe. Body Con, for example, which arrived in the 80s as designers made use of form fitting knits and stretch jersey. Or the way designers customised their creations; Zandra Rhodes’s denim jacket from the 1986 Blitz denim collection, made of cotton, silk plastic, mirror plate and fabric paint, was reinvented a thousand times by scissor-happy fashionistas in the early noughties. You see how certain styles – from angry patterns to sharp angles – were used almost to the point of fancy dress, paving the way for the likes of Lady Gaga and Jessie J.

To an extent, the “club” element is peripheral, since the fashion itself is so glorious and eye-catching that it stands on its own. The emphasis on its relationship with wider culture seems added on for the sake of the exhibition. But perhaps it’s hard to do this justice if you weren’t there.

No doubt for those who experienced the 1980s, this will be an amusing walk down memory lane. For those who didn’t, it is a playful and alternative snapshot of an era that tends to be discussed more in terms of high unemployment, poll tax riots and the Falklands. It’s the real deal – not the saccharine copy of 80s fashion on display at themed club nights. And it’s captivating.

This post was originally published by Lawfully Chic. Read the original here.

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My week in writing

I started the week with a blog post responding to Justin Bieber’s questionably appropriate message in the Anne Frank House guestbook, arguing that while not necessarily tasteful, it could be utilised in a positive way.

Back on rather more serious matters, I covered the once-a-decade announcement of the Granta young writers list, interviewing five of those who were honoured and discussing whether we were seeing a revival in the Anglo-Jewish literary scene. Staying with literature, I wrote about AM Homes making the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the writers who were named as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in America.

I spoke to an artist about how his grandfather;s immigrant experience had prompted a sculpture of an upside-down-alien (now on display in London) and covered the annual Rich List, which marked its 25th birthday this year.

In domestic communal news, I reported on Laura Janner-Klausner’s decision to turn down an invitation to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral and heard from her why she felt it appropriate, and looked back in the archives at how the community marked Winston Churchill’s death.

Over in the comment section, I was pleased to commission a piece marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and looking at the wider history of resistance, which was illustrated with a breathtaking rare photograph from inside the ghetto.

My week in writing

20130413-140430.jpgWhat started on a quiet note – not much happening is there, commented my news editor on Monday morning – became rather a busy week, following the death of Margaret Thatcher.

I covered the news of the former prime minister’s death on the website, then compiled for our front page the various tributes and reaction of communal figures to her passing. I also picked up an amusing anecdote about Alan Clark and a dispute he had with Thatcher about the use of fur while he was a minister.

In non-Thatcher news, I noticed a study into pensioners living abroad, and whether their spending power had increased or decreased in the last decade. For those who upped sticks for Israel it was the latter, and I spoke to a couple of those affected by a rise in inflation and a correspondingly disastrous exchange rate.

Elsewhere, I wrote about the progress being made on communal representation for women, reported on the fact that Channel 5 is to screen the US drama The Bible, and found out 65 bizarre facts about Israel to mark the country’s 65th birthday this week: did you know that the glue used on Israeli stamps is kosher? Sixty-four more random gems here... Along those lines, I was pleased to feature British ambassador Matthew Gould on comment this week.

In arts, I interviewed author Jodi Picoult about her new novel The Storyteller, which I reviewed last week. Having read most of her books, I was intrigued to speak to her and she didn’t disappoint. She was intelligent, charismatic and spoke faster than almost anyone else I’ve ever encountered!