V&A’s Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s launches

by Katie on July 9, 2013

As the crowd milled forward into the opening night launch of the V&A’s latest exhibition, ‘Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s’, there was a distinct feeling of apprehension and a fleeting ‘who are all these people in these very ordinary garms?‘ vibe about it from the 1980s stalwarts in the early crowd. Well, we can’t change the club habits of a lifetime. Old habits die hard. We were looking for our pack members.
But soon the faces of our generation started arriving to heartfelt pangs of nostalgia from all the ex-clubkids on the scene. “Oh my God, there’s Paul (Bernstock)”. “Is Pam here? I was chatting to Iain (Webb) earlier, he’s around…” “Has George turned up?” “Steve’s GOT to be here.” 
We were all going around trying to catch the threads of our past in a museum exhibition dedicated to our clothing, our antics, our generation, much like we had sought out the faces in the clubs of our youth and with the same feeling of excitement. 
There was a huge surge forward into the exhibition once Gary Kemp had declared it open. He told stories of fights with the futurists (who had come to taunt them) at ‘Billy’s’ and of how Spandau didn’t make the music mags in the U.S but made the front cover of WWD – job well done for the New Romantic & London club movement. 
There were tears and bitter-sweet sadness for sure. Familiar faces who’ve gone through ups and downs. Some brilliant ’80s outfits out of loyalty to the age and their favourite designer. And lots of hugs and catch-ups with people who were once so close. Antony Price, Rifat Ozbek, David Holah, Pam Hogg, Betty Jackson, Lynne Franks, Steve Strange, Jeremy Healy, Mark Moore, Paul Bernstock & Thelma Speirs, Stephen Jones, Patrick Cox, John Taylor, Nick Rhodes, Toyah Wilcox, Claire Grogan – the ’80s designers, their PRs (including myself), the club kids (ditto), the clubland impresarios, the pop stars and the onlookers who weren’t even born then, mingled in one London ’80s museum club night.
Seeing the clothes we had worn from Bodymap, Wendy Dagworthy, Katharine Hamnett, Galliano, Westwood, Johnsons, English Eccentrics, Helen Storey et al and catching the smiling but sorry faces. Sad, as that incredible era had gone and there will never be another like it – the newness of creating something from the street, the camaraderie, the euphoria, the clubs, the originality, the ostentatiousness, the (painted) clubland faces, the fact we were dressing for ourselves and our friends (and taking abuse for it in the street) and NOT for some social media, mememe, self-proclaimed ‘street style’ blog. Well, it was now a museum exhibition. We did something great. We were part of a movement.
The most nostalgic piece in the exhibition isn’t a piece of clothing: It’s the small club-like area with a myriad of TVs blasting images of catwalk shows and club scenes and people while playing clubland soundtracks from the time. Images flash across the TV screens of painted and peacocked club kids, clubland antics, smiling faces (many of them now dead), often shying from the camera (how unlike now, huh?). What comes across is the fun, originality and sheer vitality of the people and the clubs like Taboo, Blitz, The Wag Club, White Trash and Kinky Gerlinky. 
I stood in this space taking it all in and felt tears of nostalgia. And yet we were all still standing, ready to party again. I stood amongst Mark Moore, Jeremy Healy, Pam Hogg and David Holah, all bopping along (it’s in our veins, we can’t stop) but all feeling the same pride and sorrow at seeing old faces and times and of ‘us’ being consigned to history.
For those of you who experienced it in full to those who were too young to take part, ‘From Club to Catwalk’ is a must. It’s not only the exhibits that will thrill you. It’s the young people and the movement who made them.

Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s runs at the V&A Museum from 10 July 2013 – 16 February 2014 

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