1980s Fashion Makes A Comeback At The V&A

This is a sponsored article on behalf of the Victoria and Albert Museum. 

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine London during the 1980s — what do you see? Bold prints, big hair and even bigger shoulder pads might spring to mind, but the scope and influence of this fashion-defining decade, which was heavily shaped by London life, reached far beyond the statement looks for which it is now famed.

This is the basis of the V&A’s Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s exhibition, which comes to a close in February. Not only does it celebrate the varied styles that emerged in all their leathery, oversized, print-laden, technicolour glory, but it also uncovers the stories behind them.

Visitors can explore two distinct areas.

The Catwalk

The ground floor gallery focuses on the young fashion designers, many of whom developed into the big names that still dominate the catwalk today, who brought London fashions to the world stage. There’s a huge variety on offer, but highlights are menswear by Jasper Conran and Paul Smith, textile designs by Betty Jackson, dresses by Vivienne Westwood and a whole lot of colour courtesy of John Galliano.

Also on display is a selection of Blitz denim jackets, individually customised by 22 London-based designers in 1986 thanks to a Blitz magazine commission. Once a blank Levi Strauss & Co canvas, the jackets were transformed and now provide a unique snapshot into the variety and creativity of London designers at the time.

The Club

Upstairs on the mezzanine level, visitors will find the Club section of the exhibition (complete with a club-like area streaming music and film footage of 80s clubs). In the 80s, fashion designer Stevie Stewart of Body Map noted that “each group of people … fashion designers, musicians or dancers, filmmakers or whatever … had a passion then for creating something new”. The results of this pull towards the novel and unique are on display here, ranging from the exaggerated, exotic styles favoured by the Blitz crowd, through the distressed styles of Hard Times, to the eclectic mixing of Taboo.

Each ‘tribe’ is displayed, explained and celebrated. It’s a treat on a visual level, but also a real pleasure to see how these two areas overlapped, influenced one another, and now form part of a social commentary on London in the 1980s.

Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s is at the V&A until 16 February 2014. Tickets cost £5 and can be booked online at  www.vam.ac.uk or via the box office on 020 7420 9736.

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  • BJD

    I love the V&A but they do not understand fashion or how to display it. They only seem to be able to present clothing using the “frock on a stick” approach rather than showing it off with suitable staging. The best they tried was Vivian Westwood a couple of years ago, but that was not great. The exhibition of Armani at the RA and Blahnik at the Design Museum should be used as an example of how fashion exhibitions should be done.