Some of them want to use you and some of them want to be abused; was the anthem of the Club to Catwalk exhibition at the V&A museum, London. This theme of chaos and anti-establishment was prominently featured in the featured exhibits which showcased everything from controversy to elegance.
A designer which particularly sparked my interest was Katherine Hamnett who realised that her t-shirts could be used proactively in advertising political and poignant messages to the public. Hamnett made her start in 1984 when she began a campaign to stop the USA pershing missiles in the UK, Katherine controversially wore one of her own shirts depicting the slogan; “58% DON’T WANT PERSHING” to a reception hosted by Margaret Thatcher. Hamnett has recently revealed that she hid her t-shirt until inside the venue and then proceeded to shock the prime minister into a shriek of horror at the bold statement displayed across Hamnett’s chest, having recently approved the missiles to be stationed in the united kingdom despite high public dispute. After this event Katherine gained a lot of public exposure which resulted in her designs being worn by major 1980s public figures and artists such as ‘Wham!’ who became known for supporting the “Choose Life” motion which was originally targeted against drug abuse and suicide, however in today’s society the choose life slogan is often used as a tool to promote abortion as an option to women. Her main aim was to make people stop and think; “We wanted to give people a voice, if I put my feelings on a t-shirt that’d be a way to get my voice across”. Which is why these infamous slogan t-shirts are still so popular today.
This subject of anti-establishment is one that quite thoroughly runs through the exhibition every corner was full to the brim with rips, tears and safety pins holding the deconstructed garments together. It became clear to me that a major influence to the Club to Catwalk movement was Blitz nightclub who are notated alongside many fantastic designers such as John Galliano who became known as the ‘Blitz Kids’, after becoming bored of the punk subculture the blitz kids developed the ‘New Romantics’ era which started in clubs and later bubbled up into the public eye, becoming a main stream style. A piece which particularly depicted this new movement was Vivienne Westwood’s pirate collection, in which Vivienne used a new ethnic cut construction, inspired by the native Americans which gave a rectangular/baggy structure to the garments – a complete contrast to the skinny jeans and drain pipe cut trousers favoured by the punks.
Although it would be completely wrong to say that Westwood favoured the new romanticism over the punk subculture in fact quite the contrary, Vivienne is perhaps best known as a true pioneer of the punk era, her designs beautifully littered the exhibition and were recognisable from the other side of the room. When partnered with Malcolm McLaren the two became an unstoppable and iconic force that drove punk to the mainstream market, making: tartan, leather and denim wardrobe must haves. Much like Katherine Hamnett, Westwood was a woman on a mission; “I was so upset with what was going on in the world”. Punk was Vivienne’s way to rebel against the ‘man’, to get people to notice that things in society just weren’t right and grab the attention of politicians, a goal she and McLaren certainly achieved. She’d take an existing idea and make it her only, but ten times more superior creating statement looks from modern art such as Andy Warhol and making it her own. An prime example of this is the denim Levi’s jacket she and several other designers such as Zhandra Rhodes and Leigh Bowery were asked to customise for sale in a charity auction hosted by none other than the Blitz nightclub.
The V&A had sourced 9 of the 21 jackets for the display, each one completely unique and a true depiction of life in the 1980s the aim of the auction was to inspire magazine readers to go out and revolutionise their own wardrobe with anything they could lay their eager hands on. A personal favourite of mine was a design by Stephen Linard, a jacket which you could literally just stare at for a good ten minutes taking in the obscure embellishments which quite literally read like the Swiss army knife of jackets. Draped in everything from cork-screws to can openers to me this just screamed a rising rebellion of youth which was sharp and intimidating to those of high power.
I left the exhibition feeling nothing but inspiration and liberation, in complete awe of what these fantastic creative minds had created and truly amazed at the lengths they’d go to to get their voices heard by those who repressed them.