Rebels With a Cause
The John Pawson redesigned monument to minimalism has taken on a whole new splash of colour and pattern. Making waves at the Design Museum is Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion sponsored by Alexander McQueen. Dynamic, daring and determinedly rebellious, this show invites visitors to get on a Septemberfest rollercoaster of a ride. The press breakfast (avo prods and fruit torpedoes – fashionistas need to keep trim) – is full of everybody one should know on the elite fashion circuit.
Tim Marlow, Chief Executive of the Design Museum, shares with us, “We’re delighted to be collaborating with the British Fashion Council to showcase and explore the youthful energy, creative vision and rebellious spirit that is so central to their NewGen programme. Visitors are going to be stunned by many of the instantly recognisable fashion items on show. We hope they’ll also be captivated by the breadth, depth, diversity and world class talent that has emerged from the London fashion scene in the past three decades.” Caroline Rush, Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council, reciprocates, “We’re thrilled to be collaborating with the Design Museum to celebrate our wonderful NewGen initiative and its influence and legacy over the last 30 years.”
And stunned we are – what a show! All 300 or so designers who benefitted from the rightly celebrated NewGen grant funding programme are referenced. Lee Alexander McQueen was the standout talent from the first NewGen cohort. Archive pieces and photomontages give insights into his – to put it mildly – nonconformist work. ‘Art Show’ celebrates London’s art education establishments and features more talented alumni. But this is no passive exhibition. It’s full on interactive. ‘Backstage’ is all about artificial reality sponsored by Snapchat. Before long we’ve donned designer motorcycle helmets, had our faces painted and entered a cyber world of fun. That’s before shaking our booties to Eric Martin (Technotronic) in the ‘Club’ inspired by those 90s temples of decadent dance, Heaven and Turnmills.
Next comes ‘Runway’ where dozens of mannequins are frozen in time mid strut. Collections by J W Anderson, Wales Bonner, Craig Green, Christopher Kane, Meadham Kirchhoff, Sinéad O’Dwyer line the catwalk. Wait, there’s more! ‘Changemakers’ celebrates NewGen designers doing just that since 1993 – confronting the norms, fighting against stereotypes – in performance and politics. Sarah Mower, British Fashion Council Ambassador, tells us more, “It’s impossible to underestimate the influence London has on Britain’s fashion talent. It’s a city that produces wave after wave of young designers who value originality, wearing what you believe in, and tackling social issues to make a better world. The city’s art schools, clubs and catwalks are brought to life like never before.” Marjan Pejoski’s Swan Dress is one of many eye catching pieces never before on display in London. Born in Macedonia, the designer studied at Central Saint Martins before unveiling his first show in 2001. That same year, Icelandic singing sensation Björk famously wore the dress to the Oscars.
‘Colour Explosion’ revels in just that. Clements Ribeiro recalls, “Colour was massively unfashionable at the time. Everything was grey, downbeat, raw edged or minimal. We decided to go against it with colour, cashmere stripes, clashing prints and luxury. We called it ‘clumsy couture’. Colour turned out to be our superpower.” Fellow designer Craig Lawrence created huge knitted colourful forms in materials such as sweetie papers. He reflects, “My Ribbons Jumper and Leggings are like a big creamy strawberry marshmallow. That summer I was an ice cream man in Ipswich. Somehow, the extreme lollipop colours, stripes and bobbly bits sort of seeped into my Central Saint Martins holiday project.”
We’re at the Rebel press preview with another super talented member of the Martin family. Carrying on the fearless rebel tradition, Eric Martin’s sister, fashion artist Mary Martin, says, “I’m the middle child, the seventh of 13 children. We’re all very creative. I’m loving this show – it’s absolutely fabulous! I studied fashion at the University of East London and launched my label Mary Martin London in 2018. It’s fascinating to see this record of rebelliousness at the heart of London fashion. I like to see my clothes as carrying on that tradition, flying the flag.” Literally – one of Mary’s early dresses was a reworking of the Union Jack. We check out Russell Sage’s upcycled Union Jack jacket which Kate Moss modelled for a Vogue cover back in the day. Then it’s on to the next show. The waves haven’t stopped rolling in the capital.