Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion at the Design Museum
In 1993, London was deep in recession and could not compete with Paris, Milan or New York’s fashion industries. Vivienne Westwood had decamped to show in Paris and London’s fashion week only had 14 names on the roster; it was hard to tempt buyers and editors to even attend shows. In an effort to aid the sartorially ailing city, the British Fashion Council launched the NEWGEN programme to financially support and mentor young, emerging designers. It was devised to celebrate what London does best: its club and youth culture. The first recipient was Lee Alexander McQueen, whose brand sponsors the show, who burst onto the scene with his debut Taxi Driver collection. A room within the exhibition is devoted to the nascence of this singular talent and his favoured motifs are already all there: sharp tailoring from his Savile Row days and sex. Unfortunately, the whole collection was lost on the way to the club after the show, which adds even more myth to the story. The garments have never been recovered.
The NEWGEN scheme has helped over 300 designers since its launch, so there is a wealth of material to choose for this show. Opening to coincide with London Fashion Week and guest-curated by BFC Ambassador for Emerging Talent Sarah Mower MBE with Design Museum Senior Curator Rebecca Lewin, the show has over 100 looks. It’s a raucous celebration of talent and originality, combining outfits, designs, photographs, music and film in a way that feels immediate and authentic.
The show is presented in imaginative ways: there is an art room that nods to the huge contribution Central Saint Martins makes to British fashion, a club and its fantastical queue, and a giant runway. The first room is impactful with Feben’s 2023 satin Red Twist dress and Richard Quinn’s 2018 foil outfit. In the queue for the “club” are, amongst others, Gareth Pugh’s poodle outfit, the Harri latex suit that Sam Smith wore to last year’s Brits and the Marjan Pejoski Swan dress that Bjork wore to the 2001 Oscars, where she laid eggs on the red carpet. The dress has journeyed from being ridiculed to having its own Wikipedia page. Throughout the exhibition are many looks and designers that have had global impact, from Christopher Kane to JW Anderson. This isn’t just reminiscing but a tool kit for the design students who populated the show in animal-eared hats and impractically big shoes: there is practical advice from established designers like Simone Rocha and Erdem in one video. It’s put together to make you feel.
Photos: Andy Stagg
Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion is at the Design Museum from 16th September until 11th February 2024. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.