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Portrait of Rachel AuburnCourtesy of Rachel Auburn's personal archive

Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s

Our top ten moments from the highly influential and rebellious 80s club scene

Today the Victoria & Albert museum opens Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s, a new exhibition that explores the decade that gave way to rebellion, experimentation and a new era in popular culture. Showcasing over eighty influential designs from Leigh Bowery to John Galliano, here we select our top ten moments from the 80s clubland.

The Three Kings

After moving to London in 1980, legendary fashion designer, club promoter and performance artist Leigh Bowery soon befriended David Wallis and artist Gary Barnes, aka ‘Trojan’. The three lived together on Ladbroke Grove before being rehoused to a flat on Commercial Road and became known as the ‘Three Kings.’ In January 1985 Bowery launched the now legendary Taboo club night on Thursdays "because there's nothing you can't do there."

Club for Heroes

Once the Blitz closed down in 1981, DJ Rusty Egan, Steve Strange (notorious at Blitz for letting in Bowie but refusing Mick Jagger entry), and DJ Richard Law put on Club for Heroes on Thursday nights in Baker Street’s Barracuda Club. A playground for designers, models and musicians, Club for Heroes was frequented by everyone from Soft Cell, Talking Heads, Grace Jones and Debbie Harry to Michael Jackson. Lasting just seven months, Egan and Strange’s ‘Slum it in Style’ at Camden Palace on Tuesdays soon became the new place to see and be seen.

New London New York

The London scene made its New York debut in 1983, when Rachel Auburn and Leigh Bowery showcased their designs in a catwalk show at The Roxy, a roller disco in Manhattan. Rachel’s designs, made of patched-together rags that had been left in the streets, sparked quite a riot, despite later being sold at Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. “I’m very good at making rich women look like old gypsies,” she said of the experience. 

House of Beauty and Culture

A creative collective based on Stamford Road in Dalston, House of Beauty and Culture was made up of shoemaker John Moore, fashion designer and artist Christopher Nemeth, jewellery designer and stylist Judy Blame, fashion designer and music producer Richard Torry, photographer Mark Lebon, and furniture designers Frick and Frack. 

Kensington Market

Because Kensington market was the coolest and cheapest place to sell your designs, it attracted young designers such as Rachel Auburn, John Crancher and Judy Litman. The most popular spot for the clubkids and rockstars to purchase their attire was Johnson’s, owned by designer and retailer Lloyd Johnson.

Grace Jones Nightclubbing album, 1981

The album's instantly recognisable cover art is a painting by Jean-Paul Goude of Jones depicted as a man in an Armani suit jacket, with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and her signature flattop haircut. Nightclubbing was her 5th studio album and best-selling studio release, spawning hits I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) and Pull Up to The Bumper.

Charles Atlas

Video artist Charles Atlas was heavily involved in the 80s London club scene and took his camera wherever he went. Apart from the club footage he shot at the weekends, he also created a number of collaborative films with major figures in this scene. With a list of collaborators including Leigh Bowery, Trojan, Scottish dancer Michael Clark, and DJ Jeffrey Hinton (who also provided the music for Club to Catwalk), the semi-documentary Hail the New Puritan is one of the most well-known examples of his work.

Alex Gerry

Few people know the club scene as well as photojournalist Alex Gerry, who has snapped all the best parties and clubnights over the past 3 decades. Immersed in 80s club culture, Gerry recorded the best dressed and most ostentatious characters. And the fact that he was friends with the most prominent figures in the scene helped, of course.

Nick Logan

The man responsible for launching The Face in May 1980 was Nick Logan, a former editor of NME. He took a risk in creating a new magazine that would focus on real youth fashion as much as it focused on music. The Face soon became Britain’s style bible and was one of the few publications that revolutionised journalism after World War II.

Christine Bateman

Sister-in-law to Leigh Bowery, best friend of Boy George and subject of Lucian Freud paintings, makeup artist Christine Bateman was a significant fixture on the scene, adored for both her personality and innovative makeup.

Club to Catwalk, Victoria & Albert Museum, 10th July - 16th February 2014