London’s Calling delved into the archives of fashion designer and Nottingham Trent University lecturer Juliana Sissons, featuring personal memorabilia, iconic magazine features and video footage from her time as a designer in the eighties.
While the country was going through a time of civil unrest, fashion in the eighties was at its most innovative and diverse. The London youth culture and nightclub scene was alive and kicking, and in turn, formed an ethos of creative self-expression when it came to style.
The hedonistic mix of people who were drawn to this scene enjoyed the performance side of dressing up, so relied heavily on vintage clothing, old theatre costumes and their own sewing skills to design and create their own outfits for a night out. Instead of saving their money to buy expensive pieces, top fashion designers were getting their inspiration from the clothes created by this youth culture.
Juliana always favoured clothes from the old Hollywood glamour in the thirties and forties, and the punk rock movement. Elements from these two styles can be seen in many of her designs, including dresses created for men, and more ornate pieces created for her friends to wear at photo shoots. On the eccentric nature of her designs from those years, Juliana says: “It was more about being different than being sexy.”
London’s Calling gave us a snapshot of Juliana’s life and her work with Lee Alexander McQueen, Top of the Pops, Boy George and more. Due to the success of the exhibition, she was joined for an in-conversation event by eighties club host and fashion icon, Scarlett Cannon, to discuss their experience with fashion and club culture during this period.
Scarlett was famed for her androgynous looks, as well as being the host for the Cha Chas night at Heaven Nightclub; London’s first gay superclub. In addition to landing modelling jobs for Thierry Mugler and other designers, she also appeared on the cover of the eighth i-D magazine.
The pair, who became friends while partying at Blitz nightclub during the time of the Blitz Kids, reminisced on their experience with the London club scene, and the fashion rules that governed at that time.
The talk demonstrated how the fashion culture has changed drastically, especially in regards to personal style. For the London youth culture in the eighties, individuality was everything when it came to fashion. They stayed clear of designer items to avoid blending into the crowd, always choosing to create their own personal look. However, in the past thirty years there has been a noticeable shift to high street clothing and fast-fashion websites. This exhibition gave a compelling insight to an important period in fashion history.
Londons Calling was on display at Bonington Gallery from 22 Sept to 27 Oct 2017. In conversation with Scarlett Cannon and Juliana Sissons took place on Wed 18 Oct.