Writing by AVANTELIER, Photo & Video by AVANTELIER
In 1993, the British Fashion Council established the NEWGEN scheme to support designers with exceptional talent and financial need, aiming to rejuvenate London’s fashion scene during a recession. Lee Alexander McQueen was among the initial beneficiaries, and over the past 30 years, more than 300 designers have cultivated their rebellious and independent voices.
Over the past three decades, London’s fashion landscape has undergone a transformative journey, propelling it onto the global stage through the audacious creativity of its emerging designers. This unique fashion culture, thriving on resourcefulness, individuality, and a fervor for change, has attracted talents from around the world.
In the throes of a deep recession in 1993, the British Fashion Council introduced the NEWGEN scheme, a lifeline for designers showcasing exceptional talent and facing financial need. The goal was clear: rekindle interest among buyers and the press in London’s fashion scene. Enter Lee Alexander McQueen, a pivotal figure in the scheme’s inaugural cohort, marking the commencement of a remarkable journey that has seen over 300 designers cultivate their rebellious, independent voices.
The heart of the exhibition lies in garments created during the early stages of these designers’ careers, recipients of NEWGEN support. Instead of a chronological arrangement, the exhibition is a kaleidoscope, highlighting the places, influences, and experiences that forge London’s reputation as a fashion crucible. It delves into the realms of UK art education, club culture attire, entrepreneurial ventures born in bedrooms, collaborations with friends, sustainable solutions, and the crafting of radical cultural statements. These designers are the architects of London’s creative prowess, consistently punching above its weight on the global stage.
The exhibition unfolds across several thematic areas, each telling a distinct story – “Colour Explosion,” “Alexander McQueen: The Story of Taxi Driver,” “Archive,” “Club Scene,” “Interactive Makeup and Hair Filters,” and “Change-Makers.”
Colour Explosion : celebrates the vibrancy of London’s fashion explosion, where designers, especially those under NEWGEN, defy dark and drab times with DIY rebellions of color and print. This energetic rebellion rejects the coolness of previous generations, marking a departure from punk, minimalism, and grunge.
Alexander McQueen: The Story of Taxi Driver :
Step into the mesmerizing tale of Lee Alexander McQueen, the brilliant force behind the first wave of the British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN scheme. Initiated in 1993 amidst a challenging UK recession, the scheme aimed to kindle enthusiasm for young London designers, showcasing Lee’s groundbreaking collection, “Taxi Driver,” at the Ritz.
Crafted in the heart of South London’s Tooting Bee, Lee collaborated with print designer Simon Ungless, drawing inspiration from the vibrant clubs and pubs of 1990s London. The collection featured revolutionary elements, including the iconic “bumster” trousers, leaving an indelible mark on global fashion for the next decade.
This immersive installation transports visitors into the world of Lee and Simon’s adventures, set against the backdrop of pubs and clubs. Simon’s meticulous recreation of techniques and shapes from “Taxi Driver” offers a glimpse into their innovative approach to design. Archive pieces and photographs from subsequent collections echo the enduring legacy of Lee’s early designs, influencing runways for years.
Step inside to hear Simon Ungless share his memories, unraveling the story of how Lee crafted “Taxi Driver” and the poignant narrative of its loss. Discover the essence of “Taxi Driver” and the lasting impact of Lee Alexander McQueen’s avant-garde spirit on the fashion landscape.
Club Scene: London’s Designers and the Dance Floor Saga.
In the tapestry of London’s design narrative, every designer holds dear the memories of electrifying club nights that sculpted their creative identities. The queue outside the legendary REBEL club is a symbolic thread connecting countless relationships, genres, and inspirations, weaving a story that extends from pulsating dance floors to the grandeur of London’s catwalks.
Contrary to expectations, the exhibited ensembles aren’t typical club attire. They are the brainchildren of NEWGEN designers, each fostering unique relationships with diverse London club cultures and music icons over time. Fashion finds its rhythm amidst lively nights with friends, where the spirited competition to don the most captivating attire becomes an extracurricular design ritual for students and budding fashion enthusiasts. As this creative frenzy cascades onto the runway, the reactions span a spectrum from tabloid horror and ridicule to an exuberant self-recognition.
However, beyond aesthetics, these showcased looks bear profound significance as symbols of representation. Emerging from the kaleidoscope of Rave scenes, LGBTQIA+ club cultures, Dancehall, Grime, Garage, Electro-clash, Nu-rave, Ballroom, UK Jazz, and more, these designs have graced diverse locales across London – from the west end to the east end, north to south. In these spaces, the celebration of gender identities, sensuality, heritages, and traditions becomes an ongoing, enriching narrative within London’s fashion landscape. The Club Scene isn’t just an anecdote; it is a vibrant stage where diversity and creativity coalesce, forming the heartbeat of London’s fashion identity.
Change-Makers: NEWGEN’s Trailblazers Reshaping Fashion’s Future
Since its inception in 1993, NEWGEN designers have been at the forefront of radical change, serving as pioneers for countless independent young voices. Together, they constitute an avant-garde force actively redefining the inclusivity that fashion demands, showcasing the future essence of what it means to be a designer.
Extending their influence far beyond the runway, today’s designers seamlessly blend film, performance, education, art, and social, environmental, and ethical responsibility in unprecedented ways. Prioritizing representation and identity politics, they vehemently oppose gender stereotypes, elevating and empowering their communities. Their trailblazing efforts in blurring the traditional boundaries between women’s and men’s wear joyfully usher fashion into ever-expanding spectrums of queer, feminist, and intersectional perspectives.
This exhibition space unveils a curated glimpse into the realm of pioneering NEWGEN designers, embodying London’s creative spirit of rebellion against norms, barriers, and the very structure of the fashion system. Here, you’ll encounter individuals whose innovations span from upcycling two decades ago – well before the term gained popularity – to digitally printing bio-materials on a farm. Their endeavors range from initiating a battle against plastic to advocating for fair pay, delving into the realm of ‘pandemic revenge dressing,’ and beyond. In this room, witness the transformative power of these Change-Makers who continue to shape the trajectory of fashion with visionary ideas and unwavering commitment.
“Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion” is proudly sponsored by Alexander McQueen, captivating audiences from September 16, 2023, to February 11, 2024. Step into this immersive journey chronicling the rebellious spirit that defines London’s fashion evolution. “Rebelling in Style” showcase you to witness the convergence of artistic expression, resilience, and innovation that has shaped London’s fashion narrative over the past three decades.
Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion Exhibition Details:
Dates: 16 SEPTEMBER 2023 – 11 FEBRUARY 2024
10:00 – 17:00 Mondays to Thursdays
10:00 – 18:00 Fridays to Sundays
10:00 – 21:00 Saturdays
Location: Design Museum
224–238 Kensington High Street, London W8 6AG