Term 3. Feature for Circus group magazine.
Soho’s New Romantic scene at the heart of a fashion revival
This seasons penchant for all things 80s extends beyond shoulder pads and homage tees. Tracing back to one definitive movement – the New Romantics.
The New Romantic subculture sprang from the London nightclub scene in 1979, namely Billy’s nightclub in Soho and The Blitz wine bar in Covent Garden. Identified by its outlandish fashion and synth pop, the early 1980s was a
time for innovative self-exploration. This post punk era cultured such talent as Boy George, Visage, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and The Human League. Soho nightclubs were hothouses for these subversive trailblazers and at a time when Thatcher’s Britain was ailing provided a sweet antithesis to what was happening economically and politically.
The nostalgia of Soho’s past has sparked an exhilarant and nuanced revival. The current fashion scene offers us a lively snapshot of Soho’s nocturnal 80s heyday, encapsulating the glamour and flamboyance of the New Romantic style movement with its approach to partywear. This reinvention has been ignited by the eras’ vibrancy and conviviality providing escapism from the mundane reality of day-to-day life. Back in the day, ostentatious attire secured access into these respected clubs and given the club lay between two art colleges - St Martin's and Central – was a mecca for eager fledgling fashion students. Looting history for revolutionary looks, the New Romantics pulled inspiration from period costumes, themes from Hollywood glamour to pirate attire met, emulating dandified and theatrical looks. Gender- bending and androgynous styles of dress were de rigueur, gender and sexuality blurred.
Soho based record plugger at EMI Records in the 80s, Steven Lodge recalls “There were a few ‘big’ clubs, all with their own very distinct scenes.” Naming, The Dirt Box and The Wag “You also had clubs such as Le Beat Route and Blitz that were big on the New Romantic scene. Very arty and avant garde, pretty pretentious to be honest. It was a very definite scene- the dressing up, the music, the ‘out there’ clothes.”
This striking spirit embodied by the New Romantics is being captured in fashion’s foreground – minus tricorns. A refined spin on the era summons an 80s revival of daring, old-school decadence. Revivals of the decade were all over S/S 2018s’ runway and reborn for A/W 18.
An abandoned Soho office building framed a gritty yet entrancing scene for Halpern. Ultimate club glamour was achieved via powerful 80s silhouettes that came emblazoned in sequins and bold animal prints. Escapism was a key reference point. Topshop took us on a trip down retro-road with a dedicated homage to Soho’s 80s after dark heyday. An urban eclecticism paired with a young Brit aesthetic in mind, resulted in a mash-up of contemporary, street style staples and full-throttle glamour frocks. Inspiration pervaded from the decades, fusing the 50s with Pat Butcher and 80s club kid with 90s sports buff. A series of dresses followed, created in boudoir silks and sheer fabrics, detailed in diamantes and plumes of feathers, posing a
provocative reference to Soho’s notorious sex industry. Saint Laurent, Erdem, Isabel Marant and Miu Miu, to name a few, were also among the plethora of designers to salute this style movement.
Leading the creative charge and honing the spirit of the original New Romanticism are fashion’s new tribe of Central Saint Martin’s graduates. Inspired by the gender- bending and masculinity play of the early 80s, designer duo Eden Loweth and James Baratt of Art School explore the realms of gender-queer in their designs. Charles Jeffrey of Loverboy, takes prime influence from LGBTQ+ club culture and New Romantic haunts such as Taboo. The collision of music, creativity and craziness that arose from these clubs informs his DIY designs.
Rooted in a history that will never fade: decadence, creativity and dressing-up, these trends have speedily emerged on to our high street. Vintage clothing retailer, Beyond Retro, is a trove for the era’s gems. Sales assistant at Soho’s branch Jasmine Williams, testifies “80s suit jackets, dresses and jumpsuits are doing great. Everyone loves the padded shoulders, bright colours and bold patterns.”
Claire Wilcox, curator of the V&A’s 2013/14 Club to Catwalk exhibition comments “The current influence of the early 80s in the contemporary fashion scene definitely substantiates the significance of the New Romantic movement. The spirt of the era has come alive in our mid-Brexit climate and feels relevant with today’s youth.”
Catering to a new generation, Soho’s nightlife, formerly famed for its dark and daring activities has latterly been replaced with more swank and sophistication, cocktail bars and exclusive member clubs aplenty. Coffee shops now reside upon the ground that were once dancefloors to iconic New Romantic dives such as Billy’s and The Wag. However, still the beating artistic heart of London, there is something timeless about Soho’s nocturnal scene. Steven Lodge continues “Soho has always been a pretty liberal, artistic place – a home for outsiders.” The LGBTQ+ nightclubs keep Soho’s streets pulsing, operating as a playground for self-expression and fun, thus providing the archetypal stomping ground for this fashion revival – reinjecting the untamed energy of the New Romantic era.
Soho's New Romantic scene at the heart of a fashion revival
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