Beauty & Fashion

The culture of fashion: Go to the Nightclub with silk shirts on

The culture of fashion: Go to the Nightclub with silk shirts on

Ibiza 89 book by Dave Swindells

As Ibiza season kicks in, I’m reposting my article for Faith Fanzine that was originally published in print last summer. It seems the heady, hedonistic days of 80s rave and club culture are never far from a fashion designer’s moodboard. As photographer and former Time Out clubs editor Dave Swindells celebrates his fourth print run of photobook, IBIZA 89 (above), we mused on what the scene symbolised and why it’s an eternal source of style inspo

Lairy Day-Glo tops, psychedelic-print long-sleeve tees, G-Force lookalike handknits on whirling dervish dancers and bob-haired boys in supersize silk shirts and baggy pants. No, not your good self tripping out at Spectrum circa 1988, but a sampling of the post-lockdown menswear collections shown two years ago. By some unspoken agreement, a number of major designers – from Loewe to Dries van Noten – had tapped into a collective yearning for the close contact sport, joyful hedonism and unbridled spiritual gathering of The Club.

Then earlier this year, the nostalgia was ramped up with couturiers and menswear designers worshipping at the altar of house, Ballroom and 80s club culture. Most dramatic by far was Valentino’s mash-up of 80s old money couture with the decadence of Soho nightlife. As Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli put it, “the glamour of the stripes, the polka dots, the ruffles, the most classical signs of haute couture, but re-signified in a different way with a different kind of balance. Leigh Bowery meets Mr Valentino.”
Loewe menswear SS22 by David Sims
Valentino couture 2023 inspired by Leigh Bowery

Fast-forward to Florence a few weeks later and as a guest designer of Pitti Uomo, Martine Rose would have yet another take on the eternal co-dependence of fashion and the dance floor. Her AW23 show was a raw, personal take on the intimacy of club life accompanied by Italo-London street casting and an Italian proto house soundtrack (Stop Bajon by Tullio De Piscopo being a highlight).

Modelled on a diverse array of ‘real people’, the collection reflected her own history of clubbing and people-watching – from Rage to Plastic People. In particular, the unique London look of dressed-down dressed-upness – fringed tracksuits, satin shirts, MA1 bombers and bumster jeans – summed up by Rose as “some cheekiness, a bit of sex, a bit of fun.”

Martine Rose AW23

It got me wondering…why are fashion designers so hung up on club culture – especially 80s and 90s scenes? And why now? Dave Swindells, one of Britain’s foremost nightlife photographers, suggests it’s less the outfits that are the inspiration as the spirit they represent. “Taboo was the apogee moment in the 80s because it was run by a fashion designer [Leigh Bowery], and his fashion designer mates. Jean-Paul Gaultier was there week after week and John Galliano went all the time. Michael Clark was there and modelling for BodyMap. Rachel Auburn the DJ was also a designer,” he says. “There were so many other people who were part of the scene. It wasn’t just one designer; it was a whole network.” Two decades later he saw history repeated at Nag Nag Nag and Kashpoint, where a new generation of designers, stylists and multi-hyphenates would congregate and co-create as part of the club ecosystem.

The cross-pollination of creativity is something that we don’t see IRL in clubs as much in the 2020s. But the idea of this creative melting pot is just as seductive to today’s youthful clubber as it was back in the day. Swindells gets this impression from the reactions to his photobook IBIZA 89 (recently updated and reprinted for the fourth time). “It’s not so much the clothes as the sense of, ‘oh I wish I’d been born then, that’s what I would have really wanted.’ It’s the culture more than the clothes.”

There’s a marked difference between designers who reference a somewhat generic idea of ‘club culture’ and those reporting from the trenches, so to speak. The likes of Martine Rose, Raf Simons and Kim Jones as clubbers themselves enjoy mining much more specific and niche fashion details particular to their own clubbing proclivities. It explains the dedication to those designers by their fans who appreciate the genuine interest in subcultures. It also speaks to the inclusive-exclusive tension that fashion and clubs have in common. That sense of wanting to be part of a scene – but not if everybody’s name is on the list.

Raf Simons is a designer for whom clubs and music are integral to his world. For his final collection last November, he swapped the usual fashionista guest list for fashion students and young fans at a rave-like show staged at Printworks. It was a nod to his early shows when he would scout models at Belgian clubs, then bus them from Antwerp to his Paris catwalk.

Martine Rose has said her greatest inspiration was her time working in London’s bars and clubs studying the regulars and randoms as if they were characters in costume. “All of those people who I met – I can’t even tell you how they’ve informed my design work. These characters I recall, and these moments and nights, they somehow get mixed up in my head and vomited out for the collection,” she told System magazine. “I miss working in bars, actually. It was much more than just part-time work to me.” Perhaps it’s also a reminder of her much younger self watching her older sister dressing up in Jean-Paul Gaultier and Pam Hogg, longing for her turn. “I just couldn’t wait to get into that nocturnal world and clothes were a part of it.”

Dreaming of the otherworld of nightlife from afar seems to be a universal rite of passage in this story. Brand consultant Mandi Lennard is another who felt the call of The Club from beyond the bedroom walls. “I would lie on my bed dreaming I was in Judy Blame’s world that emanated from the pages of i-D, a fascinating fantasyland of imagination and collision of ideas and creators,” she recalls. While today’s young Mandi or Martine equivalent may never even set foot in a club, cosplaying the look can be a means of accessing the experience by proxy through the medium of clothes. “Some may try to achieve this [access] without actually tasting a ’scene’,” says Lennard, who in her days as fashion PR royalty presided over her fair share of velvet ropes. “But immersing yourself in the confluence of people, people with opinions, the soundtrack of the time, emerging ideas, challenging ideas, tastes, rules, anarchic disregard – this is the percolator within which a movement or culture is borne, underpinned by authenticity.”

The recent emphasis on rave as the subcultural obsession du jour is easy to understand if we look at the context. Not only is it easy enough to replicate – bucket hats, long sleeve tees and bum bags are a no-brainer to produce – but it’s come to symbolise the freedom and tactile connection we all craved during 2020 and 2021.

Dries van Noten perhaps nailed it best with his baggy shorts and shirts printed with photomontages of Belgian nightscapes and strobe-lit clubs. “[It’s] clothes to go and have fun in. Just enjoy things. Go to the night club with silk shirts on,” said van Noten at his SS22 show. Soundtracked by Primal Scream’s Loaded, with its Peter Fonda sample (“we wanna be free…!”), the collection evoked the hedonic emotion of decades of dance floors; the close contact, pheromones, anticipation, sex, drugs, cigarettes and sweat.
Dries Van Noten Menswear ss23

Post-pandemic euphoria aside, there’s another reason why rave culture continues to resonate beyond the confines of the club. In an era of tech-induced dystopia and societal divisions, there’s a nostalgia for a culture that doesn’t exist in the same way today. With the most innocent of protests being outlawed, raving represents escapism and a metaphorical sanctuary where all humanity is welcome.

DJ and producer Honey Dijon (so dedicated to the cause she even has her own house-homage fashion line, Honey Fucking Dijon), harks backs to the early days of clubs as an inclusive space for LGBQT minorities. Speaking in the Faith Spring 2021 issue, she underlined the importance of dressing up not only to show off but to show up. “These were safe places to be gay and to dance with each other and to celebrate the music and the language and the dress codes,” she said. For her, pre-internet clubbing was not simply a social pleasure but a necessity. “You had to go out to meet your partners. You had to go out to experience music. You had to go out to learn how to be an artist and collaborate with people. You had to be part of culture in order to participate in it.”

For Mandi Lennard, there’s no doubt that dressing up for the club can be a radical act, even in our so-called progressive society. “Dressing as who you really are may not translate to the pavement in daylight that will take you to your heady after-dark destination of clubland. But once you arrive, you can flourish and breathe, almost becoming the most extra version of yourself.”

Fashion has always been part of culture. By referencing rave and club culture, today’s designers are re-engaging with a moment in history, retelling the story through clothes and shows, while at the same time telling us something about where we are now.

One key change to today’s dance floor is the lack of regular nightclub photographers, particularly those like Swindells who served as unofficial gatekeepers. In his case, not only did he choose whose antics to document, he also chose which images made it onto the page. As Time Out clubs editor for 23 years, his chronicles would influence a generation of wannabe club kids perusing the listings.

Boy George by Dave Swindells Ibiza 89 book

“It was fantastic to photograph the people who went to Blitz or Kinky Gerlinky, because they had made such an effort to dress up that it’s almost like payback time when photographers come along and record what they’ve done. And it’s such a joy,” says Swindells. Of course, today everyone’s phone is their own private photographer and social media is their own personal magazine. We can control our own image – although it can also be a distraction tool. “Inevitably, without phones [pre-internet] nightlife becomes a very different experience, because you have to get involved or get bored, or leave!” Swindells points out. “That’s one of the funny things about looking at pictures taken in Ibiza of two girls watching the dance floor. They’re not checking what’s on YouTube and all that crap like you can do now.”

Audience participation is perhaps the fundamental difference between nightclubs and other cultural pastimes. Art, theatre and film can be solitary pursuits, but clubbing is nothing without the punters’ active group participation. And that’s where dressing up is part of the experience. Whether peacocking in the latest Loewe or staying low key in Japanese streetwear garms, exchanging non-verbal style cues is a crucial part of the clubgoer’s love language.

“Nightlife is about expression and freedom when it works best. That freedom is something the fashion designers are going to celebrate too,” concludes Swindells. “Plus, the fact that one of the places that people go and show off what they’ve bought is the nightclub. Because clubs are the place of expression and performance, there’s always a connection with fashion and style.”

Buy IBIZA 89 at Idea Books here.

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: IBIZA 89; Loewe menswear SS22 by David Sims; Valentino couture 2023; Martine Rose AW23; Dries van Noten menswear SS23; Boy George by Dave Swindells/IBIZA 89
NOTE: Most images are digitally enhanced. Some posts use affiliate links and PR samples. Please read my privacy and cookies policy here

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