The New Club Kids of London

by Tabetha Baldwin

The Club Kids may have been a fashion driven, clubbing subculture of the later decades, fueled by house music and (possibly) drugs. But with a rise in popularity of androgynous fashion, they are becoming a reference used by many modern designers today.

There was punk, there was hippie and somewhere in between there were the Club Kids. However, this subculture had more glamour, glitter and creativity than either group could hope to match. Born in the 80’s and 90’s, the Club Kids were most notable in London and New York. The ‘Kids’ were a community of people who defied the fashionable norms of the time by dressing in flamboyant and often homemade costumes, and heading out to the clubs. A few clubs in particular, and if you didn’t make the cut you didn’t come in.

The Blitz club in Covent Garden, London, was the first home (and temple) for the Club Kids. The club was located between two art schools: St Martins school and Central school, and was the stomping ground/unofficial fashion show for the rival students. The outfits often had an androgynous theme similar to modern drag. Many of the club kids fell into the LGBT+ category but it was not an exclusively homosexual scene.

The Blitz may have been at the beginning of the London Club Kid scene but it was not the only game in town. It made way for places such as Taboo, a club created by Leigh Bowery, a person that can only be heralded as Club Kid royalty. Bowery was an Australian model, performer and fashion designer based in London, who exploded onto the scene in a bubble of body paint and glitter. He challenged the ideas of art often using his own body as a canvas, and was not afraid of outrageous performances using bodily fluids and improvisation. He is famous for exclaiming:

“Fashion, where all girls have clear skin, blue eyes, blonde-blown wavy hair and a size 10 figure... STINKS”

 Leigh Bowery at Taboo

Leigh Bowery at Taboo

However, after an article claiming that the club was a drug den, Taboo threw a last hurrah and closed in 1986.

Fast forward to the present day, the club kids of the now can be seen walking down the catwalks during London Fashion Week. Designers such as Manish Arora have created androgynous collections with graphic prints, outrageous headpieces, rainbow shoes, and a colour palette akin to a bag of candy. Models of different body types, ages and genders have been welcomed onto his catwalk, embracing the Club Kids idea that any body can be a model body. The collections have an undeniably childlike theme, with a dreamy feel but executed to the highest standard. It is a more grown-up approach to the homemade costumes favored by the original club kids.

 Manish Arora: Paris Fashion Week Womenswear SS17

Manish Arora: Paris Fashion Week Womenswear SS17

To experience the darker side of today’s Club Kid styling, brands such as KTZ are combining contemporary urban attire with ethnographic references in a refreshingly androgynous way. Leaving men wearing skirts and looking just as fierce and masculine as ever. With the use of graphic prints of posters, and embroidered warning signs, the clothing has a political feel that harkens back to the original Club Kids. 

 London Fashion Week Men's January 2017

London Fashion Week Men's January 2017

Celebrities are also attaching themselves to these brands, with the likes of Olly Alexander (Years and Years), Gigi Hadid, Kanye West, Iggy Azalea and many others sporting the clothing during shows and photoshoots. Whether they truly appreciate the origins of the clothing or are jumping on the androgyny band wagon however, is hard to determine.

Those on top of the luxury clothing game are also adapting they’re styles due to pressure from celebrities and influencers who demand a more fluid way of dressing. Jaden Smith became the face of Luis Vuitton’s womenswear line in 2016, and can be seen sporting a skirt in their advertisement. Gucci sent male models down the runway in pussy bow blouses (fall 2015) and Burberry and Stella McCartney have both blurred the line between male and female tailoring.

 Gucci, Milan Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2015/2016

Gucci, Milan Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2015/2016

Although, we may not see men in tutus and platform heels doing they’re weekly shop, the androgynous club kid style clothes are making firm roots in the fashion world. Whilst some designers make praise towards the origins of their ideas, by filling the seats of their catwalk shows with mature club kids. Others stumble through the crazy world of childish escapism and androgyny using their imagination as it presents itself, which is arguably what the culture was about in the first place.