NewGen, the fashion talent incubator from the British Fashion Council, which has supported more than 300 designers, is being celebrated in a new exhibition at the Design Museum in London as part of the initiative’s 30th anniversary.
‘Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion,’ which opens on September 16, is unlike many other fashion exhibitions, as rather than celebrating decades of a designer’s life, filled with successes and longevity in the industry, the Design Museum showcases designer’s first steps into fashion.
Tim Marlow, director and chief executive at the Design Museum, said at the press preview: “This is an exhibition that has some superstar fashion names in it, but every single look on display was made when the designers were emerging. They are all in their early 20s and it’s the moment their talent is recognised and the moment they start to recognise their own talent.
“That’s phenomenally exciting as it is about their potential fearlessness and experimentation and showcasing London as a creative powerhouse.”
Co-curated by Sarah Mower, BFC Ambassador for emerging talent, with the Design Museum’s senior curator Rebecca Lewin, the exhibition tells the story of hundreds of young designers, highlighting many items that have not been seen on show since their debut.
One of those “fearless” and most recognisable designers on show is Lee Alexander McQueen, who was one of the first cohorts of BFC’s NewGen initiative. His first collection, entitled 'Taxi Driver,' named in reference to the famous 1976 Martin Scorsese film, debuted in London in 1993 and was subsequently lost outside a nightclub. The Design Museum has teamed up with McQueen’s friend and print designer Simon Ungless, to share memories of how McQueen put the collection together, with a film and photographs of pubs and clubs that set the scene.
Ungless also shares his memories of working with McQueen and has recreated two dress samples using the techniques and shapes first developed in the collection. One is black lace treated with latex, the second is moulded in transparent resin with trapped threads and feathers.
The story of Alexander McQueen’s ‘Taxi Driver’ collection spotlighted in new Design Museum exhibition
Alongside the dedicated section to McQueen, the Design Museum places a focus on how the unique fashion scene of London has incubated fashion talent and how the city has nurtured the designers, whether as the place they studied, first showed a collection, or established their network on their path to success on the global stage.
It does this by spotlighting the places, influences and experiences that make London a fashion and creative powerhouse for emerging talent by exploring UK art education, the start-up scene in the city, and dressing up for the club, as well as addressing how NewGen designers embrace colour and prints to highlight the “kaleidoscopic energy” that comes from NewGen talents.
With nearly 100 innovative fashion looks on display, the exhibition highlights the depth and diversity of the NewGen programme, from Christopher Kane’s debut neon catwalk collection to the upcycled Union Jack jacket by Russell Sage that was worn by Kate Moss for Vogue, and the sugary blue ruffle dress by Molly Goddard that went viral on Instagram when worn by pop sensation Rihanna.
There is also a special section dedicated to how five designers, including Erdem and Roksanda, started their labels. Each designer breaks down a pivotal look and reveals the inspiration, alongside the unseen practicalities from starting from scratch.
Roksanda shows her ‘Cloud’ dress from spring/summer 2007, sharing the advice she received from Louise Wilson, as well as how each petal of raw-edged organza on the dress was starched and dried with a hairdryer, and that she had to model to raise money to start her own brand. While Erdem shared how he worked on his collection in his sitting room, his time at the Royal College of Art, and how Roland Mouret introduced him as a “skilled dressmaker”.
NewGen talent on display at new London fashion exhibition
From start-up designers to ‘Art School’ education, this section highlights how London’s art establishments have uniquely incubated individuality, showcasing the work of Paolo Carzana, Louise Gray and Marta Jakubowski.
While ‘The Club’ room shows the boldness of London’s fashion scene with looks, including the ‘swan’ dress by Marjan Pejoski controversially worn to the Oscars in 2001 by Icelandic singer Björk and Sam Smith’s inflatable latex suit by Harri from this year’s BRIT Awards.
Other highlights include the black ‘poodle’ with giant ears and paws from Gareth Pugh’s 2006 NewGen debut that provoked instant tabloid ridicule, alongside a piece from the current artistic director of Dior Men and Fendi womenswear, Kim Jones’ rave-inspired NewGen collection from 2007.
The ‘Backstage Pass’ section allows visitors a ‘VIP access’ to the spaces and moments that take place just before a catwalk show, from the clothing and shoes to the jewellery, headwear and make-up which together evoke the pre-catwalk buzz of a show. The Design Museum has also teamed up with Snapchat on AR lenses featuring designers Charles Jeffery Loverboy, Chet Lo, Gareth Pugh, Henry Holland, Liam Hodges, Louise Gray, Marques’Almeida, Matthew Williamson, and Richard Quinn. Visitors can sit down at make-up stations and transform themselves into models from the designer's showcases.
It couldn’t be an exhibition on NewGen without a catwalk and the Design Museum lets visitors sit front row for an exclusive show of six designers who it states offered “ground-breaking presentations that had a major impact on the fashion world”. This includes Christopher Kane, Craig Green, JW Anderson, Meadham Kirchhoff, Wales Bonner and Sinéad O’Dwyer.
The final room is dedicated to the ‘Change-Makers’ offering the largest display of fashion looks from who the museum calls “pioneering designers” that embody London’s creative spirit of rebellion, including Christopher Raeburn, Nensi Dojaka, Stefan Cooke, Leo Carlton and Phoebe English.
Commenting on the exhibition, Mower said: “It is impossible to underestimate the influence London has on Britain’s fashion talent a city that produces wave-after-wave of young designers that value originality, wearing what you believe in, and tackling social issues to make a better world.
“This landmark exhibition takes visitors on a remarkable journey through London’s creative landscape, and to all the locations where all this fashion magic happens. The city’s art schools, clubs and catwalks are brought to life like never before.”
‘Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion’ runs from September 16 to February 11, 2024, at the Design Museum in London, with the institution saying it intends to tour the exhibition around the world to spotlight British fashion design excellence and inspire the next generation.