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As tributes to the late Frankie Knuckles, godfather of house, continue to pour in from across the music world following his death this week, its clear that the musical genre has had a huge influence, but what impact has this massively-popular music subculture had on British fashion, if at all?
The arrival of house and the later onset of the rave era in Britain has often been derided by the likes of sartorial commentators like Robert Elms as marking the end of club dandyism and triggering an era of pastel tracksuits.
In fact, many of the influential dandies and club kids from the Blitz club era embraced house because the music came from a newly-emerged urban, black gay subculture and therefore appealed to the free spirits and mavericks within the club scene here (as evidence, Boy George is still a house music DJ to this day).
One designer who is particularly knowledgable about the origins of house in the U.S. and the club scene around it is Kim Jones, style director of menswear ar Louis Vuitton, whose graduation collection, (bought in its entirety by John Galliano no less) was inspired by the seminal Chicago scene:
“My graduate collection, called Music Box, was inspired by The Music Box club and the people that went there. I got a lot of flyers from early Chicago and collected records that were played there and The Warehouse and Paradise Garage. I did an installation at The Pineal Eye after graduating called Edge of the Looking Glass based on the club. Later on, Derrick Carter and Honey Dijon told me the saw my collection of records and flyers there and were wrecked that some young English kid knew all that stuff prior to the internet.”
In terms of fashion, while early British house clubs like Shoom encouraged comfort for all-night dancing (hence the baggy T-shirts and tracksuits), in fact, as with every other era of nightclubbing, what you wore was still immensely important. Boy’s Own fanzine and sleeve notes on the back of records like Terry Farley’s Balearic Beats compilation offered clues to the esoteric dress codes of the early UK house tribe: (“smiley faces”, “poncho’s, ponytails and body paint”). Even dungarees and Kickers had an unlikely fashion moment.
Following the explosion of Britain’s take on the genre, ‘acid house’ in the late ’80s, central London entered a boom period of clubbing, when the minutiae of what was worn by the (then) still exclusive crowd was as important as the (usually Stateside) label of the 12″ dance mix being played. A brief relaxation on sartorial codes for the benefit of dancing and sweating was followed up by the emergence of ‘designer’ fashion as a staple, which, for men in London meant shopping at the likes of designer emporium Jones, World or The Duffer of St. George. There was certain knowingness in how an outfit would look under the strobe lights. The difference with house music as a subculture was that there was no permanent, prescribed uniform, the key to inclusion was to smile and the willingness to dance all night. As with every subculture however, there were regional differences, like the still-enduring influence of Manchester’s casual streetstyle look which venerated high-end, often European, sportswear brands.
So what of today? While veteran designers like Raf Simons still look to the work of graphic designer Peter Saville and The Hacienda, a new generation of designers is inspired by their own formative experiences at the parties and clubs which emerged from the shadow of the original house movement. Conceptual menswear designer Martine Rose‘s AW14 collection features reproduced rave flyers from the Wild Life Archive attached to the garments with great reverence, their selection based on parties which she and her friends attended. Christopher Shannon, another young menswear designer, announced his SS14 show last year with an invite featuring young lads in a bedroom plastered with rave flyers. The collection itself was inspired by his recollections of the era of the superclub in his native North West.
Much has been said about ’90s fashion recently, most of it inaccurate and not really reflective of any real decade: the most convincing trends being the chunky, high tech trainers, long sleeved T-shirts, graphic prints and of course, the tracksuit. But the actual legacies of the initial boom years in house music are the enduring casual street style look and the peacock, knowingly dressed-up tendency in London clubbing. Fashion in house music is a fluid thing, much like the music itself, there is no definitive item or look that is “house.”
The music itself has a more obvious presence. At LC:M shows in particular, electronic music is the norm, from banging techno to more eclectic beats (Lou Dalton’s shows are always soundtracked by music selected by Horsemeat Disco for example).
While originators of house like Frankie Knuckles (who as a teenager, apparently, originally intended to be a fashion designer himself) may not have always been aware of the whims and permutations of style of later generations on the UK dancefloor, the music he invented celebrates a sense of freedom and coming together that remains an inspiration to today’s designers.