REBEL: 30 Years of London Fashion
Design Museum, London
September 16, 2023 – Febraury 11, 2024
Lee Alexander McQueen’s first fashion collection was lost soon after being debuted in London in 1993. Now thirty years later, the Design Museum reveals this iconic story – and its enduring legacy – as part of a landmark fashion exhibition opening to the public on Saturday.
REBEL: 30 Years of London Fashion features nearly 100 innovative fashion looks from ground-breaking debut and early collections from the NEWGEN alumni. Many of these creations have entered pop-culture history- and launched global design careers.
Lee McQueen’s first collection was titled Taxi Driver in reference to the famous 1976 Martin Scorsese film. Lee created it while living in a council house in Tooting Bec, South London with his friend and collaborator, the print designer Simon Ungless. It was unveiled to buyers and reporters on a rail in a hotel room in the Ritz in 1993. The pieces were later lost outside a nightclub.
In the REBEL exhibition, visitors will discover the story of the lost Taxi Driver collection. In a dedicated installation, photographs and ephemera of pubs and clubs set the scene for Lee and Simon’s adventures, while Simon has recreated techniques and shapes first developed for the collection, to offer an indication of their approach to researching and making. Archive pieces and photographs from later collections demonstrate the legacy of McQueen’s early designs, with echoes of their shapes and silhouettes seen throughout later collections.
Lee Alexander McQueen was the outstanding talent to emerge from the first cohort of the British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN scheme. REBEL is a collaboration between the Design Museum and the British Fashion Council (BFC) and celebrates the 30th anniversary of the NEWGEN programme. All the designers featured in the show were supported in the early stages of their careers through NEWGEN. The exhibition is guest-curated by BFC Ambassador for Emerging Talent Sarah Mower MBE, and co-curated by the Design Museum Senior Curator Rebecca Lewin.
NEWGEN was established by the British Fashion Council in 1993. It is an initiative that supports the best emerging fashion design talent in the UK and aims to build creative, responsible businesses for the future. It has helped nurture the careers of hundreds of designers and businesses, launching many of them onto the international stage. Alumni featured in the exhibition include Lee Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, Charles Jeffrey, Christopher Raeburn, Erdem, Henry Holland, Kim Jones, J.W. Anderson, Mary Katrantzou, Molly Goddard, Roksanda, Simone Rocha, Stuart Vevers, Priya Ahluwalia, Saul Nash, Grace Wales Bonner, Bianca Saunders and many more.
Other highlights of REBEL: 30 Years of London Fashion include the swan dress controversially worn by Björk at the 2001 Oscars, Harry Styles’ Steven Stokey Daley outfit from his video for ‘Golden’ and Sam Smith’s inflatable latex suit by Harri from this year’s BRIT Awards.
Visitors will also see the revolutionary neon collection from Christopher Kane’s debut catwalk collection, the upcycled Union Jack jacket by Russell Sage that was worn by Kate Moss for Vogue, and a vast Molly Goddard blue ruffle dress that went viral on Instagram when worn by pop-superstar Rihanna.
A major highlight of the show is Marjan Pejoski’s ‘swan’ dress which was worn to the Oscars in 2001 by Icelandic singer Björk. The eye-catching item generated immediate shock, intrigue and global headlines, but it has since gone on to become one of the most well-known red-carpet looks in history. Pejoski was born in Macedonia and came to London to take a bachelor’s degree at Central Saint Martins. The dress was first unveiled at Pejoski’s NEWGEN runway show in London for Autumn/Winter 2001 where it was spotted by the singer, who also wore it on the cover for her fourth studio album Vespertine. The now-iconic dress has only ever been on public display twice before – both times in New York – meaning that its display in REBEL marks the very first time it has been seen in Britain – and the city it was designed and created in – since it was first unveiled here 22 years ago.
Seven months on from the 2023 BRIT Awards, Sam Smith’s eye-catching red-carpet look goes on public display for the first time. Smith’s large, custom-made inflated latex suit made global headlines and was created by HARRI, the brand belonging to designer Harikrishnan Keezhathil Surendran Pillai. The look was created for Smith in just five days ahead of the award ceremony. The son of a latex farmer in Kerala, India, HARRI came to study menswear at the London College of Fashion and set up his business in London in 2020 upon graduation. His latex creations are made on his father’s farm in India.
At its heart, the exhibition tells the story of hundreds of fearless young designers, who have transformed the fashion landscape through their talent and brilliance. The Design Museum has worked directly with these designers to select some of the most important and groundbreaking pieces from their personal archives. Many of the items on the show have not been seen in public since their debut.
While BFC NEWGEN draws from talent across the UK, as well the generations of international graduates who have started their businesses here, it is London that has always been the major inspiration and catalyst for the programme’s young designers. The exhibition offers an exploration of how the city’s unique fashion scene has incubated fashion talent, and how they used the capital to launch their success on the global stage. London has nurtured nearly all the NEWGEN designers since its inception, whether as the place they studied, first showed a collection, or established their network. REBEL: 30 Years of London Fashion is organised into sections that reflect many of the spaces which have been the creative catalyst for London’s young designers over the past three decades.
These include ‘Art School’, which shows objects highlighting how London’s art education establishments have uniquely incubated individuality, and ‘Backstage Pass’, where visitors will get ‘VIP access’ to the spaces and moments that take place just before a catwalk show. They will see clothing, shoes, jewellery, headwear and makeup which together evoke the pre-catwalk buzz of a show.