Art & Design

REBEL: 30 Years of British Fashion 

A brilliant exhibition at The Design Museum showcases the grit and the glory of NEWGEN talent

By Harriet Quick

Let’s circle back to the early 1990s and to a nation emerging from a recession, overflowing with creativity and about to emerge as the epicentre of vibrant global culture. There was no such thing as social media, grants and financing were hard to come by and designers took to their kitchen tables, lassoed in their friends, peers, and family to get things done. The result was a new movement in fashion defined by fearless creativity and galvanised by a generation of equally prolific photographers, stylists, and editors. This uprising was as impactful as the YBA’s were to art or Britpop to music. It changed the perception of fashion into a force to be reckoned with upturning ideals of beauty and staid ideas of wealth and chic. Over the decades, the BFC’s NEWGEN program has helped over 300 designers take their first big steps. 

The Design Museum

Hufton Crow // Press Asset

Alexander McQueen and Kate Moss

Vogue UK // Website

Back in 1993, on previewing Alexander McQueen first collection Taxi Driver which was hung from an assortment of high street hangers in a suite at The Ritz, I was bowled over by McQueen’s imagination, his macabre storytelling (in the shape of a black crow feather capelet or a silk dress with an image of Robert de Niro) and skill at tailoring (18th twill frock coats). I wrote about his debut for The Face. “My mates are electricians, plumbers, real workmen. I don’t like all that fluff, all the camping it up – I’m grateful for all the help and everything, but I’ve got my own principles, my own way,” he said stating he was making clothes for real people with love handles and all. “To move fashion forward it’s no good just being around. You must offer something more.”

It was the start of what grew to be a multibillion-pound business and the arrival of a genius that would influence generations of designers to come. Alexander McQueen is the proud sponsor of REBEL that explores the grit and glory of over 30 years of NEWGEN designers. The peerless Sarah Mower, BFC Ambassador for Emerging Talent, is the co-curator alongside Rebecca Lewin from the Design Museum. “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,” says Mower.

In the show you will find Bjork’s iconic swan Oscar dress by Marjan Pejoski (2001) Christopher Kane’s debut neon bandage dress collection (2007); HARRI’s blow up latex suit for Sam Smith (2023) that was made on his father’s latex farm in India, and Matty Bovan’s upcycled fabric ball gown (2019) alongside immersive rooms, photography, film, and installations that bring to life London’s clubs, studios, and hang outs.

Christopher Kane SS 2007

Christopher Kane // Web

Nensi Dojaka SS 2023

Nensi Dojaka // Design Museum

Thirty years is an ice age ago in terms of the contemporary business. The British Fashion Council established the NEWGEN programme as a bold initiative to help get young designers platformed in the international map, with financial grants and mentorship. Alexander Lee McQueen was one of the first recipients and alumni include JW Anderson, Erdem, Roksanda, Molly Goddard, Matty Bovan, Christopher Kane, Saul Nash, S.S. Daley, and Bianca Saunders. In London, Fashion East has also played an incremental role in platforming and nurturing talent. 

What’s extraordinary is how diverse these designers are from the romantic and theatrical, to the modern and sharp edged to the conceptual. Step inside the Design Museum to witness re-created shows, backstage worlds, and artistry to make your mind boggle. 


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