Friday, 24 April 2009

Unordinary people

Last night was a rather busy night, a moustache party (seemingly the new in thing for house parties) was preceded by Will and I going to the Royal Albert Hall for a lecture on the history of street style and youth culture. The speaker was Ted Polhemus, an American writer/anthroplogist, who curated the accompanying exhibition 'Unordinary People', a photographic documentation of youth culture from the '50s to the present day (cue new rave Hoxton heroes..). When I read about it on the internet I couldn't believe my luck, as it was so perfect for my project. After walking as fast as we could from Knightsbridge for fear of being late we arrived just in time and were led to a small room somewhere in the heart of the building, and sat down with a glass of wine and waited for it to begin.

The talk charted the ever changing appearance of street style and its generational divide, from the democratisation of fashion in the '50s with the Beats in America through to hippies, glam, punks, new romantics and ravers, taking in the relevance and effect of youth culture and where it came from, the importance of music to define sub-cultures, such as mods and skinheads, (in particular the crossover of black and white music in Britain) and the lack of achievement of the baby boomer generation. Yes, it was rather exhausting. Even so it was interesting to hear and think about how youth culture affects so much of society, and how street style and sub-cultures are so tied in with the concerns of the wider world: for example, the rise of teddyboys in the '50s asserting the working class allows us to understand how a Labour governmet came to power and kicked out Churchill. A key theme he also emphasised was the importance of authenticity and how it is now endangered, with fashion houses looking to the kids on the street for their next collections, and then recreating these looks and claiming them as their own.

I'm failing miserably at trying to sum up the whole talk, and I guess I shouldn't really try. The conclusion he came to however was that fashion as we know it is dead - in today's society the emphasis is on the individual, expressing your own identity and demanding attention, as opposed to labelling yourself with a sub-culture such as mod or rocker in the days of past. The modernism of the'60s or '70s has been replaced for a post-modern world which, if it were to be categorised, would be under individuality. It's a bold statement and whether it is true is debatable, clearly the fashion industry still has an influence on the way people dress, and everyone striving to be individual often leads to us buying the same things anyway. But it's true that there are no longer the movements of old, no rebelling punks or united hippies. Which, after the talk, left Will and I discussing modern youth culture and whether it's possible for our generation to leave it's mark as happened in the '60s, '70s '80s and '90s. Do we have a purpose, or sense of unity? If not have we just become disillusioned, a youth facing global recession and with nothing to fight for? Our generation no longer seems to have a voice, no Kerouac or Dylan or Lydon or Strummer, and without one we are in danger of being lost.

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