Anarchy to Kanye: 30 years of Contemporary Wardrobe

In May THE LOOK is taking part in Be Reasonable Demand The Impossible! – Contemporary Wardrobe’s 30th anniversary celebration of events which includes the world premiere of the only known footage of designers Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood discussing their ground-breaking work together.


//The Horse Hospital: “Shaking up pop culture”//

Based at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury, London, the Contemporary Wardrobe Collection consists of more than 15,000 pieces featuring some of the most important and rarest clothing items since the 40s.


//Roger K. Burton and Jack English, 1978. Pic: Roger K. Burton//

Contemporary Wardrobe mainman Roger K.Burton will be interviewed on May 22 by THE LOOK author Paul Gorman as part of a special night at the Horse Hospital – the event is a must for all fans of style and pop culture as well as fashion, art and design students.

As detailed in THE LOOK, Roger is a significant figure in post-war fashion: he started at the cutting edge of the Midlands mod scene in the 60s and pioneered collecting and dealing in the early 70s to the likes of Acme Attractions and SEX.

It was Roger, for example, who discovered the cache of Wemblex shirts which became the canvas onto which McLaren & Westwood created their notorious Anarchy shirts.


//1976: Simon Barker in Anarchy shirt with Marco Pirroni and Sue Catwoman. Pic: Sheila Rock//

He and his partner Rick Rogers teamed with BOY’s Steph Raynor and Helen Robinson in autumn 1978 to open PX in James Street, Covent Garden, the shop which set the agenda for military and futuristic style among the New Romantic movement: those who worked there include Steve StrangeJay Strongman and Princess Julia.


//PX interior, 1978. Pic: Roger K. Burton//

That same year Burton and Jack English formed Contemporary Wardrobe by retaining the giant collection of clothing they had supplied to The Who’s movie Quadrophenia.

<a href="http://youtube.com/watch?v=19xJIedrrfA" onclick="javascript:pageTracker._trackPageview('/outbound/article/youtube.com');">http://youtube.com/watch?v=19xJIedrrfA</a>
//Quadrophenia: “We are the mods!”//

In 1980 Burton designed McLaren & Westwood’s shop World’s End, which retains his work to this day, and a couple of years later realised the duo’s “primitive, paganistic” brief for the deliciously deranged Nostalgia Of Mud, which opened in premises in St Christopher’s Place, just off Oxford Street, in March 1982. This closed the following year after complaints over the scaffolding, tarpaulin and bubbling “lava” pit (as well as the behaviour of the staff).


//Nostalgia Of Mud exterior 1982. Pic: Roger K. Burton//

Under Burton – who also operated vintage menswear outlet Dobbs & Partners in South Molton Street – Contemporary Wardrobe supplied and styled such movies as Chariots Of Fire, Absolute Beginners and Sid & Nancy.

<a href="http://youtube.com/watch?v=9hca-yvFUPk" onclick="javascript:pageTracker._trackPageview('/outbound/article/youtube.com');">http://youtube.com/watch?v=9hca-yvFUPk</a>
//Bowie et al in Contemporary Wardrobe,  Absolute Beginners 1985//

And it’s been non-stop ever since, with Contemporary Wardrobe fashions from such stores as Mr FreedomBiba and Seditionaries and lines from Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and Givenchy featuring in videos by the likes of Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams and Kanye West.


//Poster from the 1993 exhibition//

The opening at the Horse Hospital in 1993 was inaugurated by the exhibition Vive Le Punk with unbelievably rare items from the design partnership of McLaren & Westwood, who both turned up for the opening night.This, their first meeting in 10 years, was caught on film and will be screened in May as part of a fascinating and previously unseen documentary also called Vive Le Punk.


//Westwood & McLaren 1971. Pic: David Parkinson//

“To the best of our knowledge this is the only time that they have been filmed together discussing their legacy,” says Roger.

With a private view on May 2 Be Reasonable Demand The Impossible! runs from May 3 to May 31.

Roger will be in conversation with Paul Gorman from 7.30pm on Thursday May 22 as part of THE LOOK’s night which includes music, rare footage, images and original clothing from the CW archive.

Tickets and more details are available from popculture@thehorsehospital.com or on +44 (0)20 833 3644.

Tim B. said,

April 22, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

Urggghhhh!!! I REALLY wish someone in NYC would do a show like this – or bring one over from the UK.

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