On February 12th, we lost Steve Strange, the lead singer of 80s band Visage and the widely acclaimed leader of the New Romantic movement, a cultural phenomenon spanning not only music but also (perhaps even to a greater extent) fashion, favouring decadence, flamboyance, and androgyny. In reaction to punk, New Romanticism was a celebration of excess, where men wore more makeup than women and where one could never be overdressed. As noted in the V&A’s 2013 summer exhibition From Club to Catwalk, this trend began in London nightclubs such as Strange’s own The Blitz before spreading out into the catwalks, influencing designers such as Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood.
The New Romantic period pushed Westwood in particular away from the jagged edges of punk into a new era defined by softer silhouettes and exuberance. Perhaps her most famous collection to date, AW81’s Pirates represents a turning point in her work, and also the point at which New Romanticism really took off as a key direction in mainstream fashion, something no longer confined to underground London clubs. It brought with it a tide of floppy bow collars, thick eye makeup, and a penchant for glamour. This has not gone away with time. Much club fashion is still heavily indebted to the New Romantics’ legacy, such as the gender-twisting costumes seen at Bethnal Green’s monthly Sink The Pink, and the wild parties held by ‘Club Kids’ such as Michael Alig and Amanda Lepore at The Limelight in early 1990s New York.
New Romanticism has also been forever present in womenswear: however, in an age less concerned with rigidly masculine codes of dress, it is now beginning to appear in mainstream menswear shows, as in the decadence seen in Gucci’s latest shows – at which bows were ubiquitous and lace shirts were layered under jumpers – or in Paul Smith’s long fur coats for AW15. Dandy-esque or foppish, the trend is to- wards an androgynously glamorous style, encompassing layering and rejecting colour blocking: think Hedi Slimane’s sometimes difficult to distinguish men’s and women’s collections for Saint Laurent Paris. The return of John Galliano, long known for his flamboyant approach to fashion, will no doubt provide a boost in popularity to this particular trend. Come January 2016, the New Romantics will be back and all out glamour will be the order of the day – regardless of gender.