The return of the Romantics

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Marc Almond, Boy George and Adam Ant return to the spotlight, bringing New Romantic styles back

This week Marc Almond released his newest album, Hits and Pieces. In his latest release, Almond, the former member of post-punk group Soft Cell, revives and relives the soundtracks of London’s 1980s New Romantic movement. Best known for their synthesised sounds, the Leeds based duo Soft Cell, Marc Almond and David Ball, topped the charts with the UK’s biggest selling track of 1981, ‘Tainted Love’. Bringing their northern sound to London’s Soho and West-End, the group soon became faces of the city’s New Romantic movement.

Dominating British subculture of the 1980s, the New Romantic gender-blending styles attracted the attention of UK and worldwide press. Their culture proved London’s nightlife to be, what writer David Johnson referred to in 2009 as, “the essential engine of cultural evolution, they liberated music, design and especially ambition”. A number of the famous faces we recognise today, put London on the creative map during the late twentieth-century and have since come to be regarded as music and subculture revolutionaries.

The influence of everyday life was clearly projected through fashion as subcultures including Punks, Skinheads and New Romantics dressed with the intention replicating or rebelling against society. As Skinheads stayed true to a working class look in order to represent their heritage, Teddy Boys adopted the dress of a higher class and Punks used slogan t-shirts and badges to rebel against politics.

Rejecting the anarchy and anti-glamour attitude of Punk, New Romanticism altered the attitude of the subcultural landscape. Austerity and rebellion were replaced with flamboyancy and creativity. Appropriating styles of Dandies and the English Romantic Period. Painted nails, waistcoats, gold buckled belts, neckerchiefs, wide-leg trousers and frilly shirts were adopted parallel to the presentation of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s Pirate Collection of 1981.
Subculture specialist, Dr. Shaun Cole describes the the landscape of London’s club scene during the early 1980s, as “[a place] where young people were making innovative statements about contemporary life through their dress. Jumble sale finds and theatrical costumes were worn alongside clothes bought from, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren’s seditionaries at World End”

The historically infused and androgynous look soon took over Covent Garden’s Blitz Club.

Hosted by Steve Strange, the club’s guest list usually included Boy George, Leigh Bowery, Marc Almond and Stephen Jones, who were all soon labelled Blitz Kids. The night owls of the Blitz brought fashion to the forefront of London’s nightlife culture and showcased a new wave of sounds and style.

With decor commemorating British culture, including a framed photograph of Winston Churchill hanging on the wall, the club became a hotspot for expressing and experimenting with national identity. As its popularity grew, so did press coverage. Britain’s club scene of the 1980s influenced fashion and pop culture, with names such as Boy George, Adam Ant and Marc Almond becoming globally recognised.

Lead singer of Culture Club, George O’Dowd adopted the stage name of Boy George and an experimental and androgynous style of cat wing eyeliner, red contoured cheeks and long hair accessorised with ribbons. Catching the attention of music producer Malcolm McLaren, Culture Club dominated the charts with their debut hit of 1982, ’Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’, followed by ‘Karma Chameleon’ in 1983.

To this day, Boy George is regarded an iconic face of New Romanticism and has recently become the face of Dior Homme’s Summer 2017 campaign. “Boy George, when I was a kid, was one of the first to have this message about difference being okay; he was such a major influence on my generation. That idea of freedom and being a rebel – which he still is – is really something that has stayed with me,” Dior Homme designer Kris Van Assche told WWD in January.

Today London’s nightlife scene is once again adopting, replicating and reinventing the rebellious and free-spirited New Romantic ethos and flamboyant way of dress.
Upcoming fashion creatives, students and graduates such as Charles Jeffery, William Dill-Russel and design-duo Art School, are designing with the Romantic sensibility in mind.

Heeled boots, flowing sleeves and face-paint are the formulation of a new wave of style focused on positivity, creativity and expression.
Central Saint Martins graduate, Charles Jeffery, is dominating London’s nightlife scene with his club night ‘Loverboy’, attracting London’s next generation of fashionistas head-to-toe in Jeffery’s creations.

With Boy George taking over out TV screens, a new album from Marc Almond and a worldwide tour from Adam Ant, 2017 seems to be the year the original Romantics will return.
As the New Romantic style continues to influence the current generation, today’s upcoming designers are forming their own subcultures to be remembered in the future with their adaptation and modernisation of the Romantic style proving subculture never dies.

Words by Emily Gallagher
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