Several weeks ago, a work colleague apologised to me, directly and publicly during a brainstorming meeting, for suggesting that middle aged Mums who are re-entering the job market post childbirth are “out of touch” and “un-cool”. Now, to put the conversation into perspective, she was referring to a group of women who are, in fact, out of touch and un-cool. But, it took a little bit to understand why she was apologising to ME. Oh yea, that’s right, I’m a middle aged Mum who is attempting to re-enter the job market post childbirth (although my two are on the high side of primary school), but dammit, I consider myself one of the coolest people I know. And, I’m pretty sure that most would agree.
Luckily for my self-esteem, I got the opportunity to be reminded how culturally influential and utterly cool my generation (and the one before me) was and still is. Spending the good part of an early afternoon enjoying an impromptu guided tour through the POP! DESIGN CULTURE FASHION1956 -1976 exhibit at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London with Geoffrey Rayner, master collector and expert on post-war design specialising in the history of textile, was the perfect balm for my bruised ego.
The POP! exhibition showcases the influence of Pop culture on several design mediums in Britain and America. Starting with the optimistic youth culture of mid-fifties rock n roll and ending with the nihilistic disillusion of 1970’s punk, Popculture’s fusion of popular images and music with art and fashion blurred the boundaries of commerce, culture, and style.
Examples of Pop graphic design and underground media are peppered throughout the exhibit. Record covers and packaging by pop artists such as Andy Warhol, Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton and Jamie Reid appear alongside Pop “prototypes” of common household items and furniture whose design concepts were later sold into mass production. This is in line with the prevailing ethos of wanting their pieces to be available to all, not just the elite. They got their design ideas from the street; they want them to be available on the street.
Black and white portrait photography by David Bailey lined the wall of the staircase leading to a climate controlled room featuring Pop posters and graphics from 1966 to 1973. In this room hung the British psychedelic artwork of Hapdash and the Coloured Coat and rock posters from San Francisco and the American west coast. On display in glass cases were copies of rarely-seen underground magazines such as Oz,Gandalf’s Garden, L’Actual and the International Times.
From paper furniture to Harry Gordon’s late 1960’s paper dresses, examples of the throwaway nature of much of Pop design are displayed next to longer lasting trends from fashion designers such as Mary Quant, Barbara Hulanicki from Biba, metal badges, machine-embroidered denim jackets and screen printed t-shirts. The exhibit moved on to the work of “Them”, an influential group of Baroque Pop designers who coalesced around Zandra Rhodes in the 70’s. The exhibit ended with the anti-design of Punk fashion by Vivienne Westwood and John Stephen of Carnaby Street fame, as well as their contemporaries in America such as Betsey Johnson of Paraphernalia.
Strolling through the two tiered exhibition space was like wafting through visions of my childhood. On my right were my mother’s tailored worsted wool dresses, mid-height pumps and matching clutch bag. My father’s martini shakers and jazz albums were perched next to my older sisters’ mod shift dresses, patent leather Go-Go boots, and platform shoes. And around the corner appeared my customised black leather motorcycle jacket and tattered bondage trousers. Imagine my shock when I happened upon my inflatable Barbie furniture and the Jimi Hendrix poster that hung in our basement!
What my young colleague (who, by the way, isn’t all that young, back in the day, anyone in their early 30’s would not have been trusted) has forgotten is that those in my demographic are the ones who invented rock and roll, started musical, political, and social revolution, dropped acid and saw God and “broke” punk. If it weren’t for my generation’s fevered dreams of electric sheep, y’all wouldn’t have your beloved splinter-net, anti-social media, zombie phones and craptops to replace the intimacies and passions that you so obviously crave to possess. Plug in, log on, and sell out! Wow, I do sound like that bitter old lady down the road. I digress...
Now that I‘m older and much harder to impress I still, to the core of my being, do not give a toss about what anyone thinks off me. My prickly attitude was cultivated in my teens and 20’s when my snot nosed, punk rock sensibilities and the mere mention of straying from my firm yet vague rules of thumb would unleash an anti-establishment tirade of tsunamic proportions. However, these days my hemlines scrape the knee rather than the bum. My tattoo is a faded memory of the Age of Aquarius (circa 1990). My tights aren’t strategically ripped for dramatic effect, I ripped them whilst trying to pull them up and I didn’t have time to change. I save the tirades for when I scold my children for not putting their dirty school uniforms in the hamper. Punk is NOT dead! Not in my house anyway. As they say, youth is wasted on the young. But then again, when I was living that exhibit, I didn’t appreciate anything either.