Why fashion can’t get enough of clubbing 

Why fashion can’t get enough of clubbing 

by Ollie Cox
8 min

Fashion has long favoured clubbing and its subcultural roots as a source of inspiration. Tales of heady nights on the dance floor have been translated into designs seen on the catwalk, from London’s early club kids setting a precedent, to megabrands bringing some four-to-the-floor fun to worldwide raves. Fashion has always loved a knees-up, and long before techno became the default soundtrack for all things stylish, a group of London fashionistas would set the blueprint for club kids to come. 

At the cusp of the 1980s, a burgeoning style tribe was forming around London’s Blitz Club in Covent Garden, initially earning them the name the “Blitz Kids,” and later blossoming into The New Romantics. Art students with a love of the avant-garde and punks with a newfound penchant for electro pop came together under one roof, dancing to David Bowie, Kraftwerk and Boy George.

The look was characterised by heavy make-up and an androgynous appearance. Many of the scene’s movers and shakers have gone on to contribute to the fashion industry, such as DJ and writer Princess Julia, esteemed costume designer and stylist Kim Bowen, and the renowned designer John Galliano. At the time, the looks were brought together with a shoestring budget and reflective of the movement’s trailblazing approach, which saw a standoffish affront to the status quo, weaved into a polished and glamorous appearance comprising frilly shirts and pit-crust collars. The looks romanticised and reinvented clothing worn in the past and brought them to a modern club-like setting, picking up where punk left off and putting club culture at the core of contemporary subcultural fashion. 

As Kraftwerk’s “robot pop” laid the foundations for acid house, techno, and just about anything electronic, rave culture really took off, providing a hedonistic escape and an outlet for self-expression. For London’s menswear darling Martine Rose, rave references come naturally, given her youth spent on the dance floor. The designer went to her first rave in her early teens, with legendary London club nights, such as Rage, becoming a regular haunt, with recollections of dance floor memories being unmistakable in her collections. 

Back in 2014, Martine Rose nodded to nights spent on the dance floor, turning rave flyers into textured appliqués applied to hoodies and camouflage jackets — casual garments that reflected the acts of subversion clubbing represents. By updating items initially intended to be worn as part of a uniform and applying graphic detailing, the sense of individuality inherent on the dance floor disrupted the intended military conformity. 

Fast forward almost a decade, and clubbing continues to contribute to the Martine Rose manifesto. Its Spring/Summer 2023 collection was presented in a disused gay sauna in Vauxhall, giving us a fetishistic fusion of sportswear and utilitarian workwear as orange cargo-wearing models mingled with the cap-clad, tracky-wearing protagonists of Rose’s underground world. The collection saw a cast of models grip Martine Rose Sport-branded duffle bags and zip-through track tops, reflecting the sportswear-soaked uniform of the 90s raver. While certainly not the only cultural movement reflected in Martine Rose’s collection, there is a persistent clubby cool that permeates her work like the thud of the drum machine in a sweat-filled basement venue. Clubbing is a cornerstone of the Martine Rose brand, and its authentic representation is rooted in a sense of lived experience, where clothing is appreciated for both its functional and fashionable qualities, allowing its wearer to fully submit themselves to the music.

The Jordan Bowen and Luca Marchetto-led JORDANLUCA has brought clubby sportswear to the runway as part of its merging of London counterculture with Italian heritage. The brand is behind sartorial subversions of classic suiting, oversized drop shoulder bombers, and baggy trackies, and often weaves the heady happenings of nights spent on the dance floor into its elevated offering. 

Its FW23 collection saw a Lonsdale link-up, comprising triple waistband boxers – sports jerseys, boxing boots and a long-line puffer jacket. The collaboration leaned into queer culture, with sportswear labels and the Lonsdale brand being favoured across clubby subcultures and the queer community. Cut-off co-branded sweatshorts were worn with a zip-embellished shirt and tie, and finished with angular lace up Derby shoes, merging structured menswear staples with a sporty softness. The look reflected the eclectic fusions of form and function outfits worn in underground club settings where traditional style tropes are twisted and subverted to reflect an individualistic self-expression. 

But for JORDANLUCA, clubbing is more than just a weekend escape, or an excuse to make luxury tracksuits, with the two designers meeting at the legendary East London gay pub and club, the Joiners’ Arms. “As Queer creatives, hedonism and debauchery is innate to us. We are just creating a world for everyone to feel free and accepted,” the two designers explain. For Bowen, whose aunt Kim Bowen was one of the original Blitz Kids, clubbing and clobber were paired early on, undoubtedly contributing to blatant nods to club culture seen in the brand’s output, notably its recent SS24 offering,  where punk-esque spiked hairstyles were front and centre, reminiscent of the looks put together by the glamourous club-kids of the early ‘80s. 

JORDANLUCA ©

The duality of sportswear-tinged club gear, and top-notch tailoring creates a tension that JORDANLUCA does so well. “Having a collection so heavily based in tailoring it is important to have a contrast, a release from formality. The duality of life informs every aspect of our work, when we look at tailoring, where is a suit appropriate, is it ever appropriate? Is it rebellion or conformity? A rave helped us realise the duality of the collection, a release from the banality of working life,” the brand told us. 

For JORDANLUCA, it’s about unity and connection on the dance floor. “When clubbing, you are letting down your guard. Clubbing really can be the great unifier; it’s just you and music. For a fleeting moment, we no longer care who we are with or the stresses we all have. Something we all need, whether we are in fashion or not.” 

The impact of club culture isn’t just seen at buzzy London-based brands. Belgian-born designer Glenn Martens exemplifies the influence that clubbing can have on high-fashion collections. At Y/Project, a House he has helmed for 10 years, Martens juxtaposes grit with grace, elevating the clothing people wear on the street, and revamping it in subversive runway looks. At the heart of his anthropological influence is years spent on the dance floor, from Gabber-filled get togethers in Antwerp to his time as a newly-graduated designer in Paris’ party scene. 

Y/Project’s Spring/Summer 2024 show included rugged monk-like robes crafted from the remnants of overcoats, streetwear print-esque tailoring, alongside steamy club-coded looks which saw baggy workwear-esque boots worn with loose-fitting faded denim shorts. Later models wore deconstructed bomber jackets with grey hoodies and ripped-up baseball caps, akin to outfits seen outside East London clubs each weekend. 

Y/Project ©

As part of its Spring/Summer 2022 collection, Y/Project collaborated with FILA for a sportswear centred capsule, comprising co-branded track-tops, polo shirt-dresses and grey logoed sweatshirts, further reflecting the designer’s idiosyncratic, observational approach to design. In campaign shots, we saw models donning pieces from the collection as they went indoor skydiving, and while the nod to clubby hedonism isn’t overt, a disco biscuit-induced take-off is definitely something you’ll get on the dance floor.

In 2020, Martens was appointed Creative Director of Diesel, injecting some oontz oontz energy to the label with techno-soundtracked collections comprising mini skirts, bomber jackets and denim baseball caps. In 2022, Diesel partnered with East London Music platform NTS to throw a series of 17-hour raves, starting in London, and later heading to Rome, giving new meaning to Diesel’s “For Successful Living” mantra. 

Speaking to NSS Magazine ahead of the event, he described the impact of clubbing. “Going into Berghain and spending six hours in there for me is like the therapy session of a shrink. I mean, I honestly, like, if I go like 15 hours I’m happy for at least 1-2 weeks and I could literally go to a shrink and it doesn’t do the same effect to me.” The partnership showed that fashion’s love affair with clubbing lives beyond glossy catwalk shows, and is very much alive in dance floors around the world. It allowed Martens to give back to the community that informed his work, and push the brand beyond the polished parameters of Milan Fashion Week.

From two-stepping to techno in your trackies to coveted catwalk moments, fashion and clubbing’s symbiotic relationship stems from a feeling of expression, escape, and individuality. These shared experiences are melting pots for creativity free from the monotony of the everyday. Club clobber is less of a uniform but a universal design language rooted in a sense of freedom, connection, and a desire to be yourself.

Cover Image: @jordanluca

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