In fact, many of London’s most intrepid style pioneers (starting, arguably, with Oscar Wilde) have come from abroad—unconventional types looking for tolerance but then caught in a desperate struggle to regain the attention that, like blood to vampires, sustains them.
Think of Leigh Bowery, who traded sunny Australia for London in 1980. I remember glancing out the window of some club one night and seeing him in the street below—alone, tottering on stiltlike platform boots, his shaved head adorned with molten wax, his finger-length eyelashes sparkling with radioactive pixie dust—and wondering if he would ever succeed in getting a taxi. But just then, succumbing to his magical powers, one pulled up and he jackknifed himself into it.
That spirit is alive and well today, as is beautifully demonstrated in these photos of kids in London’s East End. But what is different is their breathtaking sense of individualism. Once we had style tribes: Teddy Boys, Mods, glam rockers, punks, goths, ravers, you name it. Now there is a fierce determination to go it alone.
That brave, look-at-me-damn-it confidence is popping up throughout the global village; the most daring looks are immediately posted on the Internet for everyone to see. All sorts of people in all sorts of places increasingly thumb their nose at the dictates of the so-called fashion professionals and just do it themselves. Passive fashion victims are going the way of the muumuu.
What we have here is a collection of delightfully unclassifiable individuals who use their eclectic choice of garments, accessories, and body decorations to transmit a one-of-a-kind personal statement—each one becoming a distinct brand. In this they are operating within a proud tradition of visual daring and articulation. More often than not they throw in a good dollop of humor—which is, of course, the London way. For isn’t John Lydon’s ripped and safety-pinned business suit one of the all-time great visual jokes?