Wednesday, February 16, 2011

High Fashion Meets Working Class Soul

Karen Walker was one of only a few designers at fashion week to credit music as her inspiration, pointing to the British Northern soul movement and in particular the Dexy's Midnight Runners' first LP from 1980, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels (the band would later gain fame for their hit "Come on Eileen").

Dexy's Midnight Runners

Northern soul was a music and dance movement that came out of the late 1960s mod scene in England. It sought to bring lively African-American music, particularly that of lesser-known Motown artists, to working class clubs. The movement peaked in the 1970s but saw a resurgence with a new generation in the 1980s.

Shows a painting, which depicts the outside of the Wigan Casino Club. There are queues of people, lining the pavement in front and a coach stopped nearby.
Painting of Wigan Casino,
Northern soul hot spot in Lancashire
by David Barrow

The dancing associated with the music was remarkably athletic, featuring spins, kicks, and backdrops. As a result, the fashion associated with the scene gradually shifted from the clean-cut mod looks of the 1960s with button-down shirts, blazers, and brogues to looser fits in the '70s and '80s including high-waisted baggy trousers and sports vests.

Northern soul dancing from the 1970s

Karen Walker's collection in particular looks at the three primary aspects which defined Northern soul fashion, speaking to both the music's demographic and function.
  • A working class aesthetic with elements like caps and peacoats straight from the docks
  • Loose athletic pieces clearly meant for moving but certainly not meant for the gym
  • "Sunday best" dresses with loose skirts to exaggerate the intense spinning on the dance floor 
Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear

At times, Walker's collection was more literal. For example, check out how she incorporates the trademark patches. These patches celebrated various clubs and events and dancers would plaster them across their clothes.

Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear

And while Walker's collection is more heavily influenced by the late '70s and early '80s period of Northern soul, she does make some very chic references to the 1960s Northern soul generation, with mod-inspired pieces that hint at the movement's more refined and tailored early look.

Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear

Overall, Walker's collection was inspired more generally by the scene surrounding Northern soul than by the music itself. I think though, if you look closely, you can see some similarities to the musical style. For example, I can't help but think of one of the more frenetic tracks from the Dexy's Midnight Runners album when I see this look. They both have this almost electric energy. The print is so small and busy that it almost looks like it's in constant motion, just as the track's rhythm is subdivided into such smal beats that the pulse seems almost too fast to keep up with!

Karen Walker Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear

"Seven Days Too Long"
Dexy's Midnight Runners (1980)

So there you have it, a look at Karen Walker's Fall 2011 collection and the inspiration behind it. It's always a pleasure to take a look at a collection, whether or not you like the looks, which is inspired by the arts. I sometimes wonder how fashion can develop and realize something new when designers say their inspiration was something like layering or knitwear. Granted musicians and artists often tout their influences as being other areas of music and art, but at the end of the day it can be very refreshing as well as challenging to look outside one's own art and realize something new.

Based both on old photos and Karen Walker's collection, here are some pieces to get your own Northern soul inspired look. So put on some vintage soul records and get to dancing!

Beanie hat skull cap Double Layer rib knit Reversible Merino wool Black vintage blue wool peacoat  Sheer White OpenKnit Tank Top Camisole Vintage Size SMALL MEDIUM MESH Sultry Summer     Black Vintage High-Waisted Flare Pants  Vintage Black Oxford Brogues Size 9.5M     Ska'd Soul - Keep the Faith/ Soul Shoes silver pendant necklace

Black Merino Wool Beanie Hat by Winter Symphony $35
Vintage Blue Wool Peacoat from Avant Anthologue $56
Vintage Sheer White Open Knit Tank from Stiletto Girl $22
Vintage Black High-Waisted Flare Pants from Le Petit Sufi $17
Vintage Black Brogues from Oiseau Vintage $36
Handmade Northern Soul Pendant by Madam CC $75

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