Talking through the V&A exhibit with the man at the centre of it all
For the past three decades Jeffrey Hinton has helped fire the furnace of English club culture. From DJing to documenting, if it’s been culturally relevant, you can bet your sweaty vest he’s had a part in it. Now he’s reached the Victoria and Albert museum, with a hand in the new star exhibit Club to Catwalk, celebrating the symbiotic relationship between fashion and going out in London.
Rising in the 80s with Leigh Bowery’s notorious Taboo club night, Jeffrey cut his teeth alongside circuit regulars like Rachel Auburn, Mark Lawrence and Princess Julia. Fascinated by the energy and the commune-like scene he found himself existing in, he began to document the myriad of people and events taking place, much of which he was neck-deep in himself.
“You couldn’t help but be a part of it all, everything was an exchange, a collaboration. Not a collaboration like some creative people seem to do now – self promotion or effort-for-reward type stuff, real friendship, give and take. What is funny about the collection at the V&A is that lots of friends had a hand in making a lot of it! Whether it was for nights out, or if there was a line of Japanese buyers outside of Kensington Market or Hyper Hyper and something needed knocked up quickly, it was all group effort!”
Jeffrey Hinton (Right) and Scarlett Canon (Left) at Taboo.
(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Thomas Davis: So let’s start from the beginning, how did you find yourself living in London during the 80s?
Jeffrey Hinton: Well I was born in West London in Baron’s Court. I was brought up in the 60s, with my teenage years in the 70s. I was aware of so many changes going on, my father was quite left wing, and my parents broke up when I was around eight, so there was a lot of turmoil in my house. I gravitated towards my brother who’s six years older than me, instinctively because of all this stress and change happening around me. I understood his point of view, we were on the same sort of wavelength, even from very early on.
He would have so many books on all sorts of subcultures from around the world and it was amazing to have this window into another life. I thought everyone had that sort of upbringing, of such an open minded, curious nature and it was sort of a surprise to me that nobody at school knew what sort of films I was talking about, or the art I had seen.
Culture fascinates me instinctively. I’m a very social person obviously, but as a kid I was chronically shy. One thing I learned from my brother early on was attitudes toward a sort of sexual politics, we liked androgyny, people playing with their own image, and I guess that’s why naturally, when I did meet trannies and people on the outside of society, I was always instantly attracted by them. All of my brother’s friends, the things he was interested in, all the films we used to go and see, the magazines he had, all fascinated me.
TD: So you found yourself hanging around with your brother’s friends from a young age? What were they like?
JH: I was hanging around The Dilly at 12 years old with these hookers, dealers and prozzies, and around a café that used to be down Whitehall, he introduced me to that. I was always allowed out late with him because my parents never knew who we were hanging around with, he made me feel safe. In a way they would have been completely horrified and would have thought I was in danger but I was with my brother, surrounded by people who looked out for me, understood me and had genuine empathy for my interests at that age. Then one thing leads to another and you just carry on like that!
TD: So you had a really early introduction to the club scene?
JH: Oh god yes! I loved being around those people who were fighting for a different sort of world, it was a different landscape then. It was much poorer, there was less financial selfishness and greed, people were doing a lot of things to help each other. Especially when it came to human rights, and social equality – the Women’s Movement, the Gay Liberation movement, Worker’s Rights. I remember that I didn’t understand why there were these issues or discrimination against race or sexuality, I was a completely utopian thinker, living within my bubble. I just questioned everything really, and met other people who questioned society in the same way I did.
TD: Did the DJing come before your interest in documenting night life or you were a part of creating the clubnights first?
JH: I never actually wanted to DJ, I still don’t! I love music don’t get me wrong, but within a cultural pretence, environmentally I love it. It’s where all my references and expressions stem from, experiencing something from being in a space, with a group of people. I think one of the beautiful things about life is how all sorts of factors and events match up to create an experience. I think things just either organically work together or they don’t, it’s all about the sum of a number of factors. I would prepare and leave the music playing with some scratch video in the background, so I was able to fuck off and roll around the dance floor like everyone else!
Not many people have heard this story from a certain night at Taboo in the early 80s. I had taken some acid and actually thought I was in my bedroom, I was easily believing the club was my home. I was playing the slipmat of the deck for about 20 minutes with headphones plugged into it – it was just making this awful grinding noise. Nobody batted an eyelid though! They just carried on dancing, they were used to unusual sounds and experiences on those nights. Leigh [Bowery] told Princess Julia to check on me and see if I was alright. I remember this clearly actually; she asked, “Are you OK Darling?” in her North London twang and I replied, “Oh Julia, make me a cup of tea will you?” I actually did think we were at home!
The Cloth, Summer Summit, Club to Catwalk at the V&A
TD: Were you living with Julia at that time in the famous Warren Street squat?
JH: Yes, I’ve known Julia since I was about 15, we lived in squats including the building in Warren Street, as well as various other places, at one time we lived between all the hardcore prostitutes on Goods Way in Kings Cross too, you didn’t mess with those women! Julia used to live with this incredible guy called Ashley. He was a prostitute who lived in High Street Kensington, they used to share this tiny bedsit room. I would love going around there because you would have all her fabulous outfits all over the walls, and he was a great character – he had a really bad nosejob and it had caused a problem with one of his eyes, hidden by a sweeping, long fringe! It’s fixed now – but I think he looked amazing! I loved that kooky unpredictable environment: everyone was so fucked up, broke or troubled but still so nice to one another!
TD: How did the way you lived and survived together effect what you were creating in terms of fashion? At the V&A you mentioned the importance of Bodymap and it’s relevance to the the way you all lived…
JH: Well Bodymap for me is a continuation of that vibe we had, at Warren Street, and as a part of the wider story of our of “family”. I mean literally all the people involved in Bodymap were also people who had been living or would frequent the squat. Instinctively we just all became involved with it.
I’ve never seen any other group effort quite like that within recent fashion history, I mean it’s not a business model, we weren’t really thinking about money. It was just about the creative process. When I look at all those shows they were all about being four or five collections in one! That was twice a year, all sorts of everything, mens and women’s bunged into one, there was no segregation, no rules.
TD: I particularly liked one of the videoclips in your media installation at the exhibition from a Bodymap show. They were literally rolling down the catwalk together!
JH: Yeah they were full on performances! The last one was actually done in a theatre, Michael Clark did all the choreography for it. You felt as though you were seeing a real show, a performance. It was all integrally linked, the music, the dancing, the characters, the clothes. The strength of it was the sum of all its different personalities! Stevie Stewart and David Holah were doing all the designing obviously, but everyone else had their role to play in it. Even when you look at the catwalk shows, everyone who is walking is a recognisable personality, wearing the clothes organically – not the clothes wearing them.
TD: Do you think this had a later effect on the shows of McQueen and John Galliano for instance? The theatrical drama and ability to project a character or narrative?
JH: I do think that had a strong influence, absolutely! But then to a degree they had to develop those characters for their shows. I DJed at the Givenchy haute couture by Alexander McQueen in 2000. He had commissioned this incredible folded box set, which unhinged and collapsed out to show a party going on inside – I was in the middle booth DJing while the models were acting out the boozing and dancing. We had a lot of fun!
Bodymap was different because the person WAS that character, it wasn’t manufactured or dreamed up. McQueen and Galliano did that beautifully from other historical references but these people were in the moment, living and portraying themselves. Wearing the outfit as they wanted to, whether it was the theme of the show or not!
TD: There are some clips shown at Club to Catwalk, which you filmed yourself, where you can really see the madness that is the backstage area during some of those shows!
JH: Well they were major collaboratory, party atmosphere-themed shows, but I just thought that’s how all shows were. I’ve been spoiled my whole life! I do remember the way we would all share the experience then. Even that wasn’t in an organised commune sort of way, it was just because we actually wanted to create things, we didn’t have many resources or much money so everyone always chipped in. We were living in a completely different way, it wasn’t a digital age of communication, we weren’t liaising with anyone through Facebook or text messages or email.
TD: How did you arrange the parties then? Was there a certain target audience?
JH: Word of mouth for a start! We all lived together, in each others’ pockets. The point wasn’t to have loads of people there, the point was to have the people that mattered – and they knew anyway! I mean there were frustrating aspects of it: when I lived in west London I didn’t actually have a phone. It was a fucking nightmare! One of the reasons I did live in a squat was because I was surrounded by communication and interaction all of the time. At least then I knew what was going on, and I thrived on it!
TD: How does it feel going back through all of your images and the vast archive of film, montages and archive clothes you have collected over the years?
JH: Well I often see a picture or quick few seconds in a frame of someone I snogged once or who I used to adore and who then just disappeared. I often wonder what happened to those people. The only real way to keep contact was to write or meet up and be there; be on the scene, go to the parties.
I went to New York when I was 18 and met so many wonderful people who I have never seen again. It was the same with London too, but often in a more heartbreaking way. I would start to hold onto things from people, AIDS was ravaging through my friends, along with heroin abuse, within three months of the 80s half of the people in my pictures had gone. It’s important to keep the memories of them alive though.
TD: Do you still have the same passion and appreciation for club culture and fashion in London today?
JH: Yes I do! The hardship and bad times without money, in particular within the creative industries here, pushes young creative people to behave and live in a certain way – its interesting to observe for me. You have to be really inventive and resourceful when you want something, That’s something I identify with. It’s also the irony of things, the “fuck you” attitude in the face of a society we really struggle to exist in. If you look at London from the outside you would think, “well hang on, how doesn’t everyone just kill each other?” There’s such high stakes and high pressure now, If i was younger I don’t know how I would handle it.
I like seeing the concept of a beautifully embroidered dress from say Meadham Kirchhoff, which probably costs the annual wage of some people, worn on the street over boxer shorts – like my young pal Hermes Cevera would do. Or to see something which is beautifully in-your-face from the likes of like Nasir Mahzar or Louise Gray, a very like-it-or-don’t-be-a-part-of-it concept. That’s London to me and I love it!
Club to Catwalk runs until 16th February 2014 at the V&A, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL