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The Enduring Impact of Fashion Rebellion: Insights from Legendary Stylist and Archivist Roger K. Burton
NCO 056
2023-04-19
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by
0xB6734B4E01D1cD9A626efD6c86F031cBbF9B4936

N: Hi Roger, it's a pleasure to speak with you. How have you been lately? Can you share any recent highlights or projects you've been working on?


R: Hi! I'm busy as always juggling various projects. At the moment, I'm putting together a lot of original 1970s outfits for a major Punk exhibition at Leicester Museum, which opens in May. It's also our 30th anniversary this year at the Horse Hospital, and we have a full schedule of amazing exhibitions lined up. Basically, we are trying to make the most of the next 18 months as I fear we may have to leave the building in Dec 2024. So, we are always looking for support so we can continue promoting marginalized artists.

N: Congratulations on your book "Rebel Threads: Clothing of the Bad, Beautiful and Misunderstood." I'm curious about the interplay between fashion and social rebellion. While fashion can often serve as a form of rebellion and convey a message, it can also be purely about aesthetics and devoid of moral implications. In your opinion, does rebellion always need to carry a message, or can it simply be an expression of defiance just for the sake of it, akin to being a "rebel without a cause"?

R: It's very natural for teenagers to be rebellious with or without a cause, and some choose to follow that thread throughout their lives. So, of course, I'm naturally attracted to those individuals who dress up and wear clothes with some kind of passion and commitment, of whatever style.

But I also find it very interesting how a garment or look can either attract or repel people at the same time. I guess certain clothing subconsciously signals something quite primal in us...?

But having said all that, I'm not sure how impactful clothing styles can be these days as the internet and social media seem to have neutralized any shock value rebellious fashion once had, particularly on the streets of London...

N: Your book delves into subcultures and countercultures. In today's digital age, fashion subcultures proliferate online and are appropriated by individuals who may not truly immerse themselves in the associated lifestyles, such as attending related social events, engaging with the music, or advocating for particular political beliefs. This is a stark contrast to the past when individuals genuinely embodied the lifestyles that accompanied their fashion choices. Can you share your thoughts on how trends have become more transient and the implications of this shift?

R: The internet is clearly a useful tool when you are trying to quickly research a subject you might be curious about. However, that hunger for virtual instant gratification can be very addictive with some people, replacing the need to actually go out and engage with others, which I think is terribly sad. Experiencing culture through a computer screen is no substitute for social interaction.

N: I recently came across an article by Philip Clarke, a professor at Central Saint Martins, in which he discussed how the role of the stylist is often undervalued. For instance, stylists may not receive adequate credit for their creative direction or may be overshadowed by photographers who retain the rights to the images. Even in music, the significant contribution of stylists in shaping the musicians' images, and potentially even influencing the music itself, is frequently overlooked. What is your perspective on this?

R: There are those that wish to be in the limelight and those who prefer to work behind the scenes. I have always been more comfortable with the latter. To be honest, most of the work I've done over the years has been uncredited, and the only time it's ever bothered me is when someone else gets the credit for the work I've done. But then, that's just me, and I can totally understand those stylists that fight for their share of the limelight...

N: With an incredible career spanning over five decades, you've undoubtedly had many memorable experiences and accomplishments. Can you share a particularly standout moment from your career or an achievement that fills you with pride?

R: I am very fortunate in having been in the right place at the right time and had the opportunity to meet and work with some incredibly talented people over the years ...

like Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, who definitely shaped and reaffirmed my views on how vital clothing as a personal statement can be. And I am particularly proud of playing a part in their incredible journey.

All images courtesy of Roger K. Burton.
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