Vexed Generation – The Second Coming

Why the political and resistance fashion brand’s revival matters

in brief

This year, political fashion brand Vexed Generation will be back for Autumn/Winter 2018. Born in 1995, the futuristic and anticipatory brand’s technical clothing was a response to increased CCTV surveillance, The Criminal Justice Bill and air pollution – now ‘London’s answer to Helmut Lang’ is making a comeback. The announcement follows the London brand’s inclusion at NY-based retailer Opening Ceremony and Byronesque’s collaborative #FashionPorn pop-up.

Born as a passion project between Adam Thorpe and Joe Hunter, Vexed Generation was created at a time where censorship was enforced and a bevy of intrusive laws, all stringing from the 1994 crime bill, infringed upon a once liberated scene. In an age where digital channels merely existed (in comparison to the current social media craze), the design duo decided to channel their frustrations into designing the uniform of the era’s growing political angst. Launched in 1995, Vexed Generation was hailed by Calvin Klein as London’s answer to Helmut Lang (according to Gill Linton, co-founder of vintage fashion retailer Byronesque). Despite neither having formal training in fashion design, the duo crafted a futuristic aesthetic with their clothes, while using them to challenge society’s ills. 

Vexed Generation x Puma, taken from the December 2004 issue of DazedPhotography Jon Baker Styling Beth Fenton

« We took urban surveillance, civil liberty, air pollution and The Criminal Justice Bill, as it was at the time, as our brief. We wanted people to be able to have as much mobility as they could in a city, and we wanted to maintain anonymity if people required it, and we also wanted people to have elements of protection, so we chose our fabrics very carefully. We were using high-tenacity ballistics made by a mill up north who were producing specifically for the MOD. And we tried to create some utilitarian garments and accessories which did all of what I first described. But more than necessarily the protection element of it, it was designed to promote and provoke debate. »  – Joe Hunter in Dazed Magazine, July 2017

The first iteration of the label garments were crafted with the social and environmental challenges of the city in mind : for instance, the subversive collection consisted of pieces equipped with agendas that protected and enforced the message of the people. In response to the increase in public CCTV’s, the duo then released an identity-concealing hooded fleece projecting both intimidation and anonymity. The Fleeces came with face masks to protect against air pollution, while some of their most notable pieces, like the Vexed Parka, a statement piece with blast-proof ballistic nylon sourced through the Ministry of Defense, were endowed with padding on the head, kidneys, and nether regions, providing protective cushions against batons from riot police.

Vexed Generation AW98Photography Hannes Gudmundsson, taken from the January 2010 issue of Dazed

« I think that some of the aesthetics that are in Vexed – the concealment, the utilitarian values, the informed aesthetics of some of the stuff we were doing in the 90s – is pretty mainstream in many regards now. We would always just take the idea first which we wanted to communicate and start a conversation about and see where that led. » – Joe Hunter in Dazed Magazine, July 2017

Audrey Marnay wears Vexed GenerationPhotography Steven Meisel, courtesy of Vexed Generation

Amber Valletta wears Vexed Generation in American Vogue (year/photographer unknown)Courtesy of Vexed Generation

During a similar time of unrest, the cult brand was reawakened by Opening Ceremony’s “Fashion Porn” vintage pop-up in July 2017. Standing alongside Raf Simons and Helmut Lang, the statement pieces commanded the room as a capsule collection amongst the greats, but also as a story with more to tell.

The rather literal designs spoke loudly during a time when platforms were scarce. While extremely utilitarian, they also evoked an avant-garde aesthetic that pleased both artists and anarchists.

« We’ve still got a lot of beliefs around a lot of these issues, whether it’s environmental, social, economic or political. There are so many things our brains can’t switch off from, and we’ve been doing a lot of work based around different aspects of society, the only thing we haven’t really been doing is producing clothes as a way to voice our thinking – but that’s coming in again now. » – Joe Hunter in Dazed Magazine, July 2017

The duo’s return is timely – with state scepticism and a politicised youth increasingly characterising UK culture of late, fashion brands would do well to consider the nuances of a fragmented society. Details are few and far between, but the design duo will have much inspiration for the next Vexed Generation.

“Let’s face it, the easiest thing to say is that the world is ready for the Vexed Generation again. The world is full of the vexed generation” – Joe Hunter in Dazed Magazine, July 2017

As Hunter and Thorpe put it, the current generation has never been more vexed – and they have something to say about it. While the age-old question of ‘can fashion change the world?’ still persists today, the designer duo have a great point here, as discussed in our previous “Is Politics something à la mode ?” paper arguing the need for fashion and luxury brands to take a strong political stand, which is of paramount importance for them to remain relevant to modern customers.

Make sure to set your eyes on London Fashion Week and share your opinion with us in the comment section about the soon to come new Vexed Generation.

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