A new exhibition explores London streetwear 1989-2001.
Ruffnecks, Rudeboys and Rollups

Is it just us, or are Facebook events now a thing? Granted they’ve always existed and with the right timing and a watchful eye, nothing has prevented friends previously from being privy to your Saturday night plans.

But things seem to have shifted in 2015. Events no longer mean just birthday parties and club nights, instead talks, demonstrations and exhibitions are claiming the social limelight.

And increasingly it feels like we’re vocalising our interests without having to raise our voices; a simple button click can now tell you whether a person gives a damn about art, rooftops or racial equality. Whether IRL participation happens or not isn’t (always) the point.

One such event that has repeatedly popped up on our feed (naturally, 2,421 people have so far said they’re attending), is an exhibition titled ‘Ruffnecks, Rudeboys and Rollups (Rx3)’.

Curated by Angela Phillips of creative agency 6:77FlyCreative, the three day exhibition is a celebration of the 90’s, leaving 1989 and arriving in 2001: “The 90’s was so rich in culture,” she tells Clash over email.

“For black Londoners in particular, it was a unique way in which to own your individuality. It was a way to celebrate the diversity and eclecticism of the way in which you carried yourself. We took so much pride in how we looked, it wasn’t just about the labels it was a sense of belonging to something that was bigger than us. It was a movement.”

The showcase follows similar events exploring street, and predominantly black, style – Somerset House’s Return of the Rudeboy and last year’s Boxfresh 89:14 exhibit come to mind – but that’s not to say there’s not a place for it. Nostalgia, especially of clothing, is far from going out of fashion.

As Philips notes, “Rx3 celebrates a subculture which has been emulated without giving kudos to the pioneers and reluctant fashionistas of the scene. We are (now) seeing a resurgence in a lot of the style from 1989-2001, and I think that the exhibition will actually educate visitors on its history.”

“History,” she continues, “is always repeated in some way, especially when it comes to fashion; I think people are actually looking for new styles to imitate. Many of us have been in this game for a long time and we’ve never lost that passion.”

The triple R title is a reference to the period – “to be a true rudeboy or girl, you knew the code of conduct and wore it like a badge of honour” – with the latter letter reflecting the south London method for securing one’s trousers (elsewhere the exhibition would no doubt have been renamed RRP, a nod to pintucks and pinrolls).

A mixture of professional and personal imagery forms the show; Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B has contributed photographs, likewise Normski, Slick Don, Fresh Laces founder Nathan Massiah and members of the public. “Many of us unfortunately didn’t document this time,” acknowledges Angela, curiously (the whole shebang centres around photos of the decade). Those that have made the cut however, are raw and authentic we learn.

“I’ve discovered the importance of documentation,” the curator later notes, as Clash asks what she’s learnt from the project so far. “And what the 90’s really meant to a lot of people. I learned how important it is to treasure your teenage (or young adult) years, after all, you never know what part of the culture you are inadvertently developing!”

With that in mind, we implore you to follow your digital attendance with real life physical movements in the direction of east London’s 5th Base Gallery.

Ruffnecks, Rudeboys and Rollups runs 22nd-24th May.

Words: Zoe Whitfield
Photo: c/o Franklin Boateng (King of Trainers)



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