Return of the rude boy at Somerset house

Jun 18, 2014

Return of the Rude Boy 

Return of the rude boy at Somerset house:

A  triptych of style hardship and beauty from shanty town to Savile row

With the tribes and sub-genres of music and fashion coming and going as quickly as waves on a shore, it is all too easy to miss some of the pervasive influences that continue to shape the scene around us.  The Rude Boys born of 1950's Kingston, Jamaica might have been out of our direct sight in the UK since the Two Tone Ska movement of the early 1980's but Rudies have continued to drive fashion and music and, thanks to a newly curated Summer Exhibition at Somerset House, are re-emerging in their sharp-dressed glory to reclaim their rightful place.

La Touche

Before opening the doors and entering the world created by celebrated photographer Dean Chalkley and fashion creative director Hariss Elliott, a little history.  From the poverty of 1950's Kingston Jamaica emerged a sub-culture of sharp-dressed youths sporting suits, thin ties, trilbys and pork pie hats embracing an American jazz inspired culture and celebrating it in the many dance halls of the time although often with a violent rather than a happy ending.  

Rude Boy

The whiff of danger followed these Rudies and came to instil itself in late 1970's Britain through the adoption of the Ska sound and twisted to the Rude Boy style by the skinhead movement.  Two Tone records, the Specials, The Beat et al became the sound of discontent as the world changed in Thatcher's Britain.  Rude Boy style was on our street corners - sharp, edgy and a badge of honour.  Of course, fashions move on, excess replaced protest, and Rudies seemed to disappear like all the other waves.  But actually, they didn't, Ragga, Drum and Bass, Garage, Grime and Dubstep are but iterations of Rude Boy music and the dressing-up rituals of the Dandys and Sartorialists from Shoreditch to Savile Row are Rudie through and through.


So here we are in 2014 Britain celebrating the Return of the Rude Boy.  And what a celebration it is.  The setting in Somerset House is deliberately uncluttered to allow the mind to dive deep into the world of each photograph commissioned especially to showcase the Rudie world of today.  We are encouraged to wander from one room to the other and return for one last stare. Sometime lost in a contemplative gaze, sometime animated.  The portraits in the travelling trunks are a subtle tribute to those whose journey made them individual. Some faces are familiar, La Touche, Martell Campbell, Joshua Kane, Don Letts, Jason Jules, Pauline Black, Ayishat Akanbi amongst others, and sometimes it is the distinctive and innate ability to make a statement through the subject's demeanor, attitude and style that captures and holds our attention.

London style

The Rude Boy is back then.  We should applaud, not just because this Exhibition is such a joyous event in itself but because it is an over-due championing of the desire across all classes to care about appearance, to cut a style in a world of corporatism and brands and to live outside the challenges of daily life - whether that be the poverty of 1950's Kingston, the ruthless challenges of 1980's Thatcherite Britain or the inequalities of Cameron's rich-get-richer recovery.  Maybe Trilbys on the street corner will be the sign of youth culture calling out for a change in society again.  Let's welcome these Rude Boys into Twenty First Century Britain.  Well-done Somerset House. The hats that we proudly wear are off to those arbiters who refuse to compromise.

Girl in menswear

Anna Dilphy - Guest blogging for Monsieur London.

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