“It’s very sad news, I have always thought that The Horse Hospital is perfect for Roger and for The Contemporary Wardrobe Collection, it’s hard to imagine the clothes in any other setting. Contemporary Wardrobe is the real deal, it’s authentic… it has never let me down.” Stylist, fashion director and filmmaker, Joe McKenna
A London cultural landmark is under threat. The Horse Hospital, a historic old stable in a cobbled mews behind Russell Square station is a bit of a gem. It has been for 27 years. It’s a not-for-profit arts venue that holds exhibitions for London’s displaced artists and also houses an incredible costume archive. But maybe not for much longer.
Its landlords are planning to increase rents by 440% in a bid to out-price the current tenant and gentrify the building. To turn it into what, we don’t know. With its Grade II listed status and original sloping floors, it won’t get safely clearance for anything like a restaurant. And it can’t be demolished because again, it’s listed! But The Horse Hospital’s Roger K Burton, who has run the not-for-profit space for 27 years, has a fight on his hands.
I have visited The Horse Hospital and Burton’s clothing archive, the Contemporary Wardrobe Collection numerous times. Burton himself is an interesting character, having costumed British youth culture films Quadrophenia and Absolute Beginners. Fun fact: legendary stylist Joe McKenna was an actor in a previous life and actually appeared in Absolute Beginners, becoming good friends with Burton (that’s his quote at the top of the page).
In the heady, money-sloshing days of early music videos and blockbuster TV ads, Burton’s clothing archive became the go-to for wardrobe stylists seeking authentic youth culture wear to hire. Fast-forward to the 90s and Contemporary Wardrobe was a regular credit in The Face and i-D fashion shoots, thanks in no small part to Melanie Ward’s penchant for a skinny leather pant and threadbare punk tee.
Today, the fashion archive is a secret weapon for many a stylist, fond of plundering the collection of vintage mohair sweaters, and 80s tailoring for that magic bullet of 20th Century unexpectedness. For the short film Emma Miranda Moore and I made with Dior, we used some great Contemporary Wardrobe pieces for our ‘before’ transformation.
Last week’s Jocks & Nerds show on Soho Radio features a fantastic interview with Burton, in which he reveals all about his adventures in youth costuming, his work with Vivienne Westwood and what we can do to support the plight of The Horse Hospital. For now, there’s a fundraising campaign to pay the costs of fighting the rent rise and you can also write to the landlords, or visit the current (NSFW) exhibition and buy products from which proceeds will go to the fund as well. (All info is here.) Stylists, go and hire a few garms from there; it’s the most wonderful space that deserves your support!
A recent LSE report revealed that government arts cuts are starving the culture. With fewer contributions to the large institutions, those galleries must rely on blockbuster exhibitions to pull punters in, meaning less recognition and funding for minority artists. Much as I love my Hockney and Warhol shows, it’s clear we need our small not-for-profit spaces more than ever.
WORDS: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Disneyrollergirl; The Horse Hospital; Disneyrollergirl; Contemporary Wardrobe x 2
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