Karen Walker has been nursing an affection for the Dexys Midnight Runners album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels for about 20 years. So it was probably inevitable that she would eventually tap the record for inspiration, as she has this season with great wit and charm. More specifically, Walker went deep into Young Soul Rebels' homage to the Northern-soul scene that had its heyday in the mid-seventies.
It's worth talking a bit about Northern soul, because Walker really used the reference. Every weekend, working-class young people would swarm the dance floors at clubs across Northern Britain, the most famous of which was Wigan Casino. The dancing there was athletic and competitive, and it went on all night, and sometimes for entire weekends; then, come Monday, the dancers would return to their jobs on the docks or in the mines.
"I loved the idea of combining the three ways of dressing that went into the scene," Walker explained after her show today. "There was this very working-class thing, with dockworkers' coats and caps, and then the racerback singlets that were worn for the more athletic dancing. And then," she added, "there was the super-femininity of some of the women's looks. They'd turn themselves out in their Sunday best clothes, with these full skirts that really moved on the dance floor."
Walker updated those references nicely. A key motif was black vinyl detailing, which added an industrial edge to wallpaper floral-print blouses and girly pleated skirts, and gave a graphic touch to Walker's pop-color coats. There were ultra-feminine "Sunday best" frocks, like a timeless bias-cut chiffon, and two standout pairs of mannish trousers, one high-waisted with a gentle wide-leg silhouette, the other skinny, cropped, and cuffed. The clothes looked easy and modern, and the inspiration was never too overt, with the exception of the print Walker derived from the souvenir patches the Northern soul-sters used to collect. That was perhaps a little too on-the-nose, but it was still a nice tip of the hat.