As the field of fashion curation rapidly expands past the walls of the museum and gallery and into corporate headquarters and shopfronts, it has now conquered a new frontier; the Islington Business Design Centre in London. A space more commonly known for trade shows and recruitment events, for three steamy weeks this summer the location played host to the exhibition SpiceUp. Subtitled “An Exhibition About The Spice Girls” (lest there be any confusion about the subject of the show), this exhibit was an exercise in curatorial agony and visitor ecstasy.
The Spice Girls were a group of five British women, who auditioned to become a pop group in 1994, and ended up becoming a cultural zeitgeist. SpiceUp has been curated without any affiliation with the group or their management, and is a testament to their lasting legacy. Spread over two floors in a side wing of the former Royal Agricultural Hall, there is no context provided for the location, other than the assumption that there are surely few venues in London built to accommodate such a massive assemblage of clothing, ephemera and merchandise, that would also avail themselves for hire to a member of the public. And so SpiceUp curator Alan Smith-Allison is – albeit one who is responsible for collecting the bulk of the objects on display, and owner of the largest collection of Spice Girls memorabilia on earth. A former charity worker turned exhibition maker, Smith-Allison has collected anything and everything Spice Girls-related since 2007, and in curating and staging this exhibit himself, also brought in loaned objects from fellow fans.
The result is almost overwhelming. With over 7000 pieces of ephemera on display, the exhibition reveals how deeply the public travelled into the mercantile heart of darkness in the Spice era. For the purposes of this review, however, my focus is on the dress and its display