Red or Dead Turns 30

Red or Dead Turns 30

Red or Dead's 30th anniversary exhibition at the Dray Walk Gallery in Brick Lane was a pleasant surprise time warp, one that I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did considering I've had a love/hate relationship with the brand.  It began with pure enthusiasm in the mid-90s in my teen years when Red or Dead and its roots in Camden were enthralling to someone who grew up in Camden Town, petting punks' mohawks (my parents had a Chinese take out in the area, where neo-punks were frequent customers) and hanging around the market stalls ogling things that I clearly couldn't afford.  Then as the brand went through various buy-outs and change-ups to become its present day incarnation, somehow the ethos of its original founders husband and wife Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway has ebbed away.  

Therefore the exhibition was a chance to relive that early magic charting the history of the brand from its early history when Wayne and Geraldine started their 1982 stall in Camden Market, selling vintage clothing and original designs, born out of their generational love of DIY.


They launched their footwear in 1984, fixating on workwear boot styles and chunky round-toed creeper type shoes that soon got picked up by popular culture with the likes of Kylie Minogue and that 80s relic boyband Bros. wearing Red or Dead shoes.  A look at some of the styles that were on exhibit and it's remarkable how they feel relevant today, particularly this pair of lace-up workman's boots with an exaggerated geometric welt sole that is crazily similar to the current crop of the Prada A/W 12-3 mens and womens catwalk brogues.   







In 1990, Red or Dead ventured into clothing with an iconic motif that was inspired by a futuristically dressed young lady walking around in Paris.  A space helmet was drawn over a postcard with a baby's head on it and so the Space Baby was born and it graced countless t-shirts and bags as well as Red or Dead's catwalk collection of plastic jackets and Dr. Martens-collaborated boots.  Like the decade's penchant for the smiley face or the weed leaf, the space baby was some sort of insignia for irreverance and escape into a surreal world (drugs-fuelled or not…)  




It was a revelation for me, learning about Red or Dead's foray into catwalk shows at early London Fashion Weeks.  Their collection in 1991 called "Shopping" featured halter tops constructed out of biscuits and packaging made up into dresses.  It was as if Red or Dead took the "quirky" attribute of British fashion and ran away with it.  




I love some of the obscure references that Wayne Hemmingway and designers at Red or Dead took such as a gurner (someone who distorts their face) called "Treacle" who was found through the Uglies modelling agency and photographed to create a print.  It was obviously also a reference to the after effects of acid taking.  



Another unlikely reference for a collection was an eccentric English political activist who used to stand around Oxford Street preaching "Eat Less Protein".  When I was growing up, it was the lone "End of the World" preacher and the hari krishna groups, who I remembered as characters of the West End.  


Later collections featuring iconic portraits such as the Blue Lady and butterfliestook Red or Dead to wider fashion recognition as they were awarded the "Street Style Award" by the British Fashion Council.  Funny how that award doesn't exist anymore, given that irreverant street wear which originated in market stalls or unconventional fashion routes isn't exactly rife anymore.  It was an award that was consigned to a particular period of British fashion.  


Notoriety dogged Red or Dead as their 1995-6 "New York Dolls" collection featuring deranged housewives playing with knives, needles and fake blood was attacked by the press, and earned Red or Dead the label of "the sick face of British fashion."  The political correctness police of today would probably do the same thing but looking at the clothing without its catwalk context, it remains interesting to turn Britain's ugliest buildings such as Trellick Towers, Centre Point and Essex University, into an engaging print piece.  



My later memories of Red or Dead began with the 2001-2 Eva wedge, a platformed flip flop that conjures up summers spent wearing flared hipster jeans, strappy tops that you bought 2 for ¬£10 from Topshop and pork pie hats.  Their partnership with the shoe chain Schuh continues to this very day, who loyally sell Red or Dead designs.  



The latter part of the exhibition covers the stuff that people might know of – Red or Dead's foray into swimwear, collaborations with Specsavers, Raleigh bikes and Bank Fashion - the sum of parts being that Red or Dead is a completely different beast from what it was thirty years ago, the way it should be.  Today, a new audience perhaps completely unaware of Red or Dead's storied past latch onto the brand, attracted to the way it touts "British quirkiness", something that many other brands also trade off of.  Its current product offerings don't hold as much weight with me as it once did but it's interesting that through tumultuous times and when other independent-spirited cult labels in London have faltered, Red or Dead still stand steady.   

A little disclosure, if you're noticing something a little Instagram-ish slash "arty" about some of the pictures here, it's because I've partnered up with Canon to try out the EOS M camera (aka their first mirrorless model that has DSLR quality in a smaller body) which I'll be talking up in detail in due course.  I'm having a jolly amount of fun with it and revelling in the fact that I've been doing press days and exhibitions with one singular Christopher Kane clutch.  Not to say my bulky DSLR toting days are over but the Canon EOS M is certainly putting up a decent fight judging by the images I'm getting out of it.  I'm especially becoming a sucker for the "Miniature" effect (as seen in the pic below) in the creative filters, which will surely feed other Instagram-addicts out there.       



Leave a comment
  1. lolli

    2012-11-11 at 11:27 AM

    really quirky shoes!


    2012-11-11 at 11:53 AM

    Why doesn’t this post have more comments?!
    Fantastic article.
    It makes me feel old…But it’s still fantastic!
    I still have my Red or Dead specs, and I am even more the prouder to own them having read this article. Thank you.

  3. Anastasios

    2012-11-11 at 12:32 PM

    I remember when Red or Dead was hot in the 90’s
    It is a bit forgotten now to be honest but always a cool brand.
    Thanks for sharing this post with us!

  4. fashiondacci

    2012-11-11 at 1:09 PM

    that is amazing!!!!
    Karl Lagerfeld / Marc by Marc Jacobs giveawayhere!!!!!!

  5. Ania

    2012-11-11 at 1:39 PM

    woah, I see some crazy shoes! I love the plastic dress! Such an amazing idea, I also saw once a ‘qulited’ bag made of junk, I can’t find it right now but I love the idea of recycling! xx

  6. print fashion

    2012-11-11 at 1:47 PM

    I used to love this brand in the 90’s There boots were always the best I remember spending most of January’s wage in the sale there once. Wanye Hemingway is a legend !!

  7. The Provoker

    2012-11-11 at 5:54 PM

    I love how these stuff makes me dream! It’s weird because I’m also doing something similar with that denim plastic jacket, mine is more of a lab coat but it’s weird how both my design and this have many common elements, what a coincidence, it’s fate! I’ve gotta do it… lol
    xx The Provoker

  8. Jessica Latchman

    2012-11-11 at 6:09 PM

    Lovely post,I was at the opening night and it was amazing to see you (sorry to sound like a stalker haha),I tried to find you later on but you must have leftXxx

  9. Etrala London

    2012-11-11 at 7:11 PM

    Wow this post is amazing!! So inspiring!!
    I am also turning 30 this year.. It makes me feel quite old… hehe
    xoxo Maria.
    Etrala London.

  10. lauren

    2012-11-12 at 12:06 AM

    OMG–I love this irreverent brand!! So iconoclastic, I can’t believe I never knew about it until now…love, love, love this fun quirky design house!!!
    -Lauren at adorn la femme

  11. Lynkez

    2012-11-12 at 9:24 AM

    Red will always be my darling color.

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  14. Lady Vintage

    2012-11-12 at 10:25 AM

    Crazy pics!

  15. Sophie

    2012-11-12 at 3:21 PM
  16. izzie

    2012-11-13 at 3:17 AM

    I think the gurner print referenced ecstasy taking rather than acid Susie! I still have a green gurner romper that for some reason i converted into a mini dress that barely skimmed my crotch. An amazingly creative brand in it’s heyday, thanks for the great memories.

  17. Ines

    2012-11-13 at 5:41 PM

    Love that crazy pair of shoes.
    100% Love !!!

  18. Gail

    2012-11-13 at 7:08 PM

    Great post. Forgot how many amazing designs they had. Loved the print with the buildings on. And had totally forgot about ‘Space Baby’ brought some nice memories back of that time.


    2012-11-19 at 11:15 PM

    i have Red Or Dead witches shoe size 3 and looking for another pair!!!
    xoxoxpennny arcade

  20. Marian

    2012-12-19 at 3:34 PM

    I like that image 9983 with picture of baby. Love this blog, lots of picture and interesting topic

  21. Dinah

    2015-04-29 at 9:01 PM

    I had a pair of vinyl Birkenstock-type Red or Dead sandals with purple and yellow faded flowers under clear vinyl finish. Still my favourite pair of sandals EVER. They fell apart years ago – I wish they’d do them again *sigh*

  22. Rachel

    2018-11-13 at 12:58 PM

    I still own a Red or Dead Space Baby t-shirt from their Spring Summer 1990 collection, 28 years later and still going strong – well a little less white here and there. It was in conjunction with John McKitterick. I’m actually using it for inspiration for research on my Fashion Textiles MA.
    I had a fab pair of silver shoes as part of the same range, they had a clear swirl at the front and zig zag clear rubber soles, I don’t know what happened to them….they were amazing!

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