Exhibition Review: Get Ready To SPICEUP Your Life At This London Exhibition

on Saturday, August 18, 2018
SPICEUP London (Business Design Centre, 28 July-20 Aug 2018) // Words & Photos: Saam Das

In May 1996, a new British pop group burst onto the UK music scene with the video for their debut single, 'Wannabe'. Johan Camitz's iconic video was filmed at London's Grand Midland Hotel in St Pancras, and twenty two years on and millions of record sales later, a new exhibition down the road in Islington entitled SPICEUP is celebrating the Spice Girls' incredible history.

Pitching itself as the biggest touring exhibition of Spice Girls memorabilia in the world, SPICEUP is the brainchild of Alan Smith-Allison, whose quite astonishing personal collection (as well as the occasional loan) has resulted in this smorgasbord of several thousand pieces of merch and several hundred costumes. And perhaps most impressively of all, the Union Jack-adorned Spice Bus from the quite frankly bonkers 'Spice World' movie.

The Spice Bus is indeed the first thing you may notice when approaching this Spice Girls exhibition, handsomely parked outside the Business Design Centre - free for "every boy and every girl" (and everyone, full stop) to climb aboard and immortalise in their own personal selfie history, much like Platform 9 and 3/4 at King's Cross Station for any Harry Potter fan. Plucked from a marina on the Isle Of Wight, partly thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, it is a sight to behold.

On entry to the Business Design Centre, you may well be greeted by a friendly member of security staff (this one had a particular hankering to check and consequently confiscate any chocolate hobnobs we might have had) who particularly encouraged plenty of photography, starting with the song title-themed staircase leading up to the exhibition. We duly obliged.

If you are considering going to the exhibition either in its SPICEUP London or forthcoming SPICEUP Manchester edition, we'd recommend seeking out ticket deals through Groupon or Wowcher, helping to avoid additional booking fees or the increased on-the-door prices which are not advertised on the website. Once you're in, the history lesson begins.

The main part of the exhibition takes its visitors on a potted history of the Spice Girls, starting with 'Wannabe' through to their appearance at the 2012 Olympics in London, soundtracked by the band's hits. Notable appearances include Victoria's little black dress from the 'Wannabe' video (unexpectedly not actually a designer outfit, but merely an altered high street outfit) and Mel C's striking costume from 'Spice Up Your Life' complete with skiing goggles, knee and elbow pads.

Amongst the dozens of costumes are hundreds of items ranging from some truly awful looking dolls to the numerous tie-in Spice Girls products from Asda, Walkers crisps, and even Chupa Chups lollypops. It is a quite daunting and impressive demonstration of the band's incredible reach and branding potential. Perhaps no better signified by the production and success of 'Spice World', which grossed well over £100 million in cinemas and through home video releases.

The 'Spice World' movie gets its own dedicated section in 'SPICEUP London', perhaps appropriately adjacent to a mock-up of a Spice Girls super-fan's bedroom, with costumes from the film such as Emma Bunton's Spice Force Five get-up and a characteristic Mel C tracksuit. The film also has its own dedicated screening room, which proved to be a most helpful escape from the unseasonably/unreasonably warm conditions that hit London this summer.

Upstairs hosts another screening area - this time for 'Girl Power! Live In Istanbul', a live concert release of the Spice Girls official debut live show. With other "audience members" present, our experience felt somewhat authentic and showed (to a small degree) what it must have been like to have attended a Spice Girls show in person. Great larks.

The exhibition concludes with a run down of the solo efforts of each Spice, with unusual objects including Mel B's Fitness First range of exercise equipment on offer. This area especially reflects the informal nature of the exhibition, mostly seen in the gallery's written interpretation which almost come across as diary entries rather than typical exhibition text.

Elsewhere, it appears some of the captions have been lifted from Wikipedia, and there are also several typos across SPICEUP. Similarly, the relative lack of photos/video to accompany many of the costumes hinders the collection in meeting its full potential. As nostalgia-fuelled odes to pop royalty goes, this is a spirited but ultimately par effort, that could be taken to the next level in the more expert hands of the Fashion and Textile Museum or similar.

★★ (4/10)

Find more info about the SPICEUP exhibition at spicegirls-exhibition.com.

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