Scary, Baby, Ginger, Sporty and Posh; so named by a journalist who couldn’t be bothered to learn the names of a brand new girl group, the Spice Girls. Neither he nor anybody else, could’ve predicted what would happen next. In short, total global domination. It’s hard to imagine in today’s culture that such a feat was possible without the help of social media and yet, the Spice Girls; Mel B, Emma, Geri, Mel C and Victoria, achieved it all without the need for Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. More impressive still is the lightning speed in which they managed to take over the world. From the moment they first uttered their infamous war cry of ‘Girl Power!’ in 1996, it was less than 2 years until Geri famously quit the band midway through the Spiceworld Tour in May 1998. With a reunion tour in 2007 and a further one-off performance at the Olympics Closing Ceremony in 2012, the group have cemented themselves as the best selling girl group in history, shifting a staggering 85 million records worldwide.
SPICEUP is the brainchild of Spice Girls superfan, Alan Smith-Allison. Alan began collecting Spice Girls memorabilia in 1996 following the release of their debut single, Wannabe. His personal collection has since grown to include 140 costume pieces and more than 3000 items of memorabilia. Together with avid Spice Girls collectors Liz West (current holder of the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of Spice Girls memorabilia), David Roos, Andrea Consiglio, Jyle Frame and Samuel Chung, he has curated an exhibition of epic proportions.
Essentially a love letter to the careers of five of the UK’s most famous exports, SPICEUP is everything I hoped it would be and more. From the moment we arrived at the Business Design Centre in London’s bustling Angel, we knew we were in for something really special. The entire facade has been given a suitably spicy makeover, with an enormous photograph of Geri’s iconic Union Jack platform boots (a personal highlight piece from the exhibition) taking pride of place above the entrance.
Across the car park stands the centrepiece star attraction of the exhibition; the original Spice Bus from Spice World: The Movie. Partially refurbished inside with Victoria’s catwalk, Mel C’s cross trainer and Emma’s dolls house, this is truly an OMG moment for any true Spice Girls fan. Who among us didn’t dream of riding around London with the girls onboard this statement vehicle? Only the Spice Girls could make public transport seem glamorous. I have to admit I took great delight in standing in the doorway yelling Victoria’s immortal line: ‘Hold on to your knickers, girls!’ to anyone who’d listen. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and a childhood dream fulfilled.
Through the doors and into the lobby you’re faced with the second most iconic staircase to ever be associated with the Spice Girls. Be prepared to spend a good few minutes here as this is an incredible photo opportunity. It’s genuinely breathtaking and deciding where to stand on the stairs for the best photo is possibly the hardest decision you’ll make all day. Friendly warning: it’s a further two (fabulous) flights and a press wall before you even reach the exhibition proper. Pace yourselves.
Once you’ve satisfied your inner Posh and posed your way up the stairs (don’t feel awkward or intimidated to do this – it’s actively encouraged) you reach the main event. Documenting costumes from Victoria’s OG little black Gucci dress (actually not Gucci, but a copy of a dress that Geri owned costing a whopping £20 to make, including material) to Geri’s 2012 Olympics Union Jack bustle dress, designed and created by Suzanne Neville, the exhibition charts the signature looks of each girl, through their music videos, live performances, world tours, the movie and their individual solo careers. Highlights include pieces from Kenny Ho, Academy Costumes, Dane, Dee Izmail and of course, the aforementioned Suzanne Neville. There’s even a replica of the £150’000 diamond cross necklace that David Beckham famously gave Victoria on their engagement, commissioned by Posh when insurance issues prevented her from wearing the real necklace on stage. In total, Alan has amassed more than 300 costume pieces for the exhibition.
In terms of memorabilia, SPICEUP is a tangible memory of my childhood. Boy did those girls know how to market their brand. Pepsi, Cadbury, Chupa Chups, Walkers Crisps, Polaroid, Impulse, Playstation, Asda, Channel 5 and even that ill-fated deal with Aprilla. From keyrings to wallpaper and everything in between, the Spice Girls didn’t miss an opportunity to capitalise on their fame. If they could sell it, they put their name on it and I, or more specifically, my wonderful parents, bought it. The group featured on the cover of every major magazine from Vogue to Rolling Stone and every issue was a best seller. Victoria famously once said that she wanted to be as famous as Persil Automatic and it’s safe to say she surpassed the fame of that humble washing detergent a million times over.
It’s almost overwhelming to witness the sheer scale of the Spice Girls phenomenon as told by this incredible catalogue of costumes and endorsements. SPICEUP showcases the mighty power this mega brand commanded in one glorious show-stopping collection. It’s a truly awe-inspiring sight. Yes, in essence, SPICEUP is an exhibition about the Spice Girls but more than that it’s an incredibly important pop culture retrospective. It may have started out as a hobby, but what Alan and the contributing collectors have managed to do is capture a significant historical moment in time, the likes of which will almost certainly never be seen again. While the future of the Spice Girls may be uncertain, their past is most definitely here to stay.