Apocalypse Wow: how bedlamcore is this season’s most serious trend

·6-min read
Kim Kardashian in Balenciaga tape is strapped in for the fashion apocalypse (Kim Kardashian in Balenciaga tape)
Kim Kardashian in Balenciaga tape is strapped in for the fashion apocalypse (Kim Kardashian in Balenciaga tape)

You only have to take one look at the news to realise we’re in the brace position of our lives in 2022. Free falling into climate crisis with no energy to heat our homes through the bleak mid-winter, strikes at every turn and caught in the grip of a war holding the world to ransom. Even the Queen has departed. But what do you do when these things happen? Dress for the fight? Dress like it’s the last days of Rome? Dress like it’s bedlam out there?

Fashion is a reaction to these moments. Punk took the fractious dissolution of 1970s establishment — three-day working weeks, strikes, mass unemployment — and channelled it into a youth anarchy of ripped fishnets and safety-pin piercings against the backdrop of the UK’s soulless, broken new towns. Now we’ve got a planet on the brink: simultaneously burning up or drowning depending on your continent, held hostage by war, dissected by populism and rendered impotent by political selfishness and policing of women’s bodies. The reaction should be suitably extra.

And thus, we have a dress code for what we’re calling ‘bedlamcore’ that is equal measures Waterworld doomsday prepper, last night on Earth f***ability with just a dash of ‘take me to your leader’ chic in case the aliens decide to swoop in and save us at the last. It’s saying ‘I’m conscious of what’s going on, but we’re systemically not doing enough to deal with it, so, f*** your TikTok “clean girl aesthetic” with your neatly matching, ecologically dirty, straight-to-refuse, fast-fashion two-piece, I’m going to live my life till my too-heavy eyeliner smudges us all to oblivion.’

Of course, our cover star is the lead proponent. The ultimate star for our times, doing as she pleases, issuing a few hard truths, taking on the galaxy, she can be a dominatrix baked in clay, or disguised as a jellyfish (the only creature that thrives in the murky polluted oceans we’re creating), or wrapped in the mother of all duvet coats for the chilled months in front of us. There’s not an item she won’t take a pair of scissors to, ripping up the celebrity rule book with as much disregarding decadence as she does a cheap man’s vest.

But it’s not only Julia Fox partying like it’s 1999, that blessed time when there was not a SideKick phone capable of documenting the vodka-soaked messiness as we collectively freaked out about the Y2K virus taking over like Skynet. New Riot Grrl incarnations such as Amyl and the Sniffers front-woman Amy Taylor and Arrow De Wilde of Starcrawler have become our punk spirit animals for kicking seven shades of shit out of the patriarchy, the polluters and Putin in nothing but makeshift gaffer-tape knee-high bovver boots and some blood-spattered lingerie. It’s Bimini Bon Boulash’s home-made Westwood-infused creations taking on fashion waste, the angular alien-ness of Fenty model Jazzelle Zanaughtti (@uglyworldwide) challenging beauty stereotypes and the constantly corseted dominatrix-turned-poet Rachel Rabbit White turning our literary expectations on their head.

It’s not all happening on the fringes: Grammy-winning chart-topper Doja Cat has done away with her hair and eyebrows (a symbolically anti-beauty gesture on which Kim Kardashian last week followed suit with a less severe brow bleach job). Instead, Doja has embraced pencil-thin spirals like a Tank Girl for our time, taking on the tyranny of a dusty dytstopia. Her clap-back to deniers was short and sharp: ‘I don’t like having hair…’ following up with, ‘I make hit after hit after hit and you all want me to look f***able for you... Go f*** yourselves.’

This apocalyptic apoplexy at society’s constraints and failings is the main driver for bedlamcore. We’re running wild in a world on the precipice of collapse. Gone is the aspiration of a picture-perfect, sympathetically filtered Live Laugh Love on Instagram — if the end of the world is nigh, we want to be living like we’re drunk on the dark humour of it all on BeReal. This night out nihilism is chaotic, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been an element of contrivance in pulling it all together.

With this mood in mind, it would be remiss not to mention the godfather of the movement, Ye, with his ire-filled, tea-spilling social posts and no-explanation-offered gardening gloves. Most recently he turned his lasers on the brands he has collaborated with (Adidas got burned last week, Gap is waiting its turn). But he has been wearing space-boot-cum-dad-wellies to walk the moons of his Dune-scaped live shows for at least the past couple of years. The tentacles of apocalypse fashion all lead back to him.

The ultimate bait-and-switch was when Ye co-conspirator, Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia took an empty Lay’s crisp packet out to fashion shows as a clutch. Was this movement just fashion trolling us in our darkest hour? But when you look deeper, this comment on consumerism eating itself (literally) was maybe a light-hearted red herring from a man hell bent on raising the issues of our time with a dose of anarchic design.

Gvasalia’s FW22 Balenciaga show, staged in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was the ultimate reaction: set in the tundra, a queue of models fighting their way desperately through the snow, leather bin bags of belongings in hand, huge coats trailing and wrapped in Ukrainian yellow and blue. It was the channelling of his traumatic childhood escape from the Russian-backed conflict in Georgia. Kim K appeared at the show wrapped in nothing more than purchasable Balenciaga branded warning tape, another damning indictment at fashion’s fripperies in these moments yet one that perfectly translates to a savage night out, unless you need to release yourself for a toilet break when wasted. But that constriction and discomfort is partly the point.

Like some kind of sartorial stigmata, pain is an integral element to confronting the chaos that’s coming for us . Whether it’s strapping yourself into vertiginous perspex Pleasers for a stomp around your office (quiet quitting this is not) or deconstructing our pre-programmed beauty standards by unleashing the clippers, we’re making hedonistic hay while the sun literally scorches the Earth to a crisp. But at least we’re dressed for it.