Posh, Sporty, Scary, Baby and Ginger: from the early days in 1997 photographed for The Face outside a Shoreditch council block, to selling out Wembley Stadium and closing the 2012 Olympics ceremony, the Spice Girls remain one of the biggest selling girl groups ever. This week, Viva Forever, The Spice Girls musical written by Jennifer Saunders, launches in London’s West End. It’s a coming-of-age story interwoven with the iconic songs that defined the 90s, galvanizing the music scene with their Girl Power mantra, chart-pop classics and distinctively eccentric style.
The Spice Girls celebrated DIY fashion: hair streaks, ribbons, scrunchies, crop tops and that tea towel Union Jack dress. They represented a style that any girl could relate to. Championing Cool Britannia, they epitomised 90s fashion: tracksuits, trainers, platform shoes, exposed underwear and animal print. As Anna Wintour said when she put them on the 1998 cover of US Vogue, “love them or hate them, they hit a nerve.”
"As Anna Wintour said when she put them on the 1998 cover of US Vogue, 'love them or hate them, they hit a nerve.'"
Each Spice had an individual identity that was an exaggeration of her personality, and they each played up to their characters. From Mel C’s Liverpool football shirts and Emma Bunton’s pastel dresses and high ponytails, to Victoria’s LBD and Mel B’s leopard print catsuits, Simon Fuller recognised the new dawn of image-control and product placement within media, promoting the band as a branded commodity represented by their clothing. In 1998, Geri’s Union Jack dress was auctioned at Sotheby’s for charity, bought by Peter Morton on behalf of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for $66,214, where it now hangs as a multi-faceted symbol of feminism and pop culture of the 90s.
Unashamedly garish and loud, these five characters united to be a force that inspired young girls everywhere. However, despite their cartoon quality, there was a sense of realism and vulnerability to the Spice Girls. They were feisty, emotional and wore their hearts on their PVC sleeves, leaving behind a lasting legacy and a cultural stamp on Britain.
Text by Mhairi Graham