Clubland has always attracted a small hard-core of glamour fiends and fashion prima donnas, but the crowd at Billion Dollar Babes is in an entirely new league. Getting off on showing off has become a mass movement.
Most people who go are regulars and plan their look meticulously. 'We're all students and best friends,' says Julie, one of a dazzling trio sitting at a table near the bar. 'We all shop together and decide what we're going to wear every week.' She readily admits to being a show-off. 'I bought this feathered bra to go with my frou-frou skirt. It's silly, sexy, funny and it says 'Yeah, I like myself'. I like to shock. The look on people's faces is worth it.'
While some dress to shock, others dress up to compensate for a dull daily routine. 'I work in a solicitor's firm and have to wear suits to the office,' explains Jeremy, 19. Though tonight he sports a sedate silver tank top and bondage trousers, dressing up usually means a skirt. 'I once wore a very short kilt with black suspenders and a fur coat,' he remembers. 'That was a bit much. Groups of drunken lads in the street can be a nightmare, but in general I don't care what people think. I enjoy getting stared at.'
Robert, 25, is a civil servant who works at the Home Office. 'I look boring during the week and wear glasses to the office, but to Babes I get out the fake nose ring and fake lip ring - any excuse to dress up and look different. The punk look is quite nice these days - the aggression has been toned down.'
Robert has just exposed a great fashion story cover-up - body piercing is a swizz. Everyone is too wet to actually do it. 'My ear is pierced,' says Neil, a fashion student, 'but my nose isn't. The chain I'm wearing just clips on.' What's more, fake piercing accessories cost a bomb. One fey blond punk looks upsettingly maimed by an enormous kilt pin stuck through half his face. 'Oh that's a fake,' says Neil. 'I think it's a Westwood face pin, which costs around pounds 160.'
Watching the crowd vamping it up, it's hard to grasp the idea of 'fashion' youth tribalism. Once upon a time, mohicans, punks, face jewellery, DM's and No 1 crops were intentional signs of aggression. Dressing up meant you were a conscious social revolutionary, and mean with it. Whereas most of the Babes regulars are employed, upwardly mobile and happily ticking along within the system. Hairdressers, stylists, shop assistants, MTV presenters and the odd celebrity form the bulk of the crowd. They can't be bothered with politics. The style victim is back because bad E and diluted House has run aground. Punk today is a reaction to the poncho and the baseball cap - not John Major.
Another reason for the excitable atmosphere and the crazed over-dressing is the fact that BDB attracts a very mixed gay crowd with the highly visible transvestites setting a showy backdrop to the night. Their wigs and heels and extravagant outfits dare other secret exhibitionists to compete.
'We don't have a door policy, but if there's a group of people we discourage it's the straight white male,' says Billion Dollar Babes' organiser Graham Ball. 'They tend to make no effort at all, which is a shame. If they don't, why should we?'
Clearly it's a place where you don't go on a bad hair night or if you're feeling ugly, spotty or low. Leaving the concentrated fabulousness of Billion Dollar Babes and stepping back out onto a wet London pavement into the real world can be a relief. But for some people, BDB is the real world. Isabel, a model, packed up her life in Paris to work and club in London. 'What you wear is a form of communication,' she says. 'What you wear is what you are.'
Billion Dollar Babes reopens at RAW, Great Russell Street, London WC1, on 23 April.
Where to find the new glam: Julie: feathered bra, Sign of the Times, 15 Shorts Gardens, London WC2, long white gloves/ribbon choker, Liberty. Olivia: fluffy jacket/white dress, Sign of the Times, flower crown, home-made; Kate: transparent dress, Jones, Floral Street, London WC2, slip, Marks & Spencer.
Even Marks & Spencer's pyjamas can be hip: (right-hand picture, left to right) Kyle: M & S pyjama bottoms, Top Shop cropped T-shirt, Levis jacket. Jeremy: silver tank top and bondage trousers, Portobello and Kensington markets, shirt from charity shop, hair clip lent by a friend. Robert: Jimi Hendrix T-shirt Boy, 153 King's Road, London SW3, kilt from charity shop, nose ring, Carnaby Street, London W1.
(Photographs omitted)Reuse content