Although I’m unashamedly a Spice Girls aficionado (I always wanted to be the sixth one as a child – with the combined sultry vampiness of Geri and the butch attitude of Mel C) I didn’t really think that an exhibition of years of collected Spice memorabilia could ever actually work – simply because there’s so much of the stuff. This was, after all, a girlband whose image appeared on everything from crisp packets to bedside lamps. An exhibition would simply be too cluttered, too lowbrow to actually work, right?
Wrong. Liz West’s collection, lovingly amassed over the years from the day Spice bric-a-brac first went on sale, has been painstakingly (and endearingly nerdily) catalogued. Everything you could possibly want to see is there, waiting to visually transport you back to the hours of Girl Power. Particularly impressive is the range of costumes that Liz has managed to hunt down, including several of Mel B’s Doctor Who-villain-style outfits. There are also magazine covers of the group across the walls from long-dead Nineties publications, alongside covers of the individual Girls during their later solo efforts. Throughout the exhibition, which takes about 35 minutes to see in full, there are constant ‘did you know?’-style sound-bites of trivia that can surprise even the most dedicated fan, giving the exhibition a scarily academic edge. To make up for this there’s also a dressing up box towards the end for all ages (see the picture at right for my own Halliwell effort).
To sum up, this is a dedicated and detailed exhibition that gives a real sense the global scale of the Spice Girls phenomenon. We might now look back now with slight embarrassment at how five over-boisterous, vocally-passable lasses with rather awful dress sense conquered the planet. But they were the most successful music act of their day and arguably embody the era of Cool Britannia more than the grungy yelps of Oasis – and that’s something that should be celebrated. Granted, if you absolutely loathed them back then, you’re hardly likely to want to wander through acres of Spice gubbins today. But if you’ve got even the smallest inkling of nostalgia or just fancy a trip down memory lane to when things were enjoyably garish, then you’re sure to have a ball.
Spiceworld: The Exhibition runs at Leeds City Museum until 3 July 2011. Entry is free.