Red or Dead

Elizabeth Kutesko

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA024

Red or Dead is a fashion design collective set up in London in 1982 by Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway (both born in 1961), which specializes in producing innovative yet affordable fashion. Since its creation, when the Hemingways first emptied out their closets for sale on Camden Market, to its present-day incarnation as an internationally renowned design label, Red or Dead has extended the limits of the forms and meanings of fashion.

Experimenting with secondhand clothing and Dr. Martens boots and shoes in the mid-1980s, Red or Dead promoted and disseminated an “antifashion” look. This was the antithesis of the contemporary vogue for well-tailored, body-conscious clothes that were favored by young executives. The brand used clothing as a vehicle for narrative; its student-style mode of dressing, in secondhand bargains and items sourced from rummage sales, contained a social commentary on contemporary class struggles. As Mark Hill has explained, “This was a street fashion which seemed to be suggesting some hidden socialist agenda within a mode of dress. Suddenly, politics and fashion could be mixed … Yuppies really were conservative and socialists were chic.”

Although Red or Dead produced numerous clothing collections, it is best known for a fixation with footwear, most notably work-wear boot styles and chunky, round-toed creeper shoes. The Hemingways sold the original Dr. Martens boot on their market stall to young men and women who customized their own pairs with spray paint, brightly colored laces, steel toe caps, and various adornments including studs, beads, and safety pins. Throughout the 1990s, the brand began to develop its own unconventional styles based on the original boot, only with bigger and heavier jagged and platform soles, produced in unorthodox colors and materials. Redefining the Dr. Martens boot, Red or Dead challenged the accepted understanding of the relationship between the body and footwear—the notion of a heavier, functional shoe for women, rather than an elegant, dainty shoe went against perceived ideals of beauty.

In 1995, Red or Dead won the British Fashion Council’s inaugural street-style Designer of the Year award, and in the same year the Hemingways sold the company to the Facia Group. The brand has continued to produce collections internationally, with eight shops in the UK and others in Hong Kong, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. It has been awarded Designer of the Year on two further occasions, and held the first ever Red or Dead retrospective exhibition, “30 Years of Eclectic British Fashion,” at Dray Walk Gallery, Brick Lane, London in 2012.

Read or Dead, Spring/Summer 1996 Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Heath Ashley. ““Sole Survivors”.” The Face , March 1992 .

Find in Library Kingswell Tamsin. Red or Dead: Good, Bad and Ugly . London : Thames & Hudson, 1998.

Find in Library Simms Jane. ““Wayne’s World. Wayne Hemingway Shook Up the Fashion World with His Red or Dead Label. Now He’s Bringing His Iconoclastic Talents to New Pastures”.” The Director , March 2001 .

Find in Library Tredre Roger. ““What’s Read, Dead, Alive and Kicking?”” The Independent , 15 March 1992 .