The collector: Liz West, Artist, Manchester (UK)
The collection: Spice Girls Memorabilia
The story behind the collection...
I collect Spice Girls memorabilia and costume. Within the collection is everything from mass produced memorabilia such as t-shirts, toys and stationary to press and promotional items and items belonging to the five girls. The premise of the collection is that any item has to be an officially endorsed product. I hold the Guinness World Record for the Largest Spice Girls collection in the world standing at 2066 items (April 2011), since then in has increased somewhat. On top of these 2066+ Spice Girls items I have individual Geri Halliwell, Victoria Beckham, Melanie C, Mel B and Emma Bunton collections, which could not be counted as part of my record attempt, meaning all together I have over 5000 Spice Girls 'related' items.
I began collecting Spice Girls memorabilia in 1996 when the girls first launched themselves onto the pop scene. I was hooked as soon as they released their first single 'Wannabe' as I was an impressionable 11 years old. At that age all my friends and family would buy me Spice Girls items for Birthday and Christmas presents. I did not buy my first museum worthy piece until I was at Art School in Glasgow, armed with my student loan I purchased a top worn my Melanie C when I was 19 years old via eBay.
Initially I would just buy the albums, magazines and sticker books but after a year of chart successes I started buying the singles and all the official merchandise. I would keep everything pristine in the packaging unlike all of my school friends who would use the items. I must have had a collector’s instinct from an early age. I would arrange and showcase proudly the boxed memorabilia on my bedroom shelves as a teenager. Becoming a fan and collector were both conscience decisions.
When I was a Student at the Glasgow School of Art the collection really turned into an obsession. I started visiting the University library on my way back from my studio and would constantly bid on Spice Girls items on eBay, without realising the amount I was spending. All the items would be delivered to my parents home in Yorkshire. It was only when I came back from holidays that I would see a massive pile of packages that I had ordered online ready to be opened. I was so unhappy in my Halls of Residence that buying items for my collection was basically retail therapy. I eventually calmed this obsession with the shifting of priorities (mainly financial) when I left Art School and began my practice as an Artist.
I became a much more serious collector during my university years, going from acquiring mass-produced paraphernalia to one-off memorabilia. I have become the 'go-to' person for valuations, as I am the Guinness World Record holder for the Largest Collection in the World. Now, I take my collection seriously as it has turned into a profession, as I often curate exhibitions and hire my items to museums around the country.
Even though the Spice Girls were a manufactured pop group, their attitude and style separated them from other pop groups around at the same time that all dressed alike and had a nominated lead-singer. The Spice Girls split singing duties, had very individual personalities and seemed credible role models for young girls and women. They inspired a generation. There had been nothing quite like them before and there has been nothing like them since. Poor attempts have been made to conjure up the same energy in girl bands such as Girls Aloud, The Saturdays or Little Mix and it has always fallen flat in my mind. For me the original is always the best.
My favourite items are the outfits, shoes and items of clothing that belonged to members of the Spice Girls at the height of their fame (1997-98). With over 85 individual outfits I would not be able to choose a favourite! They are all special in their own ways.
I have outfits in my collection that were worn at significant events or in iconic images of the group, e.g. I have the suit Mel B worn when meeting Nelson Mandela and Prince Charles in South Africa, outfits worn by members of the group at the 1997 and 1998 Brit Awards and custom-made one-off costumes from designers such as Roberto Cavailli, Paul Smith, Prada and Jean Paul Gaultier. One of the most significant pieces for me personally is a dress of Geri's I have that she wore in one of her last performances before she quit the Spice Girls. I saw her at that very concert and watched her admirably. Never in a million years would I have dreamt that I would one day own that dress.
I listened to the albums as a child, I took snaps with their endorsed Polaroid Camera, I pulled the Asda branded Christmas crackers, I drank out of Pepsi can with their face on, I munched on Walkers Crisps and Cadburys chocolate bars that had the group emblazed over the packaging, I sprayed myself with their special edition Impulse body spray... But I always bought a second copy to keep pristine in the packaging. As I got older I wouldn't use the items at all, instead opting to always keep them in their original wrapping.
As an 11/12 year old I was predominantly a fan, singing their songs into my Spice Girls endorsed microphone. As I approached my mid-teens I had stopped listening to their music but continued to acquire paraphernalia. When I went to Art School I became very aware that I was the main collector of Spice Girls and at the same time started storing my collection as if in an archive. Now, since dealing with museums for the last several years, I would call myself an archivist of pop culture, my collection is representative of an era; the 1990's.
I sent Leeds City Museum an exhibition proposal a couple of years before it opened to the public. After the Head of Exhibitions realized the scale and importance of my collection we got our heads together and approached the board who agreed it should go ahead. Two years of planning later the exhibition opened and was a roaring success, attracting 50,000 visitors. Whilst the collection was on show in Leeds I was also able to count my collection 'officially' and apply for a Guinness World Record for the Largest Collection of Spice Girls Memorabilia in the World which I successfully got.
There is also a very tight community of Spice Girls fans, some of whom are also collectors. It is great to be able to share experiences and give each other tip-offs about where to find the best spicy deals. Often other fans come to me for advice about value or asking to buy items from me. There is a fan forum that is popular called DenDen that I often post news about my collection on, it is a great resource.
When I traveled to New York several years ago (as my artwork was in an exhibition in Brooklyn), I met up with another fan who I had been emailing for months but had never had the chance to meet. It was like seeing a mirror reflection of myself - the same age, similar style, same ambitions, same goals for our collections, etc. I could have stayed up all night chatting if I hadn't of been so jet-lagged!
I think that the quantity and quality of items in the collection say I am a dedicated and passionate fan and collector. Initially my family thought I was wasting my money, but have realised that it is now a serious endeavor and since my collection tours to museums and I am earning money from it, they seem to be very proud that I have had sense to do something with it instead of letting it rot in a box in the attic. My friends think its quirky and a huge element of my person.
I have met three of the five Spice Girls and told them about my collection; Mel B (aka Scary Spice), Emma (aka Baby Spice) and Melanie C (aka Sporty Spice). I sent them all copies of the exhibition catalogue detailing the most important items in my collection. Melanie C has even sent me iconic outfits she wore whilst in the group, to add to my collection and Mel B supported the Leeds exhibition as she was born there.
Making a Spice Girls collection has informed my ideas of how to make a collection successfully, which I then utilize in my work as an artist. Many of my ideas and interests include objects en-mass in one form or another – mostly mass-produced colourful detritus. Spice girls ephemera is also brightly coloured, mass-marketed, mass-produced throw-away commodities. There is a clear link between the two I think.
My own body of artwork explores my fascination with exuberant colour, sculptural form and intense light. At the end of September I presented this new work in a solo show 'On Brown & Violet Grounds' in Manchester, where alongside a series of light-based installations I also exhibited works on paper for the first time. Using un-conventional industrial and man-made materials, such as: electrical tape, aluminium and mirror, these pieces echo many of the materials utilized within my installation work. My two-dimensional explorations are driving new ideas within the practice and signal an important development from the successful colour-drenched Chamber series. On Brown & Violet Grounds was produced as a result of my recent research and development award from Arts Council England. In the coming months I will return to my studio based practice to develop new ideas as well as taking part in a handful of group exhibitions.