Alan Smith-Allison was just 15 in 1996 when Wannabe, the Spice Girls’ empowering call to arms, first hit the airwaves.
‘The 90s weren’t easy for anyone with their sexuality,’ remembers the Glasgow-born Spice superfan. ‘The influence they had on me was a confidence in myself. It wasn’t a comfort blanket or anything. I liked the fun of it.
‘What spoke to me was: it’s alright to be a bit different. As long as you work and try hard, you can achieve anything in life.’
That he has. Next month, Alan will launch SpiceUp London, a potentially record-breaking exhibit of over 300 Spice Girls costume pieces, plus 6,000 pieces of merch and memorabilia.
Among them are iconic pieces such as Victoria Beckham’s Wannabe dress and Emma Bunton’s ‘Baby’ necklace. The entire haul will go on display at the Business Design Centre in the English capital from 28 July until 20 August.
‘We will be looking at active records to smash,’ says Alan. ‘We’re pretty confident we’re going to be the biggest-ever music exhibition. It’s beyond huge.’
Here, the Glasgow-native reveals his favorite pieces from the collection, the personal contact he’s had with the girls, while also discussing the upcoming UK tour (including a stop in Manchester)… Hi-ci-ya, hold tight!
Tell us more about you, Alan…
I have collected Spice Girls stuff since forever. I have about 140 costume pieces, but the collection [going on display] isn’t all mine. Then I have thousands of pieces of memorabilia. We had our first exhibition, SpiceUp Cyprus [Simon used to live in Cyprus with his husband Steve] in 2016. When we saw how amazing it looked, how popular it was, the reaction, we realized ‘We’re coming back to the UK soon. Let’s start up our own business with this officially.’
So it started with that. I found a venue, and started speaking to other collectors from around the world, got them involved. We also managed to get some of the original costume designers and makers involved.
Have any of the girls donated anything personally?
To my collection, no. I’ve had a lovely letter from Mel B when we had our Cyprus exhibition. She wrote me a little note to say: ‘I will send you something at some point, but my stuff’s in storage.’ I’ve spoken to Melanie C, who said she’d let me know when things are coming up for auction.
I got a nice email from Victoria for Cyprus as well, just wishing us luck.
Melanie C did donate one of her tracksuits which is going into the exhibition. She donated it to [fellow Spice Girls super fan] Liz West for a wedding present, so there’s a nice story behind that. She can give me one of her tracksuits anytime. I might get married just for that!
All five of them should send you something when you marry!
Well, I got married years ago unfortunately!
What’s the best part of the process?
I love curating. I’m going to learn a lot over the next few months. I want to tell stories of the Spice Girls. It’s the reason we’ve got designers involved, their sketchbooks, samples of fabrics… It’s going to tell the whole story. It’s a real privilege to do for this for a living.
The buzz around the Spice Girls never wanes. We were out filming with the Spice Bus in the Isle of Man with our crew who we’re making a documentary with. They said to us: ‘We’ve never had a reaction like this.’ That’s lovely to be part of.
In terms of costumes, can you describe ones belonging to each girl that stands out to you?
Even though it’s black and tiny, I love Mel C’s Spice Up Your Life costume. There are googles, elbow pads, knee pads, gloves… There’s so many different bits from it. I’m pretty sure that’s from the British Arts Foundation.
We’ve got Victoria Beckham’s Wannabe dress. I’ve got loads of stuff for Mel B – the costume she wore to go and meet Nelson Mandela: red PVC with green PVC trousers. Emma’s so difficult to collect, because she keeps it all with her. I have the Spice Force Five costume for that – that’s amazing. Les has her Brit Awards dress, blacky-blue, sparkly. We’ve just got her Baby Spice necklace!
I’ve also got Geri’s Elvis costume. We also have Geri’s Girl Power corset coming – the outfit she wore for the very first live concert in Istanbul. In fact, we have the full five lineup. Amazingly iconic. But unfortunately we don’t have Geri’s crown from that night. We’ve been trying to source this crown and we can’t find it! I’ve also got the Move Over costumes from that, that they rip off to reveal the costumes underneath. We’ve got the full set of Naked robes.
Have you met any of them?
Melanie C, Mel B and Geri. All at signings and things, and Melanie C at a concert.
Finally, where will you be touring?
We’re spicing up Britain! Our hashtag is #SpiceUpBritain. We’ll be touring the UK in 2018 and into 2019, but we haven’t released our tour dates yet.
Amazing, I hope you’ll be visiting all four corners of the country!
I would love to! I’ve got a connection with Ireland as I used to live there. I would love to take it there. But I don’t have a venue confirmed. We want to do 10-12 cities over the next 18 months.