Fashion In The 1970

’s Essay, Research Paper

Style is independent of fashion. Those who have style can indeed accept or ignore fashion. For them fashion is not something to be followed, it is rather something to be set, to select from or totally reject. Style is spontaneous, inborn. It is the gloriously deliberate, unpremeditated but divine gift of the few. Spotlight on style, Vogue, 1 September 1976 Pre-empting the moment when punk clashed with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, Vogue used the A-word. ‘You’ll be wearing a positive anarchy of costume both cleverer and simpler than anything you’ve worn in your life,’ said Vogue in its first directive of the 1970s. ‘You are one of a kind, unique in fashion. Forget rules – you make them, you break them.’ Anarchy arrived after a process of wild experimentation, the shock of glam rock, the rise of platforms, the plummeting of skirts and the ultimate role reversal: men wearing make-up. The 1970s opened with a celebration of decoration and ended in a sinuous bodyline. Anarchy smeared under the surface, exploding mid-way, with a flash of perpendicular hair, safety pins and bondage trousers. By January 1970 one thing was clear: the spacesuit was not going to take off. In the summer of 1970 the miniskirt reached the point of no return. Crotch skimming started to look tired and out of date. ‘The long skirt is here – and the first vogue with not a short skirt in sight, and more leg than ever,’ annonced Vogue in its ‘Eye View of a Nice Sence of Proportion’ in August; ‘Jean Muir’s new collection says it all.’ The Muir midi had fluidity, breezed just above the calf and came to a halt 3 inches below the knee. Meanwhile, Ossie Clark staged a ‘fashion happening’ at Chelsea Town Hall – ‘more a spring dance than a show’ – with music by Steve Miller, Juicy Lucy and Hot Rats. The models wore Celia Birtwell prints, wild hair, sparkling green eye shadow and carmine lipstick. Under the editorship of Beatrix Miller, British Vogue nurtured British designers, spotting and promoting talent from the Royal College of Art in London. The new breed of designer was part of textile and part-fashion designer, with the ability to switch between preparing a silk-screen and sewing reverse. Bill Gibb’s creations were wearable works of art, complete one-off that was beyond a seasonal timescale. Gibb worked with a team of knitters, weavers, painters and embroideries. ‘They’ve added tassels and ribbons, enameled buttons, reptile bands, Russian braid, painted, printed and embroidered patterns and pictures, made every design a collector’s item,’ observed Vogue. From 1971 onwards Zandra Rhodes, who studied textiles at the Royal College of Art in the 1960s, started to produce her own unmistakably flamboyant clothes, which took pattern as a starting point. The fusion between fashion and rock music, which started in the 1960s, was cemented in the 1970s. Ossie Clark was making jumpsuits foe Mick Jagger. Anthony Price, who made his Vogue debut in October 1971 as ‘an ex-RCA [Royal College of Art] revolutionary, a designer of quite some force’, became responsible for styling and designing clothes for Roxy Music and dressed Gayla Mitchell for the back view of Lou Reed’s 1972 album, Transformer. Vogue photographed David Bowie and Twiggy together – a shot which ended up on the cover of Bowie’s Pin Ups album in 1973. Orientalism was the new preoccupation. Kansai Yamamoto showed his first London collection in 1971, with Vogue raving about his theatrical powers. Commercialism didn’t come into it: ‘Kansai Yamamoto’s extraordinary evening clothes, pure theatre. Kabuki theatre. The face knitted into the playsuit and emblazoned over miles of cape.’ Yoko Ono, avant-garde artist and wife of John Lennon, arrived in England in 1966 with a performance, Cut Price, where she sat on stage while her clothes were deconstructed by the audience. Polly Devlin describes the chemistry in an interview for vogue in 1971: ‘Yoko, an antique white satin, and Art Deco shoes, plastic, exotic, beautiful. John kissed the shoe, rearranged her hair. “Why did you do that?” she said, suddenly querulous.’ In February 1972 Vogue’s spotlight was on China. In June Vogue said: ‘Go East! Collect flowers of Japanese culture.’ The model Veruschka, who photographer Richard Avedon voted the most beautiful woman in the world, ’sits at a dressing table with her tea and honey, naked, oblivious to hairdressers, fashion editors and assistants, making up her face with a Japanese paintbrush’. Ethnic blending was everywhere. Pablo and Delia, a curious couple who met at art school in Buenos Aires – ‘looking like creatures of Bavarian fantasy, made to live in Mad Ludwig’s castles’ – had a vision of an exotic world by ‘caricature people’. Their underground fashion statement included hand-painted, rainbow-colored shoes and bags depicting imaginary landscape. The Porters exotic Middle Eastern upbringing translated itself into beautiful coats of silk embroidery and crushed velvet. In October 1971 Vogue’s eyeview presented ‘The Dress you can’t date’ sugar pink, silk. Post-Woodstock, America was on a trip. Ralph Lauren learnt his trade in retail and was one of the first designers to understand the importance of sartorial storytelling, building a brand around an image. The lifestyle concept arrived. In 1973 while concentrating on men’s wear, Lauren designed Robert Redford wardrobe. Four years later he styled Dianne Keaton – playing a flaky, androgynously dressed thirty something – in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977). Lauren’s subsequent collections capitalized on reworking America’s heritage in a modern context. By the mid-1970s New York buzzed with a coterie of world-class designers, who were talking an international language. Calvin Klein, already anticipated the onset of the designer’s decade, concocted controversial adverting images with photographer Helmut Newton and built the foundations of a business that would reach an annual turnover of $500 million by 1980. Manhattan was the center of social activity, with club Studio 54 the celebrity magnet. Halston, a great American minimalist, held court in the VIP room and had a list of socialite clients as long as him arm: Liza Minelli, Bianca Jagger and Marisa Berenson (great grand-daughter of Elsa Schiaparelli), all invariably dressed in his glamorous, understated gowns. In an interview before he hit the big time in September 1972, Vogue noted: ‘Halston rarely uses the word design, he prefers the word make. He insists it’s the same thing.’ Bianca Jagger, one of Halston’s star clients, although possessing a degree in politics, was famous for being famous – ‘When she says she is the only person who has become a star without having done a thing, you tend to agree.’ In Britain, the political climate was changing. In 1975 Vogue pre-empted Margaret Thatcher’s rise to prime minister, showing her feminine side before she was re-packaged for the camera: ‘She wears a lot of jewelry – real, but discreet. A surprisingly frivolous dress: flower-printed on the black chiffon. It was cut tight in the bodice with long narrow sleeves.’ Vogue reflected on fashion in the past tense in its December 1975 issue: ‘Seventy-five, the hinge of the decade, when we start to realize what we look like. Oh, those loon-pants and smocks! Clothes that looked best with high wind blowing through them, free-form clothes hinting only vaguely and almost depreciatingly at the earthly reality of limbs beneath them.’ Two years on, the body was taking shape, but clothes were still essentially voluminous. Vogue told readers to, ‘Think: Big. Think: Body Space. Learn to move inside clothes like mobile homes. Everything’s made for a new race of healthy people. Do you belong?’ Fashion’s sublime paradox occurred in the spring of 1977. Britain celebrated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, Punk ran riot and Vogue assessed the importance of royal fashion. The Firm was about to change: ‘Queen Elizabeth II, her dressmakers and milliners agree, regards fashion as a duty, though one of the least tiresome of her duties. So might anyone who spends about 172 hours a year being fitted for clothes and hats.’ There was also an incisive prediction by Vogue’s Georgina Howell: ‘The Queen is probably the last British monarch who will play by the rules.’ Punk was the product of disaffected you, whose bondage trousers, ripped T-shirts and upstanding fluorescent hair were a rude salute to conformity. The most controversial statement of the twentieth century was invented by Vivienne Westwood, a former schoolteacher from Tintwistle in Derbyshire and her partner Malcolm McClaren, who had worked with the New York Dolls and now’ mis-managed’ the Sex Pistols. Together, they took London’s King’s Road by storm, opening a succession of shops including Sex, Let It Rock and Seditionaries. They secured their place in history by committing the ultimate act of rebellion: producing an image of the Queen with a safety pin through her nose. The sense of political unease was tangible. Vogue asked: ‘Is this the last Labour government?’ In December Vogue remembered Jubilee year and in the same issue featured the Queen wearing a pink Hardy Amies silk crepe dress and Frederick Fox bell hat. ‘What we do know is that she never better or more relaxed with colours a shade brighter, and hats more dashing.’ However, a pictorial record of punk followed this. Propriety and subversiveness could and would exist side by side: ‘1977, the year hair stood on end with fluorescent dyes, the year of war paint … Punks deliberately seek to create a style which looks cheap, scruffy and trashy. A lot of time and money may go towards creating an appearance that resembles that of a tramp who gas slept in his clothes and hasn’t combed his hair for years.’ 1978 became the year of cults and computers. Vogue analyzed the former, and was fascinated with the latter. ‘You can have a conversation with them,’ said Vogue in its assessment of the computer revolution, while defining the biggest growth industry as cult spotting: ‘Sociologists tell us they no longer really talk of culture among themselves but of media feedback. Many cults today have a paranoid edge to them. The Punk cult, for instance, gains its aggressive thrust from the aimless ranks of those who are young, sullen and often workless.’ Punk, in its raw form, had nothing in common with regular incomes and couture salons. Zandra Rhodes took the paraphernalia – safety pins, rips, zips, spikes of fluorescent colour, eliminated the anarchy and diluted them into a collection she called ‘Conceptual Chic”. ‘Awful colours, aren’t they?’ commented Rhodes in 1978. ‘When I can’t decide what colours I’ll have for my new collection, I try and think of what colour really grates. Now I love cheap, punky lilac. Some colours just have more of an edge to them.’ Punk made uniformity redundant. Style – an obsession that peaked in the 1980s – was the elusive quality that everyone wanted. The question was how to acquire it without looking contrived. In 1976 Vogue put the ‘Spotlight on Style’, pointing out that ‘Style is what everybody would like to think they have but very few do. Style has nothing to do with youth … or age … or sex … or money. Though richer, as Fanny Brice once remarked, is better.’ The indefinable was due for a makeover: ‘Style is badly in need of redefinition. It’s that quirk of the human psyche which hopefully makes every millionth Chinese wear his Mao suit in a way that 999,999 had never thought of it.’ The body, no longer hidden beneath the voluminous shapes of the 1970s, was fashionable – a supple body became the ultimate accessory. Vogue featured a ’superfit leotard’, ‘roller disco beading’, ’summer’s great little stretch’. In 1979 collections focused on ‘The BODY in fashion’: ‘Hot line equals bodyline – a wide-shouldered, waisted, long-legged look.’ The Lycra revolution made skintight stretch a reality and body-consciousness possible – a plus when dancing to ‘Boogie Wonderland’. Vogue said: ‘DISCO – the music that made audience stars – is now international, not only as a sound, but as a word and world in itself … While the public wants to perform, disco will continue to be their stage.’ Vogue viewed ‘The 70s through the Looking Glass’: ‘this was the decade of onion dressing. We were into crypto stripping and there were moments of peek-a-boo.’ Punk – aggressive, subversive and a complete shock to the system – was frequenting London’s King’s Road. In a club called The Blitz, a new style which involved piracy and pillaging, was being formed, cue the new romantics.



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