I have spent the last month trapped in a wrinkle in time. Not the film, mind you, though that was quite the fashion moment, and not the book. Rather, sitting by the runways, hour after hour, day after day, city after city, I could feel myself slipping further down a wormhole into the past. One moment it was 2018; the next it was 1981 (or '85, or '88).
But here's the thing: I have been there before. I'm not sure I want to go back.
There's a lot of talk these days about the end of trends, or at least trends as we knew them, when designers seemingly dictated en masse that skirts would be short, or long; pants wide or slim, the message filtered down insistently through magazines and department stores. Now fashion has been fractured into a zillion subgroups and subcultures through social media and direct-to-consumer everything, so that what has resulted is a smorgasbord of options.
Yet every season a few major, yes, trends appear and demand a reckoning, not least because thanks to their ubiquity, they will likely dominate the visual landscape come August. It doesn't mean you have to buy into them, but it does mean you have to consider them – and more interestingly, the reasons they exist, and how that makes you feel.
This time round it was the 1980s, a decade that has been making a comeback of sorts around the aesthetic edges for the last few years. But while in previous seasons, its re-emergence was tempered by assorted other decades and influences, it has now reached critical mass.
Shoulders were the body part of choice, most often inflated to mega proportions (see Marc Jacobs, which even included a pouf-skirted party dress). There were a lot of power furs and leathers, at Givenchy, Tom Ford and Alberta Ferretti. Spangles and shine, at Saint Laurent and Balmain – which, along with Gucci and Versace, also played logo-a-go-go. It was as if everyone had taken a wrong turn on the Warner Bros lot and ended up in the costume department from Bonfire of the Vanities .
And it was all set to an '80s soundtrack: Terence Trent D'Arby and Sade at Ferragamo, Tainted Love and Take On Me at Balmain, Carly Simon's Let the River Run from Working Girl at Thom Browne. Julie de Libran, the creative director of Sonia Rykiel, even reconstituted Bananarama (live!) for her label's 60th-anniversary show. With the requisite stonewashed denim (Miu Miu), lots of neon (Prada, Versace) and stirrup pants (Tom Ford) to match.
I guess we should have expected it, given the current conjunction of political and cultural events, all of which seem to steer a designer's thoughts naturally to the go-go decade.
Given, for example, the #MeToo movement and the global explosion of women demanding parity and recognition in the workplace and an end to sexual harassment, a phenomenon that apparently leads inexorably to the memory of the power suit, in all its big-buttoned, shoulder-padded glory – the most obvious recent reference point for armor to be donned on the corporate battlefield.
Given the ascension of Donald Trump, with his suit and big red tie uniform (with its nod to Gordon Gekko and Ronald Reagan) and his unabashed love of gilding not just the lily, but every surface under the sun, the better to convey aesthetic bombast: big hair, big gems, big belts. Bigly! OK, big league. (Also, for that matter, his past connection to Blaine Trump, his former sister-in-law and the erstwhile socialite who put the pouf in pouf skirt.)
And given the wellness movement, and the rise of athleisure and yoga pants, which has as its predecessor the aerobics years, with their love of bright-colored leotards, stretch pants and a bodysuit.
Not to mention the current exhumation of assorted 1980s television and film favorites, including Dynasty , Heathers , Baywatch and Blade Runner , and Steven Spielberg's new Ready Player One , which is itself pretty much an ode to the 1980s. And the coming royal wedding, with its connections to that other famous royal wedding, in 1981, which featured, among other things, perhaps the biggest royal wedding shoulders of all.
Speaking as someone who is old enough to have actually lived through it – I was in high school and college in the 1980s; my mother was one of the ceiling-cracking women in those big-shouldered suits – I confess to having mixed feelings about the resurgence. Admittedly, it could be because I have mixed feelings about many of my adolescent choices, and the clothes I wore simply suffer by association, but I think it goes beyond that. I want to believe we are moving forward, and this feels like moving back.
Part of the aesthetic of the '80s, after all, derived from the clothes of the '40s, another time when women moved forward into the workplace (just as the 1960s echoed the 1920s, with the sense of sexual liberation and youth and freedom expressed through clothes). But it was a conceptual connection; a genetic link more than a clone. By contrast, the '80s of 2018 is strikingly literal – seemingly made to be read through a small screen.
Of course, it's possible this is simply part of the struggle to reach a new stage; the fashion equivalent of two steps forward, one step back. Nicolas Ghesquière got at that backstage at Louis Vuitton when he talked about fashion as time travel. To a certain extent, he said, the job is all about navigating between the past and what you expect for the future, and the clash of the two. The place they conflict is the present.
And there were hints of new ideas, certainly, in the 3-D body-scanning and fabric fusion that went into creating the jackets at Balenciaga, which looked familiar, but weren't; in the now-you-see-a-tux-now-you-realize-its-sweats at Undercover (one of the worst pieces of news to come out of the last season is that Jun Takahashi, who regularly challenges convention and conventional expectations, is abandoning womenswear shows for men's); in the leap from shoulder pads to etched-out shoulder mantles at Fendi and Vuitton, which was the same idea, but abstracted into its essence, as opposed to the glaringly obvious.
If it is true that we are renegotiating our world, our clothes, to be really effective, need to do the same. I know we are all products of our own past and that fashion is built on dipping into and out of that netherworld, appropriating a style here, a silhouette there. It's economical to shop our own (storage) closet, full of cringe-making memories though it may be. But it shouldn't be the point.
New York Times
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