Designers Revisit the Era that Fashion Forgot

Seven months ago, fashion was going through an identity crisis.

On the Fall 2014 runways, there were bedazzled homages to Star Wars at Rodarte, outsized menswear at Proenza Schouler and outsized activewear at Balenciaga. At Chanel, sneaker-clad models walked down the aisles of an ersatz supermarket. Had fashion jumped the normcore shark? Had Karl Lagerfeld ever been to a Monoprix?

The clothes either exalted the mundane or standardized the surreal. It all existed within rigid confines, the cuts severe and approach slavish. Exceptions like Marc Jacobs’ floaty pastels and Christopher Bailey’s scant spring-like collection at Burberry only added to the nebulous mood.

An optimistic view is that such ambiguity begets diversity, maybe even individuality. On the fall runways, it resulted in an exhausting monotony of clothes.


But amidst the fog of aimless fashion, there was something interesting coming into view. Playing off normcore’s casual attitude, Miuccia Prada sent down frosted anoraks and color-blocked puffers that conjured suburban kids in skiwear during the ’70s.


Even more perplexing was Nicolas Ghesquière’s downright unremarkable debut at Louis Vuitton. If there was anyone who could have rescued fashion from the bottom of the creative well, it was him. Instead, we got techy Fair Isle sweaters and mechanic’s jackets. It was entirely too familiar.


A closer look, however, revealed surprising similarities to Miu Miu’s off-duty snow bunnies. Come to think of it, the limber knits and Supergraphics at Marc Jacobs and Chanel had a whiff of nostalgia, too.


The picture was becoming clearer.


Fast-forward to the recently unveiled S/S 15 collections. Wide lapels, topstitching and suede — lots of suede — fill the runways. The pervasive influence? The 1970s, the ultimate era of good vibes and keepin’ it real. Yes, the decade that fashion forgot. The decade that those bellwether collections at Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton hinted at last season.


Why the ’70s? It is no surprise that Miuccia Prada chose to revisit the era, the designer forever challenging notions of beauty. But what else led to this fashion moment?


The most frequently mentioned muses among designers this season were Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell. Immediately, we know there’s a biopic on the former that just came out, and the latter recently released a memoir and has a retrospective box set on the way.


But the beginning of this year also saw American Hustle dominate fashion how–to’s and social media combust over the news of Fleetwood Mac’s reunion tour. In art, William Eggleston’s portraits of ordinary Americana and the Smithsonian’s 1970s time capsule, Documerica, have been making the rounds. The current political climate — the rise of extremist groups and proliferation of protest movements around the world — mirrors the widespread discontent of the ’70s.

In somewhat related news, Vogue just discovered Woodstock.

For a decade seemingly devoid of style, the ’70s are a culmination of very distinct, uncompromising aesthetics. There’s the earthy insouciance of hippies, the detached dandyism of psychedelia and sensual excess of disco.


So how will Spring 2015 remember the ’70s? Faithfully, in all the above ways, as it turns out.


All this talk of a ’70s revival must have Hedi Slimane’s ears burning. This season, the Saint Laurent designer dusted off the patent-leather minis, glitter platforms and fur coats that litter the thrift shops of his adopted Los Angeles. It was the eternal uniform of the rock ‘n’ roll groupie — and a sexed-up, luxe counterpoint to Tommy Hilfiger’s earlier in the month, who, too, sent out lean silhouettes and billowy dresses. Hendrix was specifically namechecked there, as was at House of Holland, where kitschy flower power graphics and trippy colors enveloped (some may say, suffocated) its youthful London clientele in a cloud of purple haze.


Derek Lam explored the 1970s a bit more innocently at his show, where Joni Mitchell hummed through the speakers. The post-Vietnam era provided utilitarian details and eccentric styling options for the designer to evolve his minimalist sportswear. In a similar vein, Frida Giannini executed ’70s day staples like A-line skirts and coatdresses in lush fabrics and jewel tones at Gucci.


However, it was the collections at Chloé and Valentino that veered closer to Joni Mitchell’s ethereal bohemian. Both interpretations polished up the Victorian frou and crafty naïveté of the era with masculine tailoring and flirty elements. The results seemed to hark back to Phoebe Philo’s vision of boho-chic for Chloé that reached ubiquity a decade ago.


Perhaps no other collection evoked the hippie-defining Summer of Love more poetically than Dries Van Noten’s Ophelia-inspired collection. As usual, the Belgian designer did not shy away from print, mixing Southeast Asian tile motifs, Turkish paisleys and mannish stripes in the elegantly offhand way he is known for. It was ’67 in spirit, contemporary in execution.


As for the prophets of this ’70s redux? Both Prada and Ghesquière expounded on the theme this season with obvious winks to the decade: patchwork textiles, murky colors, granny laces.


But again, something new bubbled under the surface. Adding Raf Simons’ pristine Dior collection to the mix, high Edwardian necks, dainty Queen Anne prints and icy brocades indicated an inspiration more historical, more precious.


Like normcore, there is a feeling of the anti-aesthetic attached to the ’70s. But these moments on the runway, exemplified by Prada, Louis Vuitton and Dior, assure us that design is still very much present in fashion.