Glitz & Glamour: Reviving the 80s Through Contemporary Fashion
After decades of being resolutely scorned, ‘80s fashion is back on the runways in an all-encompassing way. While many have described the 1970s as “the decade that style forgot,” its rehabilitation in fashion terms began in the mid-1990s with Tom Ford’s Gucci and Muiccia Prada’s “geek-chic” collections; the ‘80s comeback has taken far longer. Though specific influences have appeared in collections over the last few years, they have appeared as isolated ideas rather than a full-fledged trend—a trend that actually incorporates a myriad of diverse aspects from what Tom Wolfe’s so memorably called, “the Me decade.” Eighties haute couture and prêt-à-porter represent the greatest current influence, yet subcultural styles from new wave to hip-hop have also been mined and pillaged by designers both too young to remember and those old enough to have worn these styles the first time.
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The most prevalent influence on current collections has been that of the heavyweights of 1980s Paris—couturiers like Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro and Jean-Louis Scherrer, as well as more avant-garde prêt-à-porter designers like Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana. Since his first collection for Saint Laurent for Spring/Summer 2017, Anthony Vaccarello has been revisiting the archives and adding his own spin to some of YSL’s iconic designs. Vaccarello’s own aesthetic was built on a passion for the 1980s silhouette of very short, very tight, sculpted and slashed, and he has reinterpreted Yves’ couture flou with this vision. For S/S 2017 a 1982 black velvet puffed-shoulder dress became a micro-mini, while the ladylike, bright floral Abraham silk dresses of the 1980s were exaggerated for Fall/Winter 2018 with crystal-encrusted fabrics, crotch-grazing hems, and Dynasty-size shoulder pads. The 1980s passion for oversized shoulders reappeared not first at Saint Laurent (where he showed both rounded “football player” ones as well as squared), but could be charted back to Christophe Decarnin’s rediscovery of eighties glitz at Balmain that defined fashion in the mid-to-late 2000s. Blending Decarnin’s over-the-top glamour with a homage to classic YSL is Alexandre Vauthier, whose F/W 2018 collection included Swarovski-heavy, shoulder-padded, plunge neck mini dresses and Saint Laurent-style cropped military jackets, red leather harem pants and 80s slouched boots. A late-1980s approach to glitz was reflected in Tom Ford’s F/W 2018 collection. Skin-tight pants (a la Azzedine Alaia) in sequined animal prints and metallic were paired with oversized sequin tops, fur coats and lots of accessories—a modern revisiting of Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele’s iconic styling for Vogue from 1988 into the early 90s. A sequin pullover with “Tom Ford Beverly Hills” emblazoned in rhinestones brought to mind the legendary Rodeo Drive destination, Giorgio Beverly Hills, whose perfumes and sweatshirts were marketing magic in the 1980s.
Plundering the less glitzy aspects of ‘80s couture are designers like Marc Jacobs and Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino. Jacobs, in his F/W 2018 collection, looked to Montana and Mugler for the bulky, brightly colored coats with oversized shoulders that opened his show, as well as their leather and vinyl counterparts—all styles that appeared on the runways of American designers like Perry Ellis as well. Exaggerating every proportion, Jacobs amped up the volume on YSL’s classic silk pussybow blouses and trousers (gathered in voluminous pleats into a wide, tight cummerbund-style waist). The wide-brimmed black hats recollected ones used by Saint Laurent in his S/S 1990 collection (shown October 1989 with bulky black leather). For Valentino haute couture S/S 2018, Piccioli wanted “to get back something of the glamour of the ’80s that Mr. Valentino did so well.” Forgoing the glitzy and exaggerated trends of 1980s fashion, he instead simplified and streamlined some on the prettiest elements of the decade—a ladylike assembly of white lace blouses, gowns with armor-like beaded bodices and puffed sleeves, and sculpted ruffles. The fairytale influence on 1980s fashion (which hit its peak at Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding in 1981) can be seen in Off-White’s tulle layers that bare a close resemblance to those shown by Mugler in 1983. All of Off-White’s S/S 2018 was a stripped-down analysis of Princess Diana’s wardrobe—cleverly showcasing another example of ladylike silk dresses, Addicted to Love skintight sheaths, and Working Girl style pink power suits with sneakers.
While Vaccarello and Piccioli reinterpreted their house’s respective archives, Marco Colagrossi at Ungaro chose for F/W 2018 to almost directly replicate silhouettes, dresses and patterns designed by his predecessor in the 1980s, though produced at a new, much lower price point to appeal to millennials. Ungaro’s signature ruched dresses were the most-copied dress of the 1980s (followed closely by Lacroix’s “le pouf”) and their influence can been seen today across a broad range of current collections (Vauthier and Alessandra Rich, for example).
Eschewing the high wattage glam of the haute couture, designers like Adam Selman and Miu Miu looked to subcultural style for inspiration for f/w 2018. Selman used the books of photographer Cheyco Leidmann (Banana Split from 1982 and Foxy Lady from 1983) as the starting point for a collection that incorporated vibrant photo prints, new wave sharp suits, and animal prints—no look would have been out of place at the Mudd Club in 1980. Straight out of Danceteria were the fishnets, studded belts and frothy tulle of Jeremy Scott’s homage to mid-80s Madonna in his S/S 2018 runway show. Though built primarily around a vision of rough and ready 1950s and 60s rocker girls, the Miu Miu collection seemed to reinterpret these tropes through an eighties worldview—a girl in the 1980s obsessed with an earlier era. Street photographs from the 1980s show similarly attired girls that blend ‘50s elements (pompadour hair, dark kohl eyes, angora sweaters and pencil skirts) with the eighties (stonewashed denim and pastel leather). The gold chains and studied casual sportswear of the nascent 1980s hip-hop movement found their way on to Marc Jacobs’ F/W 2017 runway.
Glimpses of the 1980s appear in almost every collection—a bra over a dress at J.W. Anderson’s Loewe brings to mind Vivienne Westwood’s “Nostalgia of Mud" collection from 1983 (Anderson’s F/W 2015 show was a holistic ode to eighties style), while both Molly Goddard and Simone Rocha looked to the black, oversized silhouettes of early ‘80s Comme des Garçons and Clare Waight Keller’s F/W 2018 collection for Givenchy was inspired by the costumes from the 1983 film, The Hunger, and 1980s West Berlin.
Why the seemingly sudden burst of enthusiasm for this decade? Several critics have pondered whether it is a reaction to current-day politics—Trump came to fame in the wealth-soaked excess of the eighties and his policies reinforce Gordon Gecko’s mantra, “Greed is good.” Bringing back the glitzy fashions of that time can be seen to highlight the parallels between then and now, forcing us to contemplate the dark side of Trump’s Wall Street and corporate-friendly tax cuts. Viewed through this perspective, the interest in ‘80s subcultural style emphasizes the ability of creativity to blossom even in the hardest times and provides us hope. It can’t be said that all of the eighties references have this political grounding—while a noble proposition, for many of the designers discussed their influences spring more from childhood memories of unabashed glitz, glamour and the sybaritic hedonism that went with it.