Fashion forward: The '70s now and then

Fashion forward: The '70s now and then


Text: Nadya Wang

Fashion designers’ nostalgic addiction to the era continues to have an undeniable influence on the clothes we wear today

The fall/winter 2015 runways showed a gamut of looks one would find in fashion magazines from the 1970s. The free-spirited hippie was recreated at Chloé, Anna Sui and Valentino. Balmain, Burberry Prorsum, and Dries Van Noten served a mash-up of global styles that first became part of the Western fashion vocabulary in the decade. And over at Tom Ford and Altuzarra, there were get-ups perfect for a madcap night at Studio 54.

Fashion is often the old made new again. The seventies was an 'anything goes' decade of experimentation and self-discovery — offering many enduring sartorial ideas. The youthquake of the 1960s had made shopping for clothes as a means to express one's identity affordable and exciting, with original ideas from Mary Quant and Biba's Barbara Hulanicki. This created a new fashion-hungry generation, and paved the way for the emergence of disparate styles in the next decade.

Anna Sui FW15

With the dawn of the 1970s, the wide-eyed faux naïf models Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and Penelope Tree in mini shift dresses and Mary Janes grew up to become svelte gazelles, with the likes of Ali McGraw, Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall, Farah Fawcett and Lauren Hutton photographed in everything from flowing kaftans, billowing peasant blouses and high-waisted bell bottoms to shimmery pantsuits and slinky dresses with plunging necklines.

Womenswear was characterised by strong silhouettes and fuss-free materials.  The prolific Yves Saint Laurent created, among many other classic looks, le smoking. Famously captured by Helmut Newton in 1975, the adapted men's suit with a healthy dose of sex appeal became the go-to staple in the independent woman's wardrobe. Diane von Furstenberg revolutionised feminine dressing with her wrap dress made in easy-care, wash-and-wear jersey fabric in 1974, selling over a million by 1976. Other designers, including Ossie Clark, Pierre Cardin, Sonia Rykiel and Calvin Klein all sought to give the modern woman clothes that she could feel confident in.

Global styles began to infiltrate Western fashion consciousness in the 1970s. Kenzo Takada, Kansai Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Hanae Mori, the first wave of Japanese designers in Paris, introduced new textiles, designs and patterns. Incidentally, Hanae Mori became the first and to this day the only Asian member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 1977.

At the same time, with air travel becoming cheaper — the first jumbo jet was flown in 1970 — more people were able to take an interest in what foreign cultures had to offer. One designer who took advantage of this accessibility was Zandra Rhodes, who created print-heavy collections based on her travels with names such as 'Mexico, Sombreros and Fans' and 'Japan and Lovely Lilies'.

Fashion trends come and go as we constantly seek something a little different from the status quo. The maximalist and nostalgia that the '70s revival brings are breaths of fresh air after a persistent interest in clean structured minimalism that Phoebe Philo introduced at Céline back in 2010; futuristic looks including trippy digital prints best done by Mary Katrantzou and Peter Pilotto; and the use of wetsuit fabric neoprene by everyone from Alexander Wang to Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy.

Fashion designers have often looked to popular culture for inspiration. The final season of the hugely popular TV series Mad Men left the sixties behind and embraced the seventies, with its costume designer Janie Bryant dressing the characters in historically authentic outfits. Hollywood films such as American Hustle and Inherent Vice also put forward casts clad in the period's signature threads marked by rich textures and saturated colours. The public's resultant yearning for similar fashions cannot be underestimated.

In tandem with the resurgence of interest in fashion from the 1970s, the Fashion and Textile Museum in London held the exhibition Thea Potter: '70s Bohemian Chic, showcasing the fashion designer's rich and romantic creations. And in New York, the Museum at FIT presented Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the '70s, juxtaposing the works of the two visionaries.

Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ‘70s

In an upcoming auction, Passion for Fashion, at Kerry Taylor Auctions, textile designer Celia Birtwell has put up for sale her personal archive of pieces from her ex-husband and quintessential 1970s designer Ossie Clark. These pieces bear Birtwell's delicate painterly prints shown off to great advantage by Clark's brilliant pattern-cutting skills. It is no coincidence that in a season leaning heavily on the 1970s, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino collaborated with Birtwell for both its pre-fall and fall/winter collections.

An Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell printed chiffon evening gown, 1973

A heady decade where old rules of dressing were broken, and the celebration of the female form and spirit were central to the designers' ethos, it is little wonder that the pioneering 1970s continues to inspire us to this day, making us fall in love again with the decade's expressive aesthetics along with all the glitz and glamour it sparked.