The newest, latest, next big thing: isn’t that what this industry thrives upon? Craving a diet of never-seen-before ideas. Or does it? Because judging by spring/summer 2015’s nostalgic wander through the archives, fashion is primed to do a fierce trade in memories this season, right back to the Seventies.
Joni Mitchell’s 1974 folksy paean “Help Me” piping into the Derek Lam venue at the beginning of the month-long run of catwalk shows should have been a clue that a retro volte-face was on the agenda. The fashions that followed in London, Milan and Paris – from Tom Ford to Prada to Pucci to Gucci – were so inspired by the era that the season took on a sepia, tea-ring tinge.
Of course, it isn’t the first or second time we’ve seen a retro revival; the time-tide started to turn in 2011 with those head-to-toe crochet looks debuted by Christopher Kane, and later Marc Jacobs’s Seventies-inspired louche, long dresses that slunk down his catwalk. Then autumn/winter 2014 arrived, and with it the flared A-line coats and skimpy hemlines at Louis Vuitton that shaped an early-Seventies vibe, as Saint Laurent eased us into the idea of paying ready-to-wear prices for sharp, vintage-inspired pieces.
Flash forward to the current resort collections – Miu Miu showcased knitted crop-tops, and the bell-bottoms at Giambattista Valli put a Seventies stamp on the season ahead. Do we need any more proof that retro has reached its apex? Only now does it feel entirely credible to covet and cavort in flares and fringing without it feeling like costume; this season that throwback sensibility is on the rails and it’s all for sale.
So what’s with the rose-tinted spectacles? Why are designers so inspired by a wardrobe that has gone before? And by clothes that, in some cases, we already own? (Albeit in dusty, moth-bitten, back-of-the-wardrobe form.) “We’re living in a generation and a moment in fashion where you see a lot of nostalgia,” states designer Jonathan Anderson, “and that’s because, fundamentally, we are living in a moment where no one knows where they are going and everyone is trying to work out whether they fit.”
We need look no further than our smartphones for proof that we are hung up on the past: #throwbackthursday hashtags punctuate our Instagram, and Timehop – an app that reminds us exactly what we were doing this time last year, two years or even four years ago – is topping the download charts. With our cultural reference points stuck in such a reminiscent mood, is it any wonder that designers are set to rewind?
“It follows James Laver’s theory that fashion looks back in a 30- or 40-year cycle,” says Judith Watt, fashion historian and head of the fashion journalism MA at Central Saint Martins. “At Louis Vuitton we saw playful art nouveau, vintage Liberty-inspired prints and crushed velvet.”
On the face of it, our definition of the Seventies is scattered with visions of David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust, the summer of 1976 (the warmest of the twentieth century) and shimmying at Studio 54; but the reality for Britain was both grimy and glamorous. The Seventies were a time of chaos and revolution – it’s no secret that crisis and upheaval can breed creativity (consider economic stagflation and the rise of the punk movement, or the Vietnam War and John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”) – and while women doused themselves with Opium, the stench of rotting rubbish permeated the streets, as local-authority strikes raged. While they danced to glam rock beneath nightclub disco-lights, their own homes were plunged into darkness as an energy crisis gripped the nation. So when we swoon over those spangle-tastic Tom Ford flares, are we indulging in a reverie about something that never existed?
“Of course there were the good times, and every designer has a different perception of what nostalgia looks like,” concludes Rebecca Arnold, a fashion historian at the Courtauld Institute of Art. “If it’s being done to pastiche a period, then it can feel empty.”
So what should the future look like when it’s on the runway? If you’re expecting techy, inventive designs with a bit of sporty space-age silver (see The Jetsons), that’s just as outmoded. Instead, expect the future of fashion to be defined by passing what has gone before through a brand-new prism. Mrs Prada found newness in the past when she took eighteenth-century-inspired fabrics and used them on Seventies silhouettes. “With that combination you produce something new, a third thing,” surmises Arnold. “It’s like Walter Benjamin’s Tigersprung theory, which claims fashion will jump in to the future with one eye on the past, and that’s what fashion should always do.” Laura Weir