Seventies Chic, Eighties Excess—Here’s Where It All Started
Fashion wasn’t built in a day. The industry obsessed with what’s new and what’s next has, of course, a long history, and no one knows it better than Olivier Saillard, curator at the Louvre’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs. (In May, he’ll decamp from the Louvre to take a post at the Musée Galliera, Paris’ museum of fashion.) Saillard’s latest show presents “an ideal history of contemporary fashion” of the seventies and eighties, seen through films of the era’s shows and television reports. The curator spoke to Style.com about the scandals and successes of the period, as well as the holy grail of eighties shows—the Paris debut of Comme des Garçons, of course.
What was going on in fashion in the seventies and eighties?
The exhibition starts in 1971 with Yves Saint Laurent’s collection Hommage aux Années 40 [Homage to the Forties, pictured]. It caused a scandal in France. The short skirts, broad shoulders, and platform shoes [of the 1940′s] were a reaction to the Nazi occupation of Paris during WWII. Frenchwomen made skirts out of their curtains, wore men’s tailored jackets, and put their hair in turbans. The look was arrogant, rather than the neutral style one would expect from the women of an occupied country.
The collection was scandalous in France because YSL’s couture clients in ’71 did not want to remember what they had lived through and the clothes they had worn. It was their daughters, young women like Paloma Picasso, who had started wearing forties clothes from the flea market and turbans, that inspired Saint Laurent. This show went on to inspire Jean Paul Gaultier, who turned the forties into eighties style, and [later] Maison Martin Margiela, who evoked the forties in the nineties. Yves Saint Laurent’s 1971 collection was the first time the forties had been revived in fashion, although Karl Lagerfeld at Chloé was doing collections inspired by thirties Art Deco.
Do you have favorite shows from the time period?
My favorite show from the seventies is the Spring 1972 group show with Kenzo, Dorothée Bis, and Chantal Thomass for Ter et Bantine. Jacqueline Jacobson of Dorothée Bis and Chantal Thomass were both immensely popular designers at the time. The show was held at Salle Wagram, an old Paris dance hall, staged by Argentinean director Alfredo Arias with Donna Jordan [a seventies model and Warhol superstar] as the guest star. The fact that these designers showed together was amazing—I don’t think that could happen today. And my favorite from the eighties is Marc Audibet’s Fall 1986 show. Audibet introduced elasticity in clothing. He perfected the use of Lycra and put stretch into the fashion vocabulary. His vision was romantic and completely different than the S&M hourglass chic of Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana, which reigned at the time. And Audibet’s show featured a new soundtrack for fashion, the spellbinding, repetitive music of contemporary composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich.
What’s the biggest difference between shows in the past and shows today?
In the seventies, it was like the street had taken over the runway. Couples and groups of girls walked arm and arm in conversation, or they danced—the runway was like a big party. But in the eighties, fashion shows became big-scale, theatrical productions. Jean Paul Gaultier revolutionized fashion by taking his inspiration directly from the humor on the street and making and turning the clothes into chic jokes, like men in pajama suits and women in girdle dresses.
How did you find all the footage you included? Were there any you couldn’t track down?
I found films of all the fashion shows I wanted through Paris’ INA (Institut National de l’Audiovisuel), the French television archive, and Hamburg’s NDR (a German television archive), which has all the films done throughout the seventies by the journalist Antonia Hilke. But there are still a few shows I haven’t seen yet, like the debut of Comme des Garçons in Paris.
Why did you choose to work in fashion?
For me, fashion has always been a way to escape the daily grind. It’s different than other fields. So many people on the outside complain that fashion does too much, too quickly, but no one in fashion complains about the pace. Fashion is preoccupied with appearances, but appearances can have a profound effect on life. Fashion is entertainment and it’s not very serious, but if it’s your job, you have to do it seriously.
Histoire idéale de la mode contemporaine, vol. 1: 70-80 runs through October 10 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, www.lesdecoratifs.fr.
PLUS: Check out Tommy Ton’s take on the styles of the seventies and eighties today.