The chic millennium

Commenting on the fashion trend of the first decade of the current millennium is a difficult task. This is because a distinct identity is yet to emerge since the time frame is still in progress. A safe bet would be to narrate the obvious without indicating where a certain trend shall ultimately end and another one will begin.

The beginning of the decade saw most designers showing their collections in black and white. The notable catwalk collections done in black and white were by Gucci, Chanel, Donna Karan and Korus. Ralph Lauren's spring and summer collections consisted almost entirely of black and white. Maybe the designers were aiming to bring back sophistication into the industry. 2002 and 2003 saw the fashion houses boldly ushering in luxury in styling. G.Q. labelled the autumn and winter collection for men of 2003 as “expensive scruff”. The designers seem to have merged luxury with practicality. Pinstripe suit jacket, mixed with denim jeans or a crewneck sweater worn with a pair of converse athletic shoes were exhibited.

Collaboration between artists and designers increased. A new term “fashion art” was coined to explain the phenomenon. The collaboration continues. As a matter of fact, in some cases the line between the art and the item became defused.

As far as the shapes were concerned the designers went in different directions. While staple wear like pants, the loose Gino cut especially, were still fashionable, skintights were also donned by the more adventurous.

Celebrities always favoured certain designers for their images. But the current decade brought a change in the relationship between designing houses and stars. Jennifer Lopez, Cate Blanchette, Christina Aguilera etc. actually promoted designers like Louis Vuitton, Donna Karan, Versace, Armani and others. Chanel appointed Nicole Kidman as the face of the legendary perfume No.5. Madonna appeared in the advertisement for promoting the jeans marketed by Gap.

While exotic ideas and glamorous celebrities gave brands more saleability, what really united the ongoing trends was affordability and wearability. This current decade has marketed items that are more comfortable and practical.
The colours from the beginning of the new decade started with the classic, and as years went by became more and more adventurous. Men now are very comfortable wearing pink, purple, red, orange, yellow, green along with traditional blues and whites. Such adventure was unthinkable in 1900s when at most, soft pastels were the limit.

Jackets that resemble combat wear are favoured just as much as the traditional three buttoned ones. Paisley and floral prints reserved so long for “females only”, are now proudly donned by men. Shapes of shirts became tight and went on being tighter by the subsequent seasons. Flat fronted trim fitted ones have replaced pleated pants. Pointed shoes with T toes are in vogue, replacing the clunky Doc Marten.

The collections for both genders celebrated the return of the dainty. Emphasis dressing up as oppose to street dictated fashion is taken up in mass. We can safely say the designers have successfully taken back the street that they had lost in the nineties.

Contrasting eighties

Eighties have been typecast as a decade of greed and excess. Asked the Harvard Business Review in 1992: “Crime? Greed? Big ideas?' .... What were the eighties all about?”. The answers were as contrasting as the decade itself. Some called it 'A frivolous decade'. Some termed the decade as the failure of “the trickle down economics”. Newsweek characterised the eighties as “market culture run amok”. Whatever the opinion, it certainly was a time of sharp contrasts.

People belonging to the upper economic segment of the industrialised world, during the 1980s, enjoyed a significant rise of disposable income. They flaunted their wealth by purchasing expensive consumer goods, including fashion clothes. President Ronald Reagan introduced new economic policies like tax reform, deregulation etc. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher followed suit. The industrial nations of the Western Europe took the same route to join the bandwagon of economic growth.

Needless to say, such policies were designed to enrich the upper income groups. The American slogan was “A rising tide lifts all boats”. In other words, the wealth of the richest would trickle down to help others as well. “Greed is good”; (for the economy) materialism and selfishness ruled the psyche of the society. The Rolling Stone magazine describes the eighties bluntly as “the gimme decade”. The so called trickle down never reached the commoner as the middle class, though aspiring, were less likely to buy too many of Rolex watches, Armani suits, Gucci loafers. The crash of the stock market in 1987 brought an end to the so-called economic growth anyway.

Meanwhile, the European, American and Asian Yuppies (young urban professional) saw a significant increase in disposable income. There was a rush in purchasing branded items, thus showing off their newly acquired status of power. The yuppie generation saw no reason to save, rather they spent it all. The designers and manufacturers of fashionable clothes and accessories grew rich on the yuppie purchases. The financial heroes of the Reagan era, who built junk bond empires, shopping malls, etc. as monuments of success to themselves, outfitted their women by 'Christian Lacrois'.

Lacrois seemed to have come out of nowhere and became the most coveted designer in Paris during the beginning of the early eighties. His use of startling colours, extraordinary accessories earned him the “Golden Thimble Award” in 1986. The extravganza of colours, shapes, frills pitted Karl Lagerfeild (the iconic designer of the earlier era) and Lacrois against each other for the top spot under the spotlight. The focus of the designers seemed primarily on money, position, glamour and power.

Glamorous TV shows like Dallas became globally popular . Subsequently, shows like Dynasty and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous enjoyed huge viewer-ship. The extravagant fashions and styles worn in the shows by the cast was not typically high fashion, but rather what the middle-class imagined the rich to wear. Nevertheless, the bottom line was that looking rich was the most vital thing to do. Gone were the days when style began with the kid's in the street and designers rushing to copy it. Instead, the couture regained its full stature in the fashion zone.

The 1980s saw the pronounced emphasis on physical fitness. The craze was to mould the bodies into fashionably muscular shapes. Everyone was into aerobics, jogging, body-building that lead the designers into making more body conscious clothes. All of a sudden a girl just had to pull on her leggings and leotards, or even bicycle shorts with a body-hugging top and she was “in style.” So fitness became imperative to carry such clothes. This coincided with new fabrics made with Lycra and other stretch materials.

Azzedine Alaia, famous for designing figure-accentuated clothing, defined the era with sensational skin-tight shapes. To quote her, ... a dress has to be a part of her, she has to feel it as a part of her body.' Other designers took this tight silhouette and added big shoulders on it. The argument was, rather than looking masculine the descending lines and shapes accentuated the curves of the body, be it male or female. In her essay, the art historian Ann Hollander declares “... broad shoulders, muscular arms, narrow hips, hard buttocks, flat stomach...” as the ideal eighties look.

Calvin Klein launched his new line of jeans in 1980s, featuring Brooke Shields, a fifteen-year-old model/actress (Pretty Baby). The slogan was “want to know what comes between me and Calvin? Nothing!'. Calvin in a TV interview boasted of the sex appeal of his creation by saying “the tighter they are, the better they sell.

Armani, however, ruled the 1980s in men's wear. He first added in his collection softer, warmer shades along with traditional masculine colours like black, blue and grey. The already broad padded shoulders were slightly softened by Armani, yet keeping the narrow waist. While he feminised the man's look, his ladies collection was directly inspired by the classic men's wear. In doing so, the gender gap in looks and shapes took a new meaning by actually bringing the shapes closer than ever before. GQ magazine remarked, 'a study in making men look sexier.' The film, American Gigolo emphasised on the sex appeal of Armani clothes. No less than 30 suits featured in the movie. Who can forget the scene where the gigolo goes through his closet, which is entirely Armani, and then laying the selected lovingly on the bed!

Power was the key word of the decade. 'Power dressing' with the executives of both sexes wearing 'power suits' with broad shoulders; using power ties of expensive silk in power colours such as red and yellow.

The popular TV duos of Miami Vice, powered over the villains donning their power suits created by Armani. The fantastically dressed heroes did not look absurd to possess such a wardrobe on the salary of Miami cops.

Meanwhile, Madonna in her body suits, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Simply Red, Billy Joel, Elton John, Kim Karnes, Chaka Khan etc etc, in their broad shouldered looks along with all the rest “whoever is whoever,” rolled on along into the iconic fashion world showing off their lean mean power looks.

70s: The decade of anti-fashion

Most people wrongly use the term fashion only to describe “high fashion”. The great publicity that surrounds the expensive creation of the handful of famous designing houses reinforces the fallacy. Yet such creations are only a tiny portion of the fashion system. The notable couturiers of the 20th century were Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. Though both are long dead, their couture houses prosper on with Karl Lagarfield for Chanel and John Juliano for Dior.

This genre of couture was characterised by being frightfully expensive and had very few clients. However, most of these couturiers since the 70's started designing ready to wear collections made in standard sizes that could bought off the rack. For example, a ready-to-wear Chanel would cost $4,000.00, compared to a $40,000.00 couture creation.

The industry in the US developed very differently, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan began as houses that marketed ready-to-wear lines at more affordable prices. The products consisted of jeans, casual tops, shirts, underwear and other daily wearable items. The Americans were the first to replace the tailoring houses that people went to for outfitting purpose. The less expensive ranges brought in more revenue, thus fashion house after fashion house followed the trend and entered this lucrative market. Top designers like Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace emerged heading their own companies in Milan. Paris saw the rise of Jean Paul Gaultier, Theary Mugler etc. These fashion icons were “creators”, as opposed to “couturiers” and as a rule started to show their collection at certain times of the year-January and July.

The evolution of fashion for men evolved slightly differently from women. In the late 18th century men of the ruling class used fashionable clothing made of lavish materials such as silk and velvet in bright colours decorated with embroidery and lace. From the end of 18th century a sobriety crept in the western man. The change was called the “masculine renunciation”. The years following saw men's clothing become far more serious and uniformed. Historically it is wrong to assume that clothing worn by men were simply practical and mundane, whereas what women-wear were frivolous. The impression that fashion is “in style” at any given time, applied to both sexes, as it still does now. So, the concept of fashion therefore implies a process of continuous change. It is however true that men's clothing have changed more slowly and less dramatically than that of women; but they do change!

The 70s were unique not just in terms of fashion but music, literature, art and life style as a whole, evolved spontaneously, not following set rules or established norms. Such liberty in the way people thought and lived has not been emulated ever since.

The late 60's left strong impressions by the anti-Vietnam movement and thus the suspicion of anything authoritative. For the longest time every one kept saying the 70's have not started yet. There was no characteristic style or slogan for the decade. All were still looking for something startling like the Beatles, Acid, Pop Art, Hippies and Radical Politics.

It was termed as “the Schizophrenic 70's”. To understand the time one must recognize the fact that “to be in fashion was not in fashion”. The 70's generation put its claim to anti fashion. It was the time of “freedom to wear that and when is finally here”. Journalist Clara Pierre wrote a book about the fashion of the era titled, “Looking Good! The Liberation of Fashion”. The title aptly described the mood. Fashion arbitrators risked being dismissed as “fashion fascists” if they dared to declare what is “in or out”. To be fashionable was to be free, happy and doing what one liked doing. It was also termed as the “Me” decade. The real star of the scene was the wearer.

The era saw people travelling increasingly. So, internationalizing of design that came from different corners of the globe left prominent impact in the fashion scene. The influence of the remnants of the protestors of the Vietnam War (visibly hippy influenced) saw the looks of soft back-to-nature themes. The clothes and styles brought by them from other ethnic groups which were never seen before came into the fore. Nehru jackets and loose flowing robes made way into the main stream. From the early to mid 70's the printed kaftans from Africa, kurtas from India, pajama style pants from China made their way into the closets of every fashion conscious household. The designers picked up the trend and incorporated eyelets with lacing, braided leather on shirts, blouses and even pants/skirts. The sleeves became longer and fuller. Tibetan quilted jacket with or without sleeve was the popular outerwear. Waistcoats either printed or with patchwork effect was in vogue. This was the time that friendship bands were born.

It is also evident that fashion excesses were striking. Hot pants and platform shoes are two examples. It was the era of wide bell-bottoms, wide lapels and wide ties. The distortion of sizes alone does not define the characteristics of the 70's. As a rule all norms that existed were deliberately violated. Maxi coats made of burgundy coloured vinyl, green suede bell-bottom pants, electric blue second skin body stockings, and most notably polyester shirts opened to waist, and dresses that had slits up to the crotch defined the decade. This decade was also termed as “The Decade That Time Forgot.”

The magazine Vogue defended the matter of taste by implying that the freedom to violate social norm is in itself liberating. “Every thing we find ugly and ridiculous... becomes amusing, charming,” agrees Elle Magazine of France.

Seventies came with lowering of the hem line from the minis (previously challenging the conservatives of the late '60s). Thus, came the controversial midi. Those who wore midis fueled the controversy further by adding in their closet the grandma styled pleated peasant skirt. The Maxi was born. The length of the skirt was a topic that was even discussed in the court of President Nixon when he admired the skirt of visiting Madam Georges Pompidou, which was of midi length.

The '70s was the era of women's liberation; an increasing number of women entered the workforce in the higher echelons of hierarchy. Fumed by the hemline controversy, women chose to wear trousers, traditionally a symbol of masculine power. In '71 the number sold to women rose from 10 to 15 million. While all this was going on, the fashion houses reaped harvest of the bounty, for whatever was introduced, be it mini/midi/maxi/trousers, jacket or vests there never was a shortage of buyers.

The 70's also saw the triumph of the Blue Jeans. Although blue jeans were popular in the 60's it became more important in the 70's. Levi Strauss received the Coty fashion critic's award (the Oscar equivalent) in 1971. The same year the musical group Rolling Stones came out with their album 'Sticky Fingers' with a cover done by pop artist Andy Warhol. It was a close-up photograph of the mid section of a man wearing tight jeans. After Levi, Pierre Cardin, Calvin Klein, Wrangler jumped on the bandwagon of the popularity of the blue jeans. Successively the fashion of the blue jeans included bell-bottoms, cuffed jeans, pleated and baggy jeans. Stone washed, dyed in different colors, embroidered and studded kept the rage going, and it still continues today.

Platform shoes and boots were another fad of the early 70's. Musicians like Isaac Hayes had 27 pairs of custom made platform boots. Glitter and glamorous rockers like David Bowie not only wore platform shoes, he violated the taboo against men using makeup.

Later on, the decade saw the emergence of the punk movement. The punks wore most notorious for their ripped t-shirts, Doc Martin boots, and tribal hairstyle. The punk “style in revolt” was in reality revolting style. Their clothes were ripped, pierced with safety pins and decorated with swastikas. Even the bodies of the punks were pierced and shaved. The punk style initially was greeted with horror, yet within a very short time it was a major influence on international fashion. Pop stars popped up donning punk fashion furthering the influence of punk culture.

Saturday Night Fever, a movie based on disco theme came out in the late 70's. It capitalized on the raging disco scene that was going around globally. Musicians like Donna Summers, Tina Charles were bringing out hit after hit of disco numbers. Saturday Night Fever, with the music by Bee Gees, might be called the epitome of disco culture, which also brought in its decline. The white suit worn by John Travolta with bell bottom pants, wide lape, jacket and an unbuttoned skin tight shirt defined the taste or the lack of it in the decade's fashion. Studio 54, which reminds us that disco was an important aspect of the 70s pop culture that definitely influenced the fashion scene. By the end of the decade even Barbie dolls wore disco dresses.

After Saturday Night Fever the late 70's saw a growing emphasis of what might be called “Conservatism with a Choice”. The press started calling the phenomenon as the “Real Clothes for the Real People.” The shape of the clothes in practice meant that dresses were slightly below the knee, trousers not so flared at the bottom. The idiom “Dress for Success” started to get popular. The no make up look of the early to mid 70's was increasingly replaced with heightened artificiality. Models had pale skin and deep red lips. The innocent doe eyed look was gone! Replaced by shiny wet blood red mouth. Fashion had come a full circle.

By Sayeed Siddiqui
Models: Tanisha, Boby
Cover Models: Tanisha, Trisha
Make-up & Styling: Farzana Shakil
Photo: Munem Wasif
Photo Direction: Khaled Mahmud, Head Office

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