In the Spotlight: 1970s

19 magazine fashion story shot by John Bishop, from 70s Style & Design by Dominic Lutyens and Kirsty Hislop

Among the trends buyers expect to see gracing the runways in New York during the next week are high-waisted full-leg trousers, knee- to calf-length and pleated skirts and evening fabrics such as velvet and silk satin used for day wear… “We will still see a ’70s mood with wider pants cuffed and fluid blouses,” said Barneys chief merchant Daniella Vitale.Reuters, regarding S/S 2011

This summer has without a doubt been the summer of the Seventies. The decade has been reinterpreted from the ‘decade that taste forgot’ to a celebration of palazzo pants,  jumpsuits, wide-brimmed hats and floaty blouses. The ubiquitous trend has been showcased everywhere from Marie Claire to GlamourStyle.com, The Observer, Refinery 29, StyleList, Harpers Bazaar, Tommy Ton and The Guardian who even went so far as to call it the “defining look of 2011.”

70s looks from Refinery 29. My favourite of the 70s-inspired collections was undoubtedly Marc Jacobs, below

Marc Jacobs S/S 2011

There has been such an interest in the decade recently that many iconic 70s brands have been revived, from Marios Schwab at Halston to Ossie Clark and one of my all-time favourites, Biba, whose reincarnations have never been able to live up to the original. This time around it’s at the House of Fraser.

Original Ossie Clark; Ossie Clark A/W 2009 from CatwalkQueen

Original Biba featuring Twiggy; Biba at House of Fraser A/W 2010 fronted by Daisy Lowe

And Shoemeister General Terry de Havilland, whose iconic platforms defined the 70s and have gone from strength to strength, celebrated 50 years in the business this summer with a retrospective in Selfridges Shoe Hall. (If you notice he cites Nisha and I as muses – soz for the blatant plug but wouldn’t you if your shoe-hero named a pair after you?!)

Vintage Terry de Havilland platforms from DisneyRollerGirl; the ‘Amber’ and the ‘Nisha’ shoes

But why this sudden obsession? The YSL retrospective last year at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Paris has been cited as a major influence, but many commentators believe it goes further than just aesthetics. Both Reuters and The Guardian claim the trend is to encourage people to spend during the economic downturn, due to a mixture of identification with the period (recession, strikes, riots sparked by overzealous policing…) and the flattering effects of “loose and slinky styles” which “should appeal to the broadest  consumer base – crucial for retailers  in lean years.” (The Guardian)

70s Style & Design by Dominic Lutyens and Kirsty Hislop (cover) and featured shoes by Thea Cadabra

Whatever the reasons, without a doubt the best resource for recreating (and understanding) 70s style is the gorgeous 70s Style & Design by Dominic Lutyens and Kirsty Hislop, and I was lucky enough to have a copy sent to me. It works as a fantastic reappraisal of the decade and broadens out the 1970s from its place in the collective memory as a decade obsessed with the two musical and stylistic extremes of disco and punk to something a lot more diverse. Divided thematically, it covers a lot of ground and is much more than a just coffee table tome (although it’s beautifully illustrated). The book successfully places fashion and style in its historical, sociological and political context, covering the 1973 oil crisis and the burgeoning environmental movement, as well as design from interiors to graphics. It comes as no surprise to learn that “the pillaging and pastiching of past styles was a key 70s trend,” but paradoxically this ensures that some images look strikingly modern; it’s interesting to see that the current mania for ‘vintage’ is not at all a 21st century phenomenon.

All pictures below are from 70s Style & Design by Dominic Lutyens and Kirsty Hislop unless otherwise stated.

My favourite looks: 19 magazine picture from Brixton market, 1973; Mr Feed’em waitress (the basement eatery of boutique Mr Freedom); Nova story shot by Terence Donovan in 1972

From Pop to Postmodernism

French Elle from 1976; current dress found at Topshop: the striped maxi dress has been something of a microtrend this Summer

This first section covers the Pop Art movement that started in the 50s and continues by dissecting the breakdown of the grand narratives and ‘International Style’ of Modernism into what essentially became Postmodern design. It chronicles the growing interest in pop culture as opposed to ‘high’ culture and as you can imagine it’s fun-filled and colour-crazy and covers everything from Fiorucci to the rise of DIY. It has an interesting section on Habitat, made even more poignant by recent events, and discusses their boundary-pushing catalogues that not only covered an array of styles (not just Habitat pieces but also vintage/inherited items) but also featured a mixed race couple in bed in 1973 that provoked letters of complaint. Sticking to their guns, one former Habitat manager describes this as “an evangelical crusade to convert people to the design philosophy that things should look good and work well, and be anti-discriminatory in a social sense.”

Sci-fi style from Thierry Mugler; 1973 controversial Habitat catalogue; Mr Freedom designs

This section also covers some of my particular favourite areas like Mr Feed’em, the restaurant below the Mr Freedom boutique that had napkins adorned with Mae West as the Statue of Liberty, cakes in the shape of blue jeans and the BEST waitress uniforms I have ever seen. I had the honour of meeting Tommy Roberts (of Mr Freedom) at a symposium at the ICA a couple of years ago as we were both speaking on the same panel about fashion and food. He’s an incredible man and has some amazing stories.

Mr Freedom clothes in Nova magazine, 1970

Belle Epoque

I would be lying if I said that this chapter wasn’t the section that initially stood out as my favourite. My interest in history and the cyclical nature of fashion is truly sated here, as it covers the periods that designers of the 70s turned to for inspiration, from Art Nouveau and Deco to 20s and 30s Hollywood and Victoriana. The initial interest that sparked these revivals are cited as a Sotheby’s auction of costumes worn by Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers and others in 1971, and a couple of exhibitions at the V&A on Alphonse Mucha (in 1963) and Aubrey Beardsley (in 1966). It was also the decade in which films from 30s were shown on TV, at the National Film Theatre and in cinemas for first time since they were made, and Art Deco bric-a-brac and home wares were available in cheap second hand stores, having fallen out of favour long before (if only this were the case now!)

Jean-Charles Brosseau cloche hats; ‘Belle Epoque’ page; Anna Piaggi, possibly in Paul Poiret

Contemporary films also rhapsodised old Hollywood style as well as the decadence of Weimar Berlin in movies like The Boyfriend (1971), Cabaret (1972), Paper Moon (1973), and The Great Gatsby (1974). At the same time vintage shops were springing up in London, Paris, San Francisco and New York and the term ‘retro’ was being coined. The queen bee of the Deco and Nouveau revivals was of course Barbara Hulanicki of Biba, whose, “muses were licentious vamps like Pola Negri and Theda Bara, not ingenues à la Mary Pickford.” Read more about my Biba infatuation in my first post.

Twiggy in a costume resembling a cross between the aesthetics of Busby Berkeley and Cecil B. DeMille in The Boyfriend (1971), set in the 1920s; a starlet from Film Pictorial magazine from the early 1930s (my own picture)

This section closes with another of my style staples: Pierrot clowns. This obsession goes back to my days as Buyer at Beyond Retro (evidenced here) so it was great to see I’m in good company, from Bowie and Twiggy to mime artist and choreographer Lindsey Kemp – a former pupil of Marcel Marceau.

Bowie and Twiggy on the cover of his ‘Pin Ups’ album; mime artist Lindsay Kemp; artist squatters in Islington

And because it’s beautiful, here are some scenes from Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), which is referenced in the book.


Supernature covers the growing awareness throughout the 70s that design should be socially and ecologically responsible, that blossomed from the hippie movement of the late 60s, and led to back-to-nature trends that Lutyens and Hislop have christened ‘Rustic Retro’. On the 22nd April 1970 the first national Earth Day in America was held, and marked the “dawning of a new era of ecological enlightenment and appreciation of the natural environment that would help to define the rest of the decade.” In 1979 Jimmy Carter even equipped the White House with a solar water-heating system.

Yves Saint Laurent’s Russian peasant collection from 1976 in Italian Vogue

This led to renewed interest in folk textiles and ‘ethnic’ dress and techniques, as well as the idyllic rural aesthetic popularised by Laura Ashley.

‘Supernature’ page on the 70s ethnic trend; Laura Ashley’s ‘milkmaidism’; a pattern for a prairie dress from Folkwear – an American company that specialises in patterns of historic costumes

Avant Garde

The final section of the book looks at the world of the anti-hippie and artificiality: “In defiance of hippie culture’s insistence on the natural and homespun, and bent on pushing boundaries in terms of style, many a 70s hipster embraced brassy artifice and kitsch.” This references a plethora of my personal heroes from the Pope of Trash himself (John Waters) to Roxy Music and the New York Dolls, with Andy Warhol as the apex. It also covers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren in their earliest boutiques. Lutyens and Hislop look at kitsch not only as a stylistic movement in its own right, but also through the other ‘retro’ revivals that were happening throughout the decade concerning 40s and 50s Americana: “The cult of artifice was boosted by a fascination at the turn of the decade with kitsch, a term originally meaning ‘trash’ or ‘cheap finery.'”

Kitsch by Gillo Dorfles; Cindy Sherman photo from the Untitled Film Stills series, 1978; Thea Cadabra’s Lunar Loper shoe and Terry de Havilland’s Zebedee

Barbara Hulanicki’s living room in Holland Park; Big Biba’s ‘Kitch’ department from the Sunday Times in 1973

Susan Sontag: “Camp makes no distinction between the unique object and the mass-produced object… Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment.”

1940s come alive: The Pointer Sisters in thrift-store finds; Bill Gibb 1974 collection

Fifties Finest: ‘Avant Garde’ page on the 50s revival; Viv and Malcolm in their first boutique Let it Rock, opened in 1971; the B-52s’ 1979 album cover referenced campy 60s looks that were later seen in Hairspray

The references to Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp (1964) – “To perceive Camp… is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theatre” – are particularly apt in light of the performative elements of retro-revivals – living as if you were in another time. But it also relates to the era’s love affair with androgyny. The late 60s saw the beginning of the gay liberation movement that was in full flourish by the mid-70s. Artists and musicians – both underground and mainstream – relished this opportunity play with the idea of gender, an idea that hasn’t gone out of style as a quick look at Andrej Pejic or Jo Calderone, Lady Gaga’s male alter-ego will tell you.

Mime artist Lindsay Kemp; ‘Avant Garde’ page on gender-blending; Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Show in 1974

Not only are there economic, social and stylistic similarities between now and the 1970s, but the decade also foretold our current obsession with vintage clothing, individualistic dressing and documenting street style: “the increasingly broad assortment of looks that coexisted in the 1970s can be linked with the growing autonomy of the individual and the move away from mere fashion to a preoccupation with personal style.” The cyclical styles and retromania are equally as relevant, not only with this summer’s obsession with the 70s, but also pointing towards the coming season’s trends for 1940s and 1960s looks – the perennial pillaging and reinventing of the past continues. No decade or era should be dismissed in terms of  its design or art, and 70s Style & Design is most definitely evidence of this.

We made a Broken Hearts video on how to capture the 70s trend, filmed at Beyond Retro. You can watch it here. And find out more about 70s Style and Design at www.70sstyleanddesign.com

5 comments on “In the Spotlight: 1970s

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