A guide to the 1970s

A guide to the 1970s

Think the Seventies was all about the maxi-dress? Think again. From slick pantsuits to the delicate crepe dresses of Yves Saint Laurent, via the punky pins of rockers’ garbs, this diverse decade has influenced a roll-call of designers for autumn.
Why are Seventies styles all over the stores right now and, judging by the current round of catwalk shows, staying around next season? Given the original styles were so diverse, there is no short answer. But try these explanations for starters.

Silhouettes and soundtracks
It’s easier to spell out the vast range of looks through sounds of the Seventies. Think Isaac Hayes’s theme from Shaft ; now think Slade; now the Jackson Five; Abba; Rod Stewart; and Bob Marley. If you are old enough, was it Ziggy Stardust segueing into The Sex Pistols for you? Or David Cassidy to Bruce Springsteen? T-Rex to the Jam? Cher’s Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves to The Hustle ?
“The fundamental difference now is the focus on luxe,” says Bridget Cosgrave, fashion director of Matches. Her Seventies memory? “My mother wafting around in silk kaftans to Donna Summer’s I Feel Love .”

It’s all about your mother
The most influential collection of the Seventies – and as important now – was Yves Saint Laurent’s reinvention of memories of his mother, Lucienne, in the crêpe dresses, palazzo pantsuits and platform sandals she wore in the Algerian sun when he was a boy in the Forties. Unfortunately, those styles reminded fashion scribes at his 1971 show of the Nazi occupation of Paris. But just as the old guard hated the collection, the young, like Paloma Picasso, adored it. Those silhouettes were worn by Linda McCartney, the late mother of Stella McCartney, who is in turn now influenced by her mother. As is Phoebe Philo by hers.
“It’s striking how a crop of principally British, thirtysomething designers are re-exploring the easy, chic clothing their mothers once wore,” says Penny Martin, editor-in-chief of the trendy magazine, The Gentlewoman . “Several of them – Phoebe Philo at Céline and Stella McCartney, for instance – are now working mothers themselves and recognise the need for clothes that don’t make them look idiotic. The palette – caramels, flesh tones, pragmatic black and white – as well as generous silhouettes inspire confidence and warmth in those wearing them. Women genuinely look and feel great in these clothes.”

Teenage kicks
Many designers were teenagers in the Seventies, and you never forget your first fashion love. A 17-year-old Tom Ford moved to New York City just as Halston was at his height. At Ford’s womenswear comeback this September, “the ambience of the showing was pure Halston,” says Kate Betts, contributing editor to Time .
Marc Jacobs was familiar with the best designs of the Seventies; aged 15, he started working at Charivari, then Manhattan’s most cutting-edge boutique. Meanwhile, Stefano Gabbana was yearning to afford more than just the stickers at Milan’s Fiorucci. Albert Kriemler now helms his family’s label, Akris. When he was a teen, his father was producing clothes for the ultimate Seventies label, Ted Lapidus – clothes which influence the slim silhouettes in mustard and burgundy in Kriemler’s collections today.
First love never dies for the shopper, too. In 1976, Mimma Viglezio looked so great in her Lee Cooper burgundy corduroy flares, she won the “Miss Arse” competition at her Swiss high school. “It really was called that,” insists the former executive vice-president of Gucci Group, who is now a leading luxury world consultant, adding, “I still love high-waisted flares. When you are not 16 any more and your tummy is not quite so flat, a high waist is more flattering than risking a muffin top!”

Karen Walker, the designer, was in Auckland rather than New York when CBGB and Studio 54 were at their zenith. “But I love the Seventies as the last age of underground hedonism,” she says. Although the influence of punk has been enormous – there were studs, leather and zips at Balmain last week, set against the sound of Sid Vicious doing My Way – it was a fashion blip at the time. In 1977, Zandra Rhodes somehow made safety pins sweet, but real punks wore Millets and DIY, which is why the rare few who could afford Westwood/McClaren items have since sold them for a fortune.

The thrill of the old
It was in the Seventies that fashion’s looking-backward-to-go-forward dynamic kicked off. In 1971, Cecil Beaton curated an exhibition at the V&A called Fashion, An Anthology , which celebrated styles of previous decades and had the knock-on effect of making wearing vintage smart.
“Today, dealers charge up to £100 for rare and beautiful clothes in perfect condition,” wrote a surprised Georgina Howell in 1975. “Now, in London, you can find a whole range of fashion within a stone’s throw – tweedy, ethnic, Hollywood, classic, glamorous, executive, nostalgic…” Should you be in search of Seventies originals, you’re too late; designer scouts long ago scooped up “inspirational” YSL pie-crust cuff satin blouses. Look for lesser-known labels such as Stephen Burrows or bang-on-the-ethnic-trend Mexicana – Princess Anne packed a Mexicana gown for her 1973 honeymoon.

Celluloid heroines
So to answer how to get the look, well, which look exactly? To narrow it down, you could rent the right films. Everything Julie Christie wears in Don’t Look Now (1973) looks right. Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), although set in 1937, features Faye Dunaway looking very Céline. If you want a Gallic twist, try the early work of French actress Dominique Sanda.
Then there is Lauren Hutton, who began the Seventies as the multi-million-dollar model girl next door, and ended it looking as if she was about to be crushed by the hard-edged Eighties. American Gigolo (made in 1978, released in 1980) is best remembered because Richard Gere’s wardrobe kick-started Giorgio Armani’s dominance in menswear, but it’s Hutton’s flicky hair, blouses and leg-elongating nude mules that are so very now.

If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It

Copyright 2005 Time Inc.
Time Magazine
March 28, 2005


LENGTH: 774 words

HEADLINE: If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It;
To fight low-price chains that pick up the latest trends, designers are upping the ante

BYLINE:  Marion Hume/ Paris

Karl Lagerfeld is used to being imitated. “Chanel called it flattery,” he shrugs. “For me, it’s good because it pushes me to things they can’t copy.” By Chanel, he means Coco, the founder of the label Lagerfeld has headed for 22 years. “They” are spry fashion chains such as Zara and H&M, whose skill at reproducing luxury looks at affordable prices is driving designers to more-difficult-to-emulate extravagance in their ready-to-wear collections. At the recent shows in Milan and Paris, even the most jaded front-row fashionistas leaned forward for a closer look at the swaths of excess. On Chanel’s runway, there were tweeds that on closer inspection proved to be feather-light embroidery on tulle; at Dior, there was a flight jacket, loosely inspired by The Aviator, in ruby-red mink trimmed with crocodile, and a trench coat mixing the same exotic materials. “Will we sell the crocodile?” asks Sydney Toledano, Dior’s CEO. “Of course. If you are competing based on production and cost, it’s tough. If you go with a more unique position, then you can lead. You need to watch the top line, not only the bottom line.”

Right now, the worst place to be in the fashion business is in the middle. High-end labels are holding their ground, but sophisticated yet price-conscious clothing chains at the lower end of the market have partly usurped spots once occupied by moderately priced lines trading more on quality than trendiness. And the upstarts’ sprightly styles, often pinched from designer labels, are forcing the big brands to rely on craftsmanship and extravagant materials to grab their customers’ attention. “What’s driving our business is the ‘Bang! I’ll have it’ impulse that only occurs if something is special,” says Fendi CEO Michael Burke. “The Fendi customer doesn’t need us for simple.” Hence the house’s new evening bag, a reimagining of last season’s big, squashy Spy, so-called because of the secret compartments in the front flap and the handle. For the fall-winter 2005-06 season, Spy can be spotted in a variety of incarnations, each signaling its exclusivity with a different twist on conspicuous expense, like rich purple velvet lined in tulle and trimmed with pearls. And at Fendi’s European stores alone, the Spy waiting list is now 100-strong.

Lagerfeld is laying on the luxury too. “Last season we had a material that cost 100 euros [$134] a meter,” he says. And that was for ready-to-wear. But he is playing both ends of the market, designing couture and ready-to-wear for Chanel as well as collaborating with H&M, where last fall he brought his cachet to the masses with collections of T shirts, pants, coats, blazers and sequined jackets, some retailing for under $50. “The most inexpensive things can be well designed,” he says.  “Instead of paying too much money for something not exciting, you should buy two or three things for fun from H&M and, if you have the money, a Chanel jacket.” H&M stores reported lines around the block when Lagerfeld’s collection arrived.

Maureen Chiquet, president and COO of Chanel Inc., is a walking example of this style. “I like to wear jeans and a Juicy Couture tank top with a special piece,” she says. “Head to toe in a fancy outfit doesn’t look modern. And price is no longer the determinant of style.” That from a senior exec at Chanel? “Well, you either want something superexpensive with beautiful detailing, or you want something that’s hip and disposable. What does the well-made, kind of nice stuff in the middle mean anymore?”

Not much when it comes to the Dolce & Gabbana customer. “When we offer a shoe in leather and also in snake or eel, the first to sell will be the most expensive,” says Stefano Gabbana, whose idea of casual is jeans trimmed with Astrakhan fur. “But our customer is also practical,” says Domenico Dolce. He points to the new Dolce & Gabbana fur coat that is made of mink blossoms hand-stitched onto chiffon. “She wants it to be light,” he explains. On the back of such pragmatism, Dolce & Gabbana revenue is up 20% this year, to about $936 million.

The good news for fashion is that there are still plenty of big spenders out there. In Paris, Colette–the must-visit store for fashion fans–is packed. A woman spots a Russian sable scarf for $15,400 and buys it on the spot. Marko Matysik, the Anglo-German designer who supplies scarves to the store, sees the purchase and isn’t surprised. “There were two of my chinchilla scarves here the other day, and they’ve both sold too,” he says–for $14,400 each. They’re the perfect accessory for that $10 tank top.


Autore magazine
By Marion Hume

How’s this for being vindicated? You were seventeen, with a baby born out of wedlock and the small town in rural Washington State  – which, up to that point, was your whole world, had shunned you. You were a write-off, a failure. Now here you are, thirty five years later, with your baby all grown up with children of her own and your second child (born 20 years after the first) out in the audience at the biggest television show on earth. You’re up on stage and you are holding up your Oscar.

Before meeting Colleen Atwood, who is one of the best-known costume designers working today, these are the things you might know:  That she won the Oscar for “Chicago” in 2002 (and recalling how slick Queen Latifah, Catherine-Zeta Jones and Richard Gere looked, you’ll agree it was richly deserved); and that she has been nominated for an Academy Award four other times – for “Little Women”, “Beloved”, “Sleepy Hollow” and “Lemony Snickert’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”. In Hollywood, five Academy Award nominations puts you in rare company indeed.

What you can find out, if you surf the net, is that Atwood is doing a contemporary movie next; Tom Cruise’s “Mission Impossible III”, although it is the project she has just completed, “Memoirs of a Geisha”, that brings she and I together today. But what you won’t expect is her warmth, her openness, her candour and her life’s journey. Having supper with Colleen Atwood at Shutters on the Beach, (the movie hotel of choice in Santa Monica), feels like going out to dinner with an old friend.

We’re here to talk about pearls, which, it soon transpires, Atwood adores as much as I do. Indeed, she insisted that the pearl jewellery worn by the mannered beauties in “Memoirs of a Geisha” would be real, not paste – an unusual choice in movie-world. given that meant added stress of security on set.  “I know people think I’m crazy, but I often use real jewellery on my leading actors,” Atwood says. “I never tell people and no one thinks the jewellery is real on a movie set, but it looks more spectacular.”

For “Geisha”, she knew she needed the world’s most lustrous pearls because the gems were an intrinsic part of geisha life. “They were symbols of a certain beauty which was really subtle.  You’d never find jewellery used boastfully as in the West, but instead as a clever note, a hint. And I think there’s something so beautiful about a pearl. There’s nothing like it.”

To refresh on “Geisha”, it is based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Golden and it has taken many years to come to the screen, hindered in part by an American man’s portrayal of the high art of the geisha as akin to that of the high-class prostitute, which angered the people of Kyoto so much, they vowed not to allow a movie to be filmed there. (Only the wide shots of temples in the current movie, directed by “Chicago’s” Rob Marshall, were filmed in Japan). Further controversy has been sparked by the casting of  Li Gong, Zizi Zhang and Michele Yeoh, none of whom are Japanese, in the principle roles, although Atwood quickly makes it clear she’s not going to be drawn into that. “I would defy anyone to come up with better actresses. And no one mentions that Kaori Momoi is a phenomenal actress and very well known in Japan.”

As for the costumes, they are Japanese as filtered through the demands of the modern-day audience. Atwood’s task is always, she says, to create, “an impression of a time, a fantasy.”  While in the fast five months of prep time allowed for “Geisha”, she immersed herself in cultural references of 1920s to 1940s Japan, visited Kyoto where she was surprised by the enormous generosity of traditional weavers of kimono and obi (the belts which hold the kimono in place), she stresses that her job is not that of historian. “This isn’t a documentary. It’s a tribute to the period.” She readily admits she’s made the kimono, which is bulky to Western eyes, more sleek and sexy.

It is said that the key to costume design comes from beneath. Get the underpinnings right, and the rest will follow (actresses trussed up in corsets will, necessarily, behave differently from their modern selves.) Here “Geisha” provided an unusual challenge. What to do when, traditionally, there was no underwear? “They don’t wear foundations as we know in the West,” Atwood concurs, “and the Japanese ideal is a straight line, with the bust flattened by the obi, whereas we definitely bowed out of that one! We were dying to do a sexy geisha underwear sequence,  with obi-wrapped bras which could start a fashion trend. Alas, it didn’t make it into the movie!”

As for fashion being influenced by movies, Atwood says she hopes “Geisha” will sparks trends, just as “Chicago” did. “I’d love to see Galliano’s take on Geisha. I loved his fur pirates, I thought they were awesome. People who are designing fashion will have a great time revisiting Japan in a certain way.”

Fashionable tonight in a low-key Californian way, Atwood is wearing flat sandals, pants, a dark shirt with her dark hair pulled back, perhaps to showcase perfect pearl earrings. Clearly a very stylish woman, it was fashion that was Atwood’s bridge from one life to the next. The backstory is this. After having her daughter, Tracy (Her second daughter is called Charlotte) she and Tracy’s father did marry, although they divorced by the time Atwood turned twenty. When Atwood’s ex-husband married again and was raising a young family, Tracy lived much of the time with her dad.

In order to survive, Colleen Atwood worked the graveyard shift in a french fry factory. But the daughter of a farmer father and a teacher mother had been brought up to study hard (her two sisters are an environmentalist and a school administrator) and she read literature and studied art as she could (she also won art scholarships to college but was forced by her economic situation to turn them down). Eventually she got a job in “a very posh department store in Seattle” (a former branch of Marshall Fields, which no longer exists), where her artistic talent and sense of style were noted. She was promoted until she became a personal shopper, looking after rich women who would travel from all points of the USA. Before she’d reached her thirties, Atwood had, as she puts it, “met and known every kind of person, from a toothless woman on a conveyor belt to the richest people in the country shopping for designer clothing to wear to The White House.”

“I moved to New York in 1979,” she continues. “By then, I knew I wanted to work in the film business and I’d applied for a summer seminar at NYU – although I was 28 and everyone else was 19, and they wanted to make movies I wasn’t interested in.” A chance meeting of a friend of a friend, literally on a street corner, lead to Atwood discovering that “Ragtime” was in production. She volunteered to help for free and when someone didn’t turn up she got to work in a hot Manhattan loft all summer. This led to lowly paid work then, at last, a jig doing costuming for “Saturday Night Live.” “I’ve had two totally different lives,” Atwood reminisces and her past helps, she says, when it comes to striking a bond with actors, many of whom have themselves known tough times.

The night she won her Oscar, Atwood had much to celebrate. Her elder daughter, Tracy, a hairstylist with a successful business and a happy marriage to a pharmacist, who was at home with Atwood’s grandchildren. Tracy is, says her mother, “a miracle to me. When you have a child when you are 17, you don’t know what you’re doing, but luckily, she’s amazing.” Atwood’s younger daughter, Charlotte, was by her side at the awards show, “and she was determined to go to all the parties – until she fell asleep in the car on the way to Vanity Fair, so we went back to the hotel and put on our pyjamas and had hot chocolate with my sisters, who were there waiting and we all had our pictures taken with Oscar.” Atwood, who describes herself as “a quiet person,” remembers it as “a great night.”

But fame has a way of smoking things out of the woodwork. After the Oscar win, a letter arrived, “from this girl who I sort of knew in high
school, because in a small town, you know everybody. She’d written a
screenplay and she’d found Jesus. And then she wrote, “I’m really sorry that I voted against letting you graduate with the class,” and I’m like what? I had a child in May and they graduated in June and I was long gone before that, because pregnant girls weren’t allowed to attend school. But I did correspondence courses to finish my education. And that was how I found out that my class, my friends, had been asked whether I should graduate and they voted against me. I went their graduation and I’d always wondered why my mother’s behaviour was so odd. She was so upset. Until that letter came, I never understood why she was so mad. Because she knew and she didn’t tell me because she didn’t want me to be upset.”

Atwood admits that even now, she feels distinctly uncomfortable after so much as half a day in her old home town. What kept her on her path was, she says, a thirst for knowledge. “I’m not well educated because of my early life, but I always studied”. Now? “I have a sense of history, but maybe not being precious about it might be an advantage over someone who might have a more serious approach. I’m not scared to interpret, to change things.”

An anchor through her toughest times, was, she reveals, the novels of Charles Dickens, because, “he’s so brilliant at describing how people really wear clothes; the man with his new waistcoat, ten-year-old shoes and worn pants, and how the waistcoat made him feel as he walked down the street. There’s such texture to the narrative, such detail, yet it gives you a lot of latitude because you realise everyone isn’t wearing the exact thing from any period, they are mixing with what they already have, using what they’ve got and that gives it integrity.”

A life as textured as any Dickens novel has certainly given integrity to the award-winning work of Colleen Atwood.

“Memoirs of a Geisha” which features Autore pearls, opens later this year.