Essays

The Swinging Sixties

I am so here for this swinging sixties revival that is sweeping the nation(s). Fuelled by the designer brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton who, last season, sent models down the catwalk in looks that could only be inspired by the decade, 60s style is arguably the biggest trend of autumn/winter 2014. The fast-fashion shops have now jumped firmly aboard with the trend also, meaning that the rest of us will of course follow like flies to honey. I don’t mean to make it seem like I think that the general public have the same IQ as a fly or are incapable of making their own decisions; I merely think that we will all own something sixties inspired whether we realise it or not. Be it the shape of your dress or the length of your skirt, things that originated in the 60s are still very relevant today. So much happened in the 60s. It was a decade of change, filled with many significant pop-culture events that have shaped the way we dress today. The icons of the 60s remain the icons of today and are still continually referenced.

L-R: Gucci, Valentino, Miu Miu, Louis Vuitton All photos from FW14 season.

L-R: Gucci, Valentino, Miu Miu, Louis Vuitton
All photos from FW14 season.

For this reason, it is easy to understand why designers look back at the decade so fondly. In a post I made before, (the one about the M&S version of the Gucci coat), I said that I have seen many people disappointed by the fact that some designers are doing collections inspired by the past instead of looking forward. Continuing with this thought, I admit that I understand where this criticism comes from. Fashion is about moving forward. It is about challenging the norms and redefining them. But not all designers are as conceptual as this and not every collection that is made necessarily needs to be this groundbreaking, new idea. Yes, fashion is about creation. It is about all things fresh and new and it thrives on innovation so when designers look back and borrow from the past, it will obviously be criticised by at least one person. However, we must also remember that fashion is a business. Whilst it is so easy to lose yourself in the romance of it all, be seduced by the surrealism and crave designs that are “more art, less commercial”, we must also remember that designers are there to sell clothes that can be worn. Fashion designers are hired to create clothes that will sell, especially if they are employed by the big companies like LVMH and Kering. The designers have less freedom to go wild and create whatever they envision and if they do, and it doesn’t sell, they will likely be reprimanded. Looking back at something that has previously been popular is much more safe.

André Courrèges "Space Age"

André Courrèges “Space Age”

Safety aside, it is easy to forget that even the designers who we consider innovative have likely taken inspiration from something in the past: Some designers of the 60s even looked back in time for ideas. Historical events, art and museum exhibitions, films, literature, paintings, travel; you name it and I’m sure at least one designer has referenced it. I mean, how often do you think up something completely new that has never been done by anyone at any time before? The world is so saturated with ideas that it is pretty unlikely that anyone will create anything brand new now. Anyway, my point being, fashion is not an industry that exists on its own. It is not a dream land where designers think up ideas whilst asleep and translate them into clothes when wakened, unless you’re Karl Lagerfeld who never switches off. Fashion relies on the outside world for inspiration. It is an industry that is affected by literally everything; political, social, economic, technological, and, even, environmental factors all have an influence. The 60s was a period of significant social change and that is what the designers pick up on. And of course, fashion moves in cycles. Everything is repeated eventually.

More André Courrèges

More André Courrèges

The sixties is a beloved decade for many and that is probably why the styles are repeated, why it is so often cited as inspiration for collections. It symbolises a period of change and liberation. Style-wise, hems got shorter, hues became highlighter-bright and hair got higher. Trousers for women became the norm, a-line mini dresses were common and go-go boots were the footwear of choice for many. The “mods” ruled London’s fashion scene with bands like The Who and The Kinks being the poster kids of the movement. Basically, the sixties was everything that the 50s was not: fun, free, and unrestricted.

The 60s were a period of rebellion, shying away from the glamour and rules of the past. It was the first time that the young people on the streets dictated what was happening in fashion. Until then, the big designers in, mainly, Paris made the clothes and the rest of us followed. Instead of the rest of us copying the designers, it was the other way around. For once, designers looked to the public for inspiration.

L-R: Yves Saint Laurent's iconic "Mondrian" dress, Paco Rabanne dress, Jackie Kennedy in Emilio Pucci headscarf

L-R: Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic “Mondrian” dress, Paco Rabanne dress, Jackie Kennedy in Emilio Pucci headscarf

In 1964, the mini skirt was invented. Mary Quant, the designer behind the new hemline, created a style that would soon be favoured by women all over the western world. Gone were the long skirts of the past and in came the new, flirty lengths. Parisian designers soon followed. Some big names from that time period were André Courrèges (who also claims to have invented the mini-skirt and is thought of as the one who introduced it to France), Guy Laroche, Paco Rabanne, Emilio Pucci and Yves Saint Laurent; all of whom are remembered today, although their fashion houses have all turned out very differently.

Out of the names listed, the actual designers had various different fates post-1960s. André Courrèges is probably best known for his Space Age collection which featured geometric shaped dresses in plastics like PVC and also metal. Whilst the collection was highly publicised, the average clientele of a high-fashion house (ie. rich, older women) were unlikely to buy into it. Much of his work is now the stuff of museums, and ,I think but don’t quote me on it, the V&A in London houses some of it. According to his Wikipedia page, as of 2012, 50% of his income comes from licenses and now he is mainly known for his perfumes and luggage. Guy Laroche continued to work in fashion and is credited as one of the first designers to create separates for the American market. He died in 1989 and as of 2007, his fashion house has been headed by Marcel Marongiu. Paco Rabanne, to me, means fragrance. Perfumes and aftershaves are continuously advertised under his name whereas his fashion is less well known. In the 60s he earned himself the nickname of l’enfant terrible, meaning terrible child, a name later enjoyed by Jean-Paul Gaultier and often given to the late Lee Alexander McQueen. Out of the five designers aforementioned, I’d say only two of their names really mean much, fashion wise, to people today.

Models in the 60s

Models in the 60s

Emilio Pucci, a brand that when I was younger I thought was a funny knock-off of Gucci, is still going strong today (well, the brand, the designer unfortunately died in 1992). As a brand, Emilio Pucci is synonymous with the brightly coloured, geometric prints that can be found on scarves to shirts and everything in-between. Even Marilyn Monroe was a fan, she was reportedly laid to rest in one of his dresses. The line is now designed by Peter Dundas and is often a firm favourite of fashion week in Milan. Despite the success that Emilio Pucci’s brand enjoys, the real star of the bunch is, naturally, Yves Saint Laurent.

Everyone knows Yves Saint Laurent, even just the name. The three letters, YSL, can sell just about anything and are instantly recognisable. Yves is widely regarded as one of the greatest designers of all time and we now know just as much about his personal life as we do his designs. He is widely known for introducing the tuxedo suit, Le Smoking, to women, democratising fashion by introducing a ready-to-wear line along with his haute couture collections, and being influenced by places such as Morocco and other non-European places. Yves himself designed the couture collections until 2002 when he decided to cease creating haute couture. The ready-to-wear line has been designed by various designers in the past including Alber Elbaz, Tom Ford, Stefano Pilati and now Hedi Slimane (who renamed the line Saint Laurent Paris, a move which sparked much outrage).

One of Grace Coddington's modelling shots

One of Grace Coddington’s modelling shots

So if these are the big names of the 60s, how do they relate to what is happening right now? Well it is these designers who are often credited with creating the looks that now define the sixties as a decade and an era in fashion. There are also an abundance of influential figures who now represent the decade in pop-culture: Jean Shrimpton, Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot, Twiggy, Veruschka, Edie Sedgwick, Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Diana Ross. The list is inexhaustible. Naturally, we love to look back and reminisce about how wonderful things were in the past; whether they actually were or not. To me, the 1960s seems to have been a fun time to be alive. There was a lot going on and it must’ve been interesting to live through something that would really change the way we dress forever. Grace Coddington, in her memoir Grace, describes being a model in the 1960s and the life that she was living in London and later Paris at the time. I’d say her being fully immersed in that lifestyle has probably taught her more about fashion than any book ever could, hence why she is so good at what she does.

The iconic Veruschka

The iconic Veruschka

Even if we are looking back with rose-tinted glasses, the 60s was a great time period for fashion. It is clear to see where the designers took their inspiration from the past season and crystal clear why they did it. Furthermore, as designers aim to sell, it makes sense to go with something that is almost a fool-proof hit. With the tv series Mad Men making the fashion of the decade popular again, and relevant to this generation, the 60s craze has been everywhere for the past few years. But really, the 60s were belonged to the youth and the youth of today is who designers really resonate with now. Fashion is meant to be young and fresh; if that means going back in time to become modern, however paradoxical that may sound, so be it. Embrace it.

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