Even though our beloved matriarch Anna Wintour claims that “fashion is all about looking forward”, we tend to do the exact opposite (at least to some extent). This season the decade of excess and eccentricity is being revived in its most unapologetic form, not only on the runway, but also throughout popular culture.
Considering that progression is a fundamental function in fashion, it may seem ironic – and even paradoxical – that retrospection is such a reoccurring element season-to-season. However, fashion as a visual art form is equally rooted in concepts of idealism and romanticism. Keeping this in mind, our obsession with the past, and the desire to improve upon it, becomes clearer.
The 1980s were a period of tension and contradiction between tastes and generations. This is why today we generally reference one of two branches: the first one being the excessively lush, bourgeois silhouette, determined by contemporary high fashion and referencing the 18th century; the second one being the rebellious, younger, aggravated approach to style and identity, determined greatly by subcultures such as punks and skinheads.
Two of the most influential creators today have respectively reintroduced, and redeveloped, these different ideals.
Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain, has based his renovation of the prestigious French house not only on heritage, but also on the first of these eighties looks. This autumn he flirted with the 1980s’ idea of female power dressing, by dressing his Balmain army in sexy creations, with clearly marked waists and sharp shoulders, using shiny, hard materials that alluded to armour.
Rousteing’s muses are particularly interesting considering this context, as they all embody visions of sexuality, power and, above all, individuality – all of which are in fitting with the ideals of the 80s. Kim Kardashian and Rihanna are both confident and indulgent women, aware of their power, yet not afraid to display their femininity. They have taken the ideal woman of the 80s, but left behind her domestic guilt and desire to please.
Representing the second major style movement of the 1980s is Hedi Slimane, creative director at Saint Laurent Paris. His mannequins were modelled after Siouxsie Sioux, with ripped tights, torn prom dresses and heavy eye makeup. The collection is constructed through a series of conventional vulgarities, maybe commenting on our notions of taste in the same way that its inspirations did thirty years ago.
The queer club kids of today are likewise currently influenced by this look. Looking at snapshots from underground parties in Europe’s most culturally influential capitals today, one quickly discovers a pattern of vintage 80s wear – brocade, pattern shirts, acrylic lace and lingerie – paired with heavily painted faces and kitsch jewellery. Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan also plays with this romantic decadence in his incredibly scenic works such as Mommy and Laurence Anyways.
Perhaps to our parents’ horror, it appears that the 80s renaissance isn’t over quite yet. So if you do have a particular weak spot for anything ‘larger-than-life’ I encourage you to splurge. You never know when blue eye shadow and shoulder pads will come back into vogue again.
Photography: Alan Light via Wikimedia Commons, NOWFASHION.com.