"Pulp are a band with a look. Throughout the 90s, the six members dressed like it was the 70s. They wore enough secondhand spoils to stock a branch of Oxfam – Jarvis Cocker in his now trademark 70s tailoring and NHS specs, sole female member Candida Doyle in her skinny-rib stripy jumpers, hotpants and ankle boots.
"Twenty years after the release of Common People – a No 2 hit in 1995 – the Pulp look is having a moment again. Fashion is looking at the 70s, but not the glamour and gloss of disco. The look now is less the actual 70s, and more the decade seen through the prism of the 90s revival – with the good bits already selected. The video for Common People is this idea in action – the flashing nightclub floor with boys in secondhand suits and girls in lycra and flicked hair. And then there’s the sleeve of Different Class. With its borders and old-family-photograph filter, it predates the Instagram aesthetic by 15 years.
"After seasons of squeaky-clean minimalism, retro is unequivocally back in fashion. Nicolas Ghesquière’s Louis Vuitton shows so far have centred around a sort of late 60s, early 70s uniform of leather jackets, A-line skirts and ankle boots – not that different to what scenester Jo Skinny wears in the Disco 2000 video. Prada’s spring/summer men’s collection was the Pulp look all over: trousers with piping, blazers, bobbly jumpers and candy-striped shirts that looked a bit airline uniform. There were even Jesus sandals.
Cochrane almost immediately dials it back: "let’s not exaggerate this. Pulp’s style influence isn’t overt – I don’t imagine pictures of Jarvis et al are on moodboards at these mega-brands – but it is innate, particularly in a cohort of designers who came of age during the band’s mid-90s pomp. "
(Interesting biographical aside: "I was an extra in the video for Disco 2000. Blink and you’ll miss it, but my secondhand spoils are there to see: the velvet dress and diamante necklace were highly-prized charity shop finds, while my sister, also in the video, is wearing our mum’s leopardprint coat.")
"You couldn’t exactly replicate Pulp’s look but you could make your own version. ... Of course, as with all club trends, fashion eventually cottoned on. It was christened geek chic and, by 1996, Prada’s spring/summer collection was all synthetics, pencil skirts and cardigans, and Plum Sykes was writing about it in Vogue. At the time she reasoned the trend was happening because “when clothes get as chic and classic as they did last season the young and wannabe bohemian find them bland and lacking in individuality. Suddenly ordinariness and bad taste seem refreshing.” Jarvis, meanwhile, was dubbed “king of the nerds”.
And now the moment repeats: "The Pulp look means the 70s as seen by the 90s, tweaked by 2015. It’s the latest example of a revival spiral, but one that, like Pulp’s albums, we’ll no doubt be playing again and again."
So fashion, currently, is repeating its own copying / coopting of a style that in the late 90s was itself a skewiff repeating of the 70s.
Starting as early as the 1970s, fashion journalism pioneered a kind of double-think * that later on would become second-nature in rock criticism over the course of last few decades, which is the idea that the old becomes new, when enough time has elapsed. Inevitably once you've made that move, you open up the possibility of a total collapse of linear / teleological time into an endlessly recursive and involuted pretzel of repetitions of repetitions, reflections of reflections, echoes of echoes, homages to homages. "A revival spiral" as Cochrane niftily puts it (and a line I might well find myself purloining, just like a top fashion designer, in the future)
* I use double-think to reference the way in 1984 history is constantly being rewritten, the records actually physically altered, every time Oceania switches allegiance between Eurasia to Eastasia, or vice versa - so that Oceania has always been at war with that particular empire, always been allied with the other empire. Party members have to revise their own internal archives, i.e. erase the memories in their heads.
Although vastly less sinister, the way fashion annuls the recently-cool as passe, and then anoints the slightly-less-recently passe as cool once again -- it's unsettling. But what's really unsettling is how the mechanism infiltrates one's own perceptions. E.g. the other week, put on a pair of trousers I hadn't worn in several years. Had them on for about 20 minutes and then I had to take them off and put something else on. It was almost physically impossible to keep wearing them - they looked so wrong, felt so bad. Yet only a handful of years ago, they were .... well, not the height of fashion (don't get me wrong, I'm not particularly with-it) but certainly something acceptable to wear in public. But now it was inconceivable that I could go outside in them. More than that, I was uncomfortable being encased in them even indoors, with no eyes observing. They looked wrong. Yet of course they had a great amount of use potential still latent, weren't anywhere close to being worn out. So even someone not very fashion-conscious like myself is affected by processes that occur subliminally, and that make the beautiful into the ugly after an interval of very little time. Or to put that in 1984 lingo, that transform style into unstyle.
Until it's time for unstyle to become style again.
So it's possible, if not inevitable, that those trousers's time will come again. While the trousers I put on to replace them, to feel "all right" again - they will certainly, sooner rather later, feel all wrong.