Thursday, April 2, 2015

"a 70s revival seen through the prism of the 90s revival .... the latest example of a revival spiral "

"After seasons of squeaky-clean minimalism, retro is unequivocally back in fashion,asserts Lauren Cochrane in The Guardian.  And she says Pulp are the big influence. 

"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. 


  1. Re: your trouser episode, it is of course possible that they were just a dodgy pair of trousers all along, and you've finally realised it :)

  2. possible!

    but my wife is my stylist so chances are they were reasonably a la mode

    the purest example of this is how baggy jeans and tight jeans oscillate in and out of style. in quite slow extended cycles but still there is a double-think aspect of how inconceivable it now feels to wear baggy jeans.

    although for all i know, they've already come back in and drainpipe tight is out of style

  3. Very true. I vividly remember a particular moment, back in the early '80s, when my fashion conscious pal declared:

    "Flares could come back. They could come back any time."

    I remember it like people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, it was such a shock. It was totally unthinkable! It was like hearing an archbishop say: "Satan's not all that bad, you know." Flares and wide ties were the ENEMY. He'd said this on the very same road (coming out of school - we'd have been 14, 15) that, just days before, we had laughed are arses off at a bloke in brown flares. But sure enough, they bloody did come back. Around the time of Baggy, the *late* '80s, unless I'm misremembering it.

    No sign of baggyness round my way, btw; in fact I've seen a few young fellas in leggings (or 'meggings') just this past week.

  4. Jeans is exactly like the doublethink in 1984 - at the time of wearing, it is inconceivable that jeans could be any other way than the current mode. it would be abhorrent. THE ENEMY as you say

    but of course there's "uneven distribution" of not "the future" (as per Gibson) but uneven distribution of a la mode.

    like your brown flares saddo still around in the early 80s

    and transitional confusion when one mode (residual) coexists with the latest (emergent). so you would see people in the street with the Kanye-approvated skin tight dark denim jeans, but there'd still be lingering types with enormously wide, sagging jeans, hanging below the hips, with most of their boxer short on show

  5. In London anyway, I would say that it's sports wear that's being revived rather than the 70s stuff. Is a return of artificial fibres progressive in some sense?

  6. I know the real story here is the endless recycling of retro fashion, but I'm beginning to get properly angry about the intellectual laziness of using whole decades as some kind of analytical shorthand. How can people talk about the 70s as being one thing? When it started as Hendrix, Doors, Zep, The Dead and ended with Police, Jam, Clash, taking in Bay City Rollers, Sweet, Bowie, Bob Marley, the Slits, Siouxie, ELO, Dark side of the moon, Skynrd, Zappa, Flaming Groovies, Ramones, Gong, Sunny Ade, Devo, Weather Report, (and on and on). And that's just a very short cross section of the music. You can do the same thing with art, literature, clothing, style, politics. There was no there, there.

    I knew people who dressed like proto-reservoir dogs and had a cast off Crombie but their mates were just as likely to have a cheesecloth shirt, bondage trousers or a tea cosy hat and dreads. Sometimes all three at once. Can we really reduce all that to "the 70s"?

  7. i agree Julian. in fact i had meant to quote chunks from the Evening Standard Magazine article on the "Seventies are back!" because it does precisely what you're talking about, lump together a whole bunch of things that n their own time were discrete or actually antagonistic to each other. As time goes by not only does the complexity and internal fracturedness of a decade - the multiple Seventies, Sixties, etc going on simultaneously - get reduced to a narrow set of decade-signifiers, but things that were happening at different ends of the decade, or were in opposition or reaction to each other, get sort of smushed together into a kind of ahistorical puree.

    i wonder what the cliche/stereotyped/smushed-together version of the 2000s or the 2010s will be, in about twenty years from now...

  8. One thing and one thing only: Minecraft