it's that time of the decade again

With the Seventies revival still in full swing, now it's back to the Sixties - again. Genevieve Fox asks, is it all a post-modern tease, or has Nineties culture simply run out of ideas? And below, Monique Roffey revisits the glitz of the Eighties
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
the Sixties are back, complete with fly-eye sunglasses, Jackie O head- scarves and that impeccable species, the Mod. This month's Vogue talks of "Sixties mania", GQ of the Sixties boxey silhouette as the standard of the mid-Nineties. The look is "sharp, lean and Mod-inspired," says Esquire. Welcome to "British youth culture's sartorial gold reserve that is mod," writes The Face. "Think 1960s," urges Marie Claire. And not for the first time.

Mod the look, not the lifestyle, has come back into focus several times since the early Sixties, most notably in 1979 on the backs of Paul Weller and The Jam, which led, in turn, to two-tone and Ska. It resurfaced again in 1985 with Absolute Beginners, but this time the interest was more about Mod roots than Mod music.

Then in May last year the clean-cut, couture-keen boys from Blur, sporting Fred Perrys and Harrington jackets (along with Doc Martens and Levis), released Parklife. Teenage fans went button-down crazy, followed at some distance by the designers who, this season, are offering up versions of tailored and two-tone looks and calling it new, despite the fact that various elements, such as three-button jackets, have long since been incorporated into collections by everyone from Katharine Hamnett to Gianni Versace.

One thing is certain. Mod mania and Sixties mania are nowhere in evidence. Look around you. You just don't see every other woman wearing an optical print shift dress and t-bar patent shoes and every other man in Parka and pudding bowl haircut. What you do see is people of all ages wearing a range of styles and a hotchpotch of designer labels. It is a pluralism which is a far cry from the uniformity of the Sixties, a heterogeneity borne of a media age in which teenagers can cross-reference to other eras like never before and older consumers can pick and choose to create the look that suits them best.

So why all the hype? Is this latest so-called revival just a post-Modern tease? Is it to hide the fact that there is nothing new, partly because there are no sartorial taboos left to break (apart from putting men in skirts - a dismal failure)? Or to disguise the fact that we are being served up a dish of reheated leftovers because the industry has run out of fresh ingredients?

"Today's look is not the same," insists Sixties doyenne Mary Quant. "It is not looking back. It is based on powerful reflection and it is better. We can do things today we couldn't do then in terms of shapes," she says, bringing to mind the designer mantra: improve, improve, improve. "The fabrics are more sympathetic and exciting. It is evolution rather than revolution. I am being recycled! I love it!"

But Mary Quant and the Sixties aren't the only things that are being recycled. Forget Sixties mania; there's revival mania. This season's much- hyped velvet Gucci hipsters are a Seventies throwback, the heavy black fringes on the male models smack of Eighties New Romantics, plus we've got unabashed Fifties pencil skirts for the ladies and Thirties, Forties and Fifties single- and double-breasted jackets for the gents.

The current Sixties revival follows hot on the heels of the Seventies, and in turn the Eighties, glam-funk-disco revival. Classic Sixties couture may be back - for true stylemongers it's a look which, like Mod, never went away - but it's Seventies pop culture - Abba, flares, those sideburns in Match of the Seventies - that keeps us coming back for more, more, more.

The Seventies in turn saw Fifties Rockabillies re-emerging as the Cats, who in turn re-emerged as Psychobillies in the Nineties. The Eighties saw not only New Romantics but Seventies hippies re-emerging as E-popping psychedelic ravers and Grunge, with forward-backward looking Cyberpunks lurking somewhere in the background. Then last year we witnessed a tremble of a punk revival, with Versace turning out black evening dresses held together with safety pins and the emergence of neo-punk bands like S.M.A.S.H, Green Day and the Stranglers-inspired Elastica. The 1950s baby-doll look was thrown in for good measure. How many more revivals can we take? Are we ever going to see something genuinely innovative?

We already are, according to Ashley Heath, fashion editor of The Face. All this cross-fertilisation is creating something new and exciting, at street level anyway. "To say that we are seeing blatant revival is to do modern British people, not just teenagers, a great disservice," he says. "More and more, popular culture becomes an issue of fine detail, of subtle and intelligent discrimination and reinterpretation. There is more reinvention all the time - call it revival if you like - but it is done with intelligence, suss and at particular times, and for different reasons."

One reason is that recycling pays, though it may set purist Mods, like 20-year-old Christopher of Sherry's Mod outfitters off Carnaby Street, cringing on their scooters. "This revival thing pisses me off," he says. "A couple of months back we were being laughed at. There was an article in The Face referring to us as dino- saurs and slagging us off. It totally writ us off and now those people are into it."

Like it or not, recycling is a simple and effective means of reaching across generations. Woo older consumers with nostalgia, teenagers with memories of dressing up just like their big brother or sister once did, those in between with a sense that they are still current, happening. And the dollars roll in. Run with something new and you risk alienating all but the most hapless fashion victims. As Sir Hardy Amies said recently: "Fashion changes far more slowly than everyone thinks." The rapid turnover of looks, created by fashion editors and stylists, just makes it look like it's in overdrive.

Hussein Chalayan, a 25-year-old radical and off-the-wall designer, understands the compulsion to look backwards, although his designs, which use industrial techniques, paper and techno fabrics, look resolutely forwards.

"There is comfort from doing things that are quite retro," he says. "Things in the past have always been seen as more beautiful and feminine. It does take a lot of guts to design something different."

But according to Vogue, the so-called Sixties revival is not "just a dose of nostalgia". "Sixties clothes were all about super-simple shapes and the Nineties ideal is very similar." Older generations will doubtless buy into the less-is-more, pared down look, what is being described as the "new minimalism", "conservative chic", "classic chic" (we'll overlook the fact that we had "new chic" last year). But for the 16 to 25-year- old clubbers, who shop at Name Workshop, a hip boutique in London's Covent Garden, they'll mix and match their look.

"Not every designer has gone Sixties mad," says owner Geoff Hughes. "There are no mini skirts after all.'' Designs are futuristic, spacey, he says. Such as? "White nylon jumpers with shoulder pads. It's the Helmut Lang influence still. Very techno," he explains, adding: "It's a Bianca Jagger, classy, Seventies feel."

Combing different looks may be a jaded quest for newness. But why, 30 years after Couregges' white, futuristic designs - a direct response to the excitement of the first moon landing - and Coco Chanel put women in trousers, are we still faced with white nylon (albeit improved) jumpsuits and silver boots as our vision of the future?

Perhaps it's because the future - long represented by 2001 - is nearly upon us and all we've got to show for ourselves is a digitial revolution and a colourless cyberspace, a prospect which sends Cyberpunks into a sartorial frenzy, but leaves the rest of us reaching for our twinsets. Maybe the Mods remain the true Modernists after all. But signing up is more difficult than securing a seat in the A-row of a Prada fashion show. Your credentials must be perfect.

"The designers don't know what Mod is about," says 22-year-old skinhead Jeanette Flood of Merc, a Mod Mecca off Carnaby Street. "Blur don't know what Mod is about. None of them do. This so-called revival - it's hilarious."

life. Teenage fans went button-down crazy, followed at some distance by the designers who, this season, are offering up versions of tailored and two-tone looks and calling it new, despite the fact that various elements, such as three-button jackets, have long since been incorporated into collections by everyone from Katharine Hamnett to Gianni Versace.

One thing is certain. Mod mania and Sixties mania are nowhere in evidence. Look around you. You just don't see every other woman wearing an optical print shift dress and t-bar patent shoes and every other man in Parka and pudding bowl haircut. What you do see is people of all ages wearing a range of styles and a hotchpotch of designer labels. It is a pluralism which is a far cry from the uniformity of the Sixties, a heterogeneity borne of a media age in which teenagers can cross-reference to other eras like never before and older consumers can pick and choose to create the look that suits them best.

So why all the hype? Is this latest so-called revival just a post-Modern tease? Is it to hide the fact that there is nothing new, partly because there are no sartorial taboos left to break (apart from putting men in skirts - a dismal failure)? Or to disguise the fact that we are being served up a dish of reheated leftovers because the industry has run out of fresh ingredients?

"Today's look is not the same," insists Sixties doyenne Mary Quant. "It is not looking back. It is based on powerful reflection and it is better. We can do things today we couldn't do then in terms of shapes," she says, bringing to mind the designer mantra: improve, improve, improve. "The fabrics are more sympathetic and exciting. It is evolution rather than revolution. I am being recycled! I love it!"

But Mary Quant and the Sixties aren't the only things that are being recycled. Forget Sixties mania; there's revival mania. This season's much- hyped velvet Gucci hipsters are a Seventies throwback, the heavy black fringes on the male models smack of Eighties New Romantics, plus we've got unabashed Fifties pencil skirts for the ladies and Thirties, Forties and Fifties single- and double-breasted jackets for the gents.

The current Sixties revival follows hot on the heels of the Seventies, and in turn the Eighties, glam-funk-disco revival. Classic Sixties couture may be back - for true stylemongers it's a look which, like Mod, never went away - but it's Seventies pop culture - Abba, flares, those sideburns in Match of the Seventies - that keeps us coming back for more, more, more.

The Seventies in turn saw Fifties Rockabillies re-emerging as the Cats, who in turn re-emerged as Psychobillies in the Nineties. The Eighties saw not only New Romantics but Seventies hippies re-emerging as E-popping psychedelic ravers and Grunge, with forward-backward looking Cyberpunks lurking somewhere in the background. Then last year we witnessed a tremble of a punk revival, with Versace turning out black evening dresses held together with safety pins and the emergence of neo-punk bands like S.M.A.S.H, Green Day and the Stranglers-inspired Elastica. The 1950s baby-doll look was thrown in for good measure. How many more revivals can we take? Are we ever going to see something genuinely innovative?

We already are, according to Ashley Heath, fashion editor of The Face. All this cross-fertilisation is creating something new and exciting, at street level anyway. "To say that we are seeing blatant revival is to do modern British people, not just teenagers, a great disservice," he says. "More and more, popular culture becomes an issue of fine detail, of subtle and intelligent discrimination and reinterpretation. There is more reinvention all the time - call it revival if you like - but it is done with intelligence, suss and at particular times, and for different reasons."

One reason is that recycling pays, though it may set purist Mods, like 20-year-old Christopher of Sherry's Mod outfitters off Carnaby Street, cringing on their scooters. "This revival thing pisses me off," he says. "A couple of months back we were being laughed at. There was an article in The Face referring to us as dino- saurs and slagging us off. It totally writ us off and now those people are into it."

Like it or not, recycling is a simple and effective means of reaching across generations. Woo older consumers with nostalgia, teenagers with memories of dressing up just like their big brother or sister once did, those in between with a sense that they are still current, happening. And the dollars roll in. Run with something new and you risk alienating all but the most hapless fashion victims. As Sir Hardy Amies said recently: "Fashion changes far more slowly than everyone thinks." The rapid turnover of looks, created by fashion editors and stylists, just makes it look like it's in overdrive.

Hussein Chalayan, a 25-year-old radical and off-the-wall designer, understands the compulsion to look backwards, although his designs, which use industrial techniques, paper and techno fabrics, look resolutely forwards.

"There is comfort from doing things that are quite retro," he says. "Things in the past have always been seen as more beautiful and feminine. It does take a lot of guts to design something different."

But according to Vogue, the so-called Sixties revival is not "just a dose of nostalgia". "Sixties clothes were all about super-simple shapes and the Nineties ideal is very similar." Older generations will doubtless buy into the less-is-more, pared down look, what is being described as the "new minimalism", "conservative chic", "classic chic" (we'll overlook the fact that we had "new chic" last year). But for the 16 to 25-year- old clubbers, who shop at Name Workshop, a hip boutique in London's Covent Garden, they'll mix and match their look.

"Not every designer has gone Sixties mad," says owner Geoff Hughes. "There are no mini skirts after all.'' Designs are futuristic, spacey, he says. Such as? "White nylon jumpers with shoulder pads. It's the Helmut Lang influence still. Very techno," he explains, adding: "It's a Bianca Jagger, classy, Seventies feel."

Combing different looks may be a jaded quest for newness. But why, 30 years after Couregges' white, futuristic designs - a direct response to the excitement of the first moon landing - and Coco Chanel put women in trousers, are we still faced with white nylon (albeit improved) jumpsuits and silver boots as our vision of the future?

Perhaps it's because the future - long represented by 2001 - is nearly upon us and all we've got to show for ourselves is a digitial revolution and a colourless cyberspace, a prospect which sends Cyberpunks into a sartorial frenzy, but leaves the rest of us reaching for our twinsets. Maybe the Mods remain the true Modernists after all. But signing up is more difficult than securing a seat in the A-row of a Prada fashion show. Your credentials must be perfect.

"The designers don't know what Mod is about," says 22-year-old skinhead Jeanette Flood of Merc, a Mod Mecca off Carnaby Street. "Blur don't know what Mod is about. None of them do. This so-called revival - it's hilarious."

Comments