High fashion in the seventies was a fertile breeding ground for innovative and forward thinking designers. Where the fashion of the sixties had been revolutionary, by the seventies decorative fashion was the theme. Instead of styles either being ‘in’ or ‘out’ as was the case in the sixties; many different looks were on offer. You could go for the country look with tweed, the ethnic look, Hollywood, classic, glamour, nostalgic or pretty. Whatever took your fancy you would find a range to suit. Vogue emphasised this in 1970 by stating, ‘The real star of the fashion picture is the wearer…….. Done right, fashion now is the expression of women who are free, happy, and doing what they want to be doing…’. In 1971 they went even further and broke all previous fashion rules by asking ‘Is bad taste a bad thing?’ They set women free to make their own choices and to break free from the ‘right or wrong’ culture that had existed before. Suddenly ‘anything goes’ could be applied to fashion. It was OK to put items together which would never have been put on the same hanger before. This new attitude didn’t just apply to fashion but also to the ways of displaying it. The American model Lauren Hutton was photographed for Vogue with no make-up and her famous gap-toothed smile. She was labelled the ‘million dollar girl next door’ and it was suddenly OK not to be classically beautiful and individuality in looks as well as fashion began to be valued.
Of course most of us could only drool over the beautiful unobtainable fashion shown on the pages of Vogue; if we were lucky we might find a not too out of date copy in a hairdressers or doctors’ waiting room. Designers were set free to scale imaginative heights and they did. British designer Zandra Rhodes with her multi coloured hair and theatrical makeup was the perfect example of ‘anything goes’. Her fantastical feminine creations with their vibrant colours and diaphanous sleeves floated down the catwalks. Going to her boutique in The Fulham Road was an experience; not just shopping.
Over the Pond Halston reigned with his friends and muses Bianca Jagger and Liza Minnelli and, with his high profile night life at Studio 54 he was the New York fashion icon. He pioneered the ‘less is more’ ethos and his long dresses, or for most of us the High Street copies of them, were the thing to wear to the disco. I remember my first visit to Nero’s, the disco in my home town, and it was expected that women wore long dresses. Even at the ripe age of sixteen I owned three, a blue satin with a keyhole neckline, a gold metallic halter neck and a purple Grecian-style one shouldered sheath. Alas not Halston originals but copies from C & A and Snob but when I put them on I felt invincible! Halston didn’t just design clothes he also designed accessories and perfume. His fold over clutch bag was a highly desired item and a forerunner of the must have designer bags of today.
Our European friends didn’t disappoint either. The Italian label Missoni’s knitwear was the knitwear of the seventies. The contrast between Missoni designs and the baggy, knee length creations our grannies knitted for us couldn’t have been more extreme. Missoni knitted everything; shirts, shorts, dresses, playsuits as well as the expected tops and cardigans. They presented their designs layered one on top of another and introduced a new way to dress. Their zig zag stripes in beautiful colours are instantly recognisable and they continue to produce beautiful distinctive designs today.
When Diane von Furstenburg travelled from Italy to New York in 1970 she carried with her some Jersey shirt-dresses that she had made at Angelo Ferretti’s factory. Vogue immediately latched onto her and she started to make her mark. In 1974 she designed the wrap dress which continues to this day to be a staple in every woman’s wardrobe. Incredibly flattering and easy to wear it makes the wearer feel comfortable and well dressed – not usually two descriptions that go together. This dress sold in the millions and Newsweek called her ‘the most marketable woman since Coco Chanel’. Her silhouettes were simple and flattering to women of all sizes making them hugely popular and commercially successful.
The fashion greats Saint Laurent, Dior and Chanel continued to create amazing designs all through the seventies. Who can forget Saint Laurent’s safari jackets and gipsy look. I was a great fan of this look and loved the tiered skirts and off the shoulder blouses. Biba made the transition from the sixties by opening a huge new fantasy land in Kensington High Street which was to be the first new Department Store opened since the Second World War. Marc Bolan was photographed wearing Biba and Twiggy continued to be the face of Biba. Unfortunately when Barbara Hulanicki and her husband Stephen Fitz-Simon lost control of their creation and were eased out by the suits they quit in 1975 and moved to Brazil: Shortly after the store closed.
The late seventies brought the anarchic Punk Movement and with it the Punk designer Vivienne Westwood. Her bondage trousers and metal encrusted leather was a look adopted by many and along with Doc Martins, facial piercings and spiky hair epitomised the Punk Movement.
Whatever your thing was the seventies provided it and the eclectic fashions continue to be repeated over and over again.