Monday, March 13, 2006

What's With That 80's Show?


PARIS - THE somber threads and veiled faces at the fall fashion collections that wrapped up on Sunday can be explained easily enough by reading the daily news. These are dark and mysterious times. Ergo, designers have retreated to a comfort zone of layered cocoons, as seen at Marc Jacobs, Prada and Undercover.

Another trend in many of the same collections is less comprehensible. Designers made overt references to flashy 1980's music, fashion and art, seemingly contradicting the reserved nature of their designs. John Galliano called his Christian Dior collection "Gothic chic." His models wore wigs of dark straight hair and sunglasses, the signature look of the photographer Steven Meisel, and walked to 80's songs by Pat Benatar and Bryan Adams. At Louis Vuitton Mr. Jacobs used a leopard print by Stephen Sprouse, a design fixture of the 80's.

Yet there is a disconnect between the heady then and the moody now. Was that decade such a drag?

"When I look back to the clothes from the 80's," Valentino said at a dinner after his show Sunday night, "I don't think they look as good today. They are too stiff, with big shoulder pads and broad shoulders."

Midway through Valentino's show that morning, on a set that included a gleaming white staircase the width of a storefront that the models descended in packs (a set that was recreated from a show he did on the Spanish Steps in Rome in the 80's), there were several looks inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work was archetypical of the New York art scene of that decade. Pants covered in sequined renditions of Basquiat's graffiti paintings were Valentino's idea of reviving the 80's. That, and playing "Like a Virgin" as guests took their seats.

Valentino said he does not read the papers and therefore could not make further sense of the 80's trend than to recognize that it was in the air. He had chosen Basquiat paintings, he said, "because I own several of them, of course."

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