Vintage News | The Formerly Irredeemable ’80s Return

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(L) Cyndi Lauper performs in 1986.  (R) Saint Laurent F/W 2016.



Six nights and two afternoons a week, the synthesizers blare, the lights flash and the strains of Tears for Fears are heard over Broadway.

In Los Angeles, both the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Getty are hosting major exhibitions of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, the Ur-provocateur who shook the art world some three decades ago.

Crisscrossing the country, Donald Trump, whose towering ambition and penchant for hyperbole marked him as an icon of 1980s excess, is homing in on the Republican presidential nomination, thumping a business book like a combination bible and policy manual — one that was published in 1987.

That same year, Richard Nixon wrote to him that “whenever you decide to run for office, you will be a winner!” (The prediction was actually Mrs. Nixon’s, but “as you can imagine,” President Nixon wrote, “she is an expert on politics.”)

What year is it, anyway?

The 1980s, the more-is-more era, has never left us. It’s been a touchstone for fashion, music and popular culture, remembered fondly but with a shudder, as the butt of jokes and youthful indiscretions with hairstyles and shoulder heights.

But then, a strange thing has been happening. The formerly irredeemable 1980s, it seems, are creeping back to the fore.

“I do see that coming around again,” said Duncan Sheik, who wrote the music and lyrics for “American Psycho,” an ’80s-set Broadway musical that opens Thursday, one that includes both original ’80s-style compositions (written and scored using ’80s synthesizers and equipment) and adaptations of decade hits by Tears for Fears, New Order and Phil Collins. It is likely the first Broadway musical in history whose bloody climax takes place to Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip to Be Square.” 

“I think for a long time people made fun of the ’80s aesthetic, and it was something that was derided in Adam Sandler movies,” Mr. Sheik said. “But in fact a lot of really cool stuff happened in the ’80s. In some way, hopefully, ‘American Psycho’ does justice to the aesthetic of the era.”

In the theater world, the arrival of “American Psycho” on Broadway has been much anticipated (and long in coming, after a well-received run in London), but its ripples have been felt outside of it, too.

The men’s fashion e-tailer Mr Porter signed up as the men’s wardrobe partner for the Broadway production, and ’80s period piece or not, provided clothing from its stock to costume the cast and complement the vintage and custom ’80s suits — an easier task circa 2016 than may be initially imagined.

“There is a slight ’80s movement sort of sifting into fashion at the moment,” said Jeremy Langmead, Mr Porter’s brand and content director. “Double-breasted jackets are very fashionable at the moment,” Mr. Langmead said, and “even though the fit’s slimmer and the shoulder is less terrifying than in the ’80s, pinstripes are fashionable again.” The site is promoting its partnership with a special section online inviting you to “Dress Like Mr. Patrick Bateman,” the show’s titular psycho.

In women’s fashion, too, the ’80s are making a return. When, at Paris Fashion Week this March, shoulders began climbing up and out, it was an early warning sign, of sorts.

Hedi Slimane, among the most imitated designers in fashion at the moment, swerved dramatically from the scruffy nonchalance of his recent, best-selling Saint Laurent collections into a high-gloss, high-drama register that screamed 1980s. It would be his final collection for Saint Laurent; the house announced his departure a month later.

The change was noticed, not always with pleasure.

Writing in Women’s Wear Daily, Bridget Foley imagined the move as a rude gesture, the ultimate in provocation. “Hey,” she imagined Hedi Slimane saying in her review, “you who didn’t love my indie-druggie-grungy-disaffected L.A. youth routine these past four years. How ’bout Eighties camp couture?”

Mr. Slimane was not alone. Eighties styles bubbled up throughout Paris Fashion Week: in new-direction looks from Lanvin, Kenzo and Isabel Marant, to name a few.

For Ms. Marant, whose name is nearly synonymous with Parisian bohemians, the move toward oversize, pin-cinched coats, screaming prints and New Wave mash-up styling seemed especially pronounced — even if Ms. Marant didn’t see the shift as seismic as her audience did.

“Things that I love, I will always love them,” she said by phone from Paris, describing how the collection came about as a reaction to the death of David Bowie and the horror of the Paris terror attacks: a way to return to an earlier, more innocent time of club-hopping and flea-marketing.

She keeps a large archive she said, not only of her collections but also of her own clothes, which she visited regularly while designing the fall looks. She used to pin her own huge Harris tweed overcoat (bought for a song from a “kilo shop,” where vintage clothes were sold by weight), just as she did for the show.

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(L) Lynn Wyatt during wedding of Sid Bass and Mercedes Kellogg at the Plaza Hotel in New York City in 1988.  (R) Gareth Pugh F/W 2016.



(L) Shelley Long as Diane Chambers in the NBC sitcom, “Cheers”, in 1982.  (R) Kenzo F/W 2016.

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