Book review: 70s Style & Design by Dominic Lutyens & Kirsty Hislop
(Thames & Hudson) £24.95
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams
There is an amazing photograph in 70s Style & Design that wonderfully encapsulates a number of the key strengths of the book. A shaven haired girl wearing a beret, cat’s-eye specs, and a t-shirt which has had its collar roughly hacked away, slashed to expose her breasts, and is held together with a safety pin. Described thus, one would assume it to be a punk image and one thinks of Ray Stevenson’s shot of Johnny Rotten in a beret, shades, and Seditionaries jacket. Though the image also appears to allude to the early 1980s both in the geometric shapes in primary colours on the t-shirt, but also the shaved head, shades, cover girl perfect heavy blusher and red lipstick, and the contradictory mix of overt femininity and androgyny which evokes Jean Paul Goude’s styling of Grace Jones at that time. But in fact the photograph was styled by Pru Walters in 1973, and the t-shirt is made from a Duggie Fields ‘Kandinsky-inspired’ fabric.
Inherent within this is not only that 70s Style & Design contains a host of brilliant photographs and illustrations, many of which are published for the first time, but also the difficulty in appraising the fashions of any fixed period. They do not neatly begin and end with the calendar proscription of a decade, nor was punk as hermetically sealed from what had gone before, despite the proclamation of Malcolm McLaren and Bernard Rhodes’ ‘You’re going to wake up one more morning…’ proto-punk manifesto t-shirt which listed Duggie Fields firmly in the opposite camp to the then Kutie Jones and his Sex Pistols.
Dominic Lutyens and Kirsty Hislop have resolutely fulfilled their stated intention to overturn the threadbare “platforms and polyester flares”, time that taste forgot approach to the 1970s. But over and above this, in their celebration and mapping of its rich diversity and multifarious parallel and often overlapping inspirations and influences from across the breadth of culture, including street fashion and high fashion, architecture and interior design, activism and politics, and the arts, and the through flow from the 1960s and flow on into the 1980s, they have pulled off a feat that the majority of other books of this type on this or any decade rarely manage. Which is to unpick what can appear a Gordian Knot and to present the threads (in all their finery), to spot the links, and to chart how they weave back together with a straight forward clarity that is never simplistic, but is always engaging, highly informed and researched, and acutely well observed.
In this way, for example, it becomes clear that the D.I.Y ethic which is a fundamental and celebrated facet of punk, was also present in the craft revival from the early 1970s, which promoted self-expression though the ideals of “made by hand with heart,” the craze for customisation (celebrated by Jean Paul Goude in a photo story in Nova magazine in 1970, in which the denims of each model have all been individualised through being ‘cut-off’, bleached, or with the addition of fringing, fabric patches, and button badges), and also the ‘flat-pack’ furniture pioneered by Habitat. Whilst Lutyens and Hislop also parallel the rise of army surplus and utility chic from the late 1960s into the 1970s, which in turn inspired Yves Saint Laurent’s high fashion pea coats and safari jackets, with the High-Tech interior design style. Which at first utilized genuine reclaimed industrial materials, and was used to great effect by Roger K. Burton in his highly influential design for the boutique PX in 1978, before being appropriated by Habitat in their Tech range in 1980.
Over recent years the influence of Biba and Barbara Hulanicki, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren have been increasingly well documented, and as they should feature here, but placed within the widespread contemporaneous currents their influence and inspirations become yet more fascinating. It is also great to see the less well documented influence of Mr Freedom and the Pop Art, 1950s Americana, and comic strips that it brought to the rich 1970s mix, along the way inspiring Yves Saint Laurent and Elio Firroucci, restored to the prominence it deserves, with the attendant verve, elegance, and fabulous high colour, with which this book explodes throughout.