As a new version of the classic 1980s TV series Dallas comes to the UK, the decade that spawned it is back on the catwalks. However, just as the new series has toned down the glitz and glamour with which it is synonymous, so this time around the 1980s trend is a more sophisticated interpretation of the perms, puffballs and power dressing decade.
“I feel the characters should have good taste over being loud and garish,” says Rachel Sage Kunin, Dallas costume designer. Laura Larbalestier, buying director for Browns, says: “In the 1980s, women [such as JR’s wife Sue Ellen in Dallas] were dressing to be powerful. Now we are more relaxed.”
Wendy Dagworthy, dean of the School of Material and head of fashion at the Royal College of Art, was a leading British designer in the 1980s. She says that today “it’s not as pronounced as the power ladies in old Dallas. Chanel’s silhouette is very angular and geometric but the shoulders are dropped, so not as big and square.” Not that [the look] has lost its bite, she says. “The time is right for a harder edge. We’re bringing back power dressing in the economic crisis because it makes people feel stronger, as it did in the 1980s.”
Consider singer Rihanna, who recently wore Acne’s power red and pink trouser suit (£710) with Simone Rocha perspex platform brogues (£760) in London, or Lady Gaga outside an Auckland hotel in a neon orange peplum dress from Antonio Berardi (£1,220), white gloves with matching platform Christian Louboutin pumps (£635), and retro smoke-framed sunglasses. Other modern takes include Lanvin’s emerald green sculpted rubber peplum dress (£2,200); Prada’s plastic embellished trouser suits (trousers from £660 and jackets from £1,330); Azzedine Alaïa’s perforated fleece wool dress (£2,400) – not to mention futuristic metallic hues from Hakaan and stretch gold lamé leggings from Jean Paul Gaultier (£250). Christopher Kane’s take on the Dallas staple denim jacket – with a reversible mink lining – (£11,040) sold out at Browns on its first day.
“Today, designers drop in 1980s elements,” says milliner Stephen Jones, whose career was launched during that decade. “For Marc Jacobs we did giant fur hats with poppy bright colours, which were very 1980s.”
For new designer Simone Rocha, “It’s the work of the Japanese designers like Yohji Yamamoto in the 1980s that I find interesting. My pieces (such as the oversized coat in black wool, £873) are a development and exploration of shape. The 1980s tailoring is quite masculine, to contradict the femininity in the collection.”
Beatrice Behlen, senior curator of fashion and decorative arts at the Museum of London, says: “There’s an irony in fashion today that you didn’t get in the 1980s. Designers are mixing things up.”
Examples of this are Balenciaga’s black satin pullover with its 1980s “glitter girl” print (£1,795) or the oversized Céline coat (£4,250) with tracksuit-style trousers with orange stripe (£930). As Luisa De Paula, buying and merchandising director of mywardrobe.com, explains of 3.1 Phillip Lim’s Ka-Pow jumper (£390) and Markus Lupfer’s OMG knit (£265), such styles “grab attention”.
Consumers themselves say the appeal is a little bit nostalgic, and a little bit in-your-face. Lee Ann Thompson, an investment manager who recently bought a red 1980s-influenced A-line Dior dress, says: “I was drawn to the lipstick-red colour, as it reminded me of when I first moved [to Britain] from the States.”
Likewise, music PA Phoebe Allen wears her mother’s 1980s pieces, such as hand-knitted Pat Roberts sweaters, because “it’s very Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. The shoulder pads bring edginess to my look.”