Fashion designers gave up their roles as style leaders of society a decade or more ago. Could Covid-19 and the resulting social upheaval be the catalyst that energises the next generation of talent, ending a tired and painfully boring period in fashion? The fashion explosion of the 1970s suggests it could.

After a turbulent and traumatic 1960s, the American and European youth of the 1970s established new values and beliefs, resulting in dramatic cultural changes and new personal freedoms. The birth control pill drove the most profound shift of all, becoming a symbol of the sexual revolution and Women’s Liberation.

It was also when gay designers, who for the most part worked in the back rooms of fashion companies, developed their own brands. The gay subculture seized the new cultural freedoms of the time and breathed new life into a tired and struggling industry with several decades worth of brilliant, wonderful clothes.

Indeed, this period produced some of the greatest designers the fashion industry had ever seen: Yves Saint LaurentGiorgio ArmaniKarl Lagerfeld, Gianni Versace, Halston, Calvin KleinRalph LaurenDonna Karan and a dozen more. Most of these designers and their business partners built huge businesses, some becoming billionaires. But crucially they designed what they wanted, and since they owned their companies, they always had the final say.

Back then, fashion was all about style creating the persona you wanted to show the world. The more attention you received the better. A star was born with every collection. That was the motive of the designer.

Today, a tie-dye sweatshirt retailing for over $200 is news. But as the great designers of the ’70s die off, retire or simply produce another monotonous collection of their now standard fare, the field for new fashion ideas is wide open.

Too many legacy brands, now staffed with second and third tier designers, are creating lines once again from the back rooms. These designers report to CEOs, who, if they’re lucky, at least have a marketing background. But their strategies are informed by customer research, not creativity, and this dictates much of the direction designers must pursue. Meanwhile, they believe social media will rescue an uninspired industry. The contrast is clear: in the ’70s, big fashion businesses were run from the inside out; today they are driven from the outside in.

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