1. Is the book designed to counter the argument that the ‘70s was “the decade that taste forgot”?
Ah, that old chestnut! Well it can’t be denied that there were a lot of synthetic fibres and lairy colours around in the ‘70s. The irony of this, however, is that the latter had their roots in the late ‘60s, with its enthusiasm for technology and psychedelic excess. But it’s true that the 70s was about challenging ideas of good taste, largely thanks to the reaction against lean, clean modernism, set in motion by the ‘60s pop movement, which really came on stream in the ‘70s. Good taste continued to be challenged and pluralism promoted, which resulted in a creatively diverse decade. In a way, this was partly caused by creatives no longer wanting to feel constrained by the rationalism of modernism – surrealist influences were huge in the ‘70s – and they didn’t want to exclude non-modernist inspirations from their work. We wanted to show this in our book.
2. In your book you claim that conventional forms were challenged. Had that not always been the case?
Yes, that’s true. We’re not saying that the challenging of conventional forms in architecture and design was exclusive to the ‘70s; previously decorative Victoriana had been challenged by pared-down modernism, for example. But it’s the full-on pluralism of ‘70s style that sets the decade apart from those that went before it. Even more than in the ‘60s, in the ‘70s, the good taste of modernism – the main orthodoxy in design and art since the early 20th century – was radically rejected. We’ve discussed several other reasons for this pluralism in some of our other answers below.
3. You characterise the ‘70s as being centred on individuality. Is that not a contradiction to the proposal that there was a style ideology for that decade?
We’d say that the style ideology of the decade was individuality – which took a myriad forms, many of which influenced the mainstream and hence the way the ‘70s looked. What’s interesting about the ‘70s is that its individuality was the direct result of seismic social changes – for example, women’s and gay liberation, as mentioned later, and the civil rights movement – so it wasn’t purely manufactured. In the ‘70s, in an increasingly democratic world, formerly marginalised minorities became more visible and gradually more accepted, while the styles of their subcultures fuelled an individualism expressed through fashion. On a less progressive note, this freedom to focus on the self among the postwar babyboomers, particularly the hippie generation – coupled with greater affluence – also eventually fostered elitism and a feather-your-nest materialism (in contrast to the more collective politics experimented with in the late ‘60s). Tom Wolfe christened the ‘70s the “Me Decade”. Our book talks about how another huge ‘70s vogue – self-expression – had its elitist side with the sartorial one-upmanship of the punks and new romantics, though arguably this was more to do with pure style than harmful politics.
4. What is it about 1970s style and design that seems to perplex and divide people?
Well, it has never lived down that ‘decade that taste forgot’ cliché. There was some awful stuff around, as we’ve mentioned above, but even the good stuff was very challenging, punk style and postmodern architecture being just two examples. Plus it can’t be denied that the ‘70s were hard times, what with the oil crisis, recession, unemployment, etc, which made many hark back to the optimism embodied by the late ‘60s. There’s also a herd mentality that equates the 70s with ridiculous platforms and flares. Ironically, some of the decade’s detractors are people like Terry Wogan, who once made a comment like this on TV. Yet not only was he one of the Brillo-pad-hairdo-and-polyester-safari-suit brigade back in the day, he doesn’t look that different now! Among the older generation, there seems a bit of denial about the fact that the way they dress even today has vestigial ‘70s elements.
But you’re right that this style is divisive: lots of young people, usually artier types it has to be said, think the ‘70s were very cool. Perhaps they like the more devil-may-care vibe of ‘70s style; today, for example, most interiors are much more timid in style than they were then.
5. What were the key driving forces of the androgynous style for that decade?
A major boost to the loosening up of gender stereotypes came from the gay liberation movement which, from 1970, took hold in the US, UK, Italy and France. The movement emboldened gay men to flaunt their sexuality, defy gender-stereotyping and use humour and irony to further their cause, much of which was expressed in their personal style. And the straight community followed suit thanks to the glam movement.
6. Do you agree with the notion that there was a clear shift between the late 1960s and the early 1970s, possibly more so than any previous or subsequent decade?
A lot of people use the analogy of the early ‘70s being the morning after the party of the ‘60s, but if you’re talking about the way things looked, they weren’t that different. This is possibly because – as many of the movers and shakers we spoke to for our book observed – the ten years from 1965 to 1975 were the really exciting period of change in the UK after the conservatism of the early ‘60s. Yet you could argue that the early 70s differed from the late 60s in that, literally from about 1970, minority politics as well as the ecology lobby became more organised, powerful and effective – they moved from the margins to the mainstream. The first Earth Day was established in 1970, while the first Gay Pride Day took place in New York in 1970.
But in terms of style, we think there was a more radical change to the way things looked in the latter half of the ’70s, with postmodernism and punk.
7. Why the resurgence of the 1970s now?
The ‘70s, like the ‘60s and ‘50s, etc, is a decade that people return to constantly for inspiration. The ‘70s probably more so though because of the diverse range of styles available, from pop to glam to boho to punk. In fact, hot on the platform heels of the Tate Liverpool exhibition, Glam! and the V&A David Bowie exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is putting on a show this summer about punk and punk-inspired fashion.
8. Are the common influences on style and design different today than in previous decades?
The big difference today is that everything is up for grabs, thanks to the internet. Nowadays you can see everything that’s going on now (and has happened in the past) and take your pick. And anything goes. Things are much freer and more diverse.
9. Has the speed at which fashion changes been altered?
These days fashion is a bit like the ‘70s in so far as anything goes. There are trends, but no one has to follow them to the letter, and certain looks stick around for ages. Before fashion started to diversify in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, things were more homogeneous. People followed trends more religiously, and generally speaking there was less scope for individuality and self-expression. Nowadays people can really pick and choose.
10. Are you happy to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Kirsty is the co-author of 70s Style & Design and is currently working on another book project with Dominic. Dominic is also the co-author of a book on Celia Birtwell, the textile designer (Quadrille), and is writing a book about mid-century design, to be published by Ryland Peters & Small this autumn.