With “The 1980s: An Age of Excess” the Kent State University Museum is shooting for more than fashion flashbacks.
The museum’s director Jean Druesedow decided the time was right for this exhibition, after reading about the return to Eighties fashions on current runways. She delved into the archives from that era to show students what the original look was and how it has been interpreted. The museum had plenty to work with since it was founded in the Eighties by the designer Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman, the duo behind the Jerry Silverman ready-to-wear label.
A passage from Tom Wolfe’s 1987 book, “Bonfire of the Vanities,” that refers to the main character Maria’s big-shouldered jacket “of a royal blue that was fashionable in France” is highlighted near the exhibition’s entrance. “By golly — that is an Eighties blue and it is back. So we have it from Oscar [de la Renta], Bill Blass and Zandra Rhodes. And you can get it from Chico’s,” Druesedow said. “That is the quintessential novel of the decade. It captures so much of the zeitgeist, the feeling in the air. I thought it was a good idea to start with that.”
She added, “There are too many parallels politically and economically. I want people to think about those things without being terribly explicit about them in the exhibition.”
For a student’s point of view, Druesedow tapped Victoria Haworth as a co-curator to help select styles appeared relevant now. There are big and bold looks from Oscar de la Renta, Pauline Trigère, Patrick Kelly, Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, Zandra Rhodes, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Jean-Louis Scherrer, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo. Visitors will find a Bill Blass leopard print lamé velour evening pajama pantsuit, an Oscar de la Renta royal blue moiré bazar sleeveless gown and an Adolfo Sardiña black silk crepe shirt and black voided silk velvet skirt and “Nancy Reagan red” knit wool bouclé jacket with a gold sequin border.
“We tried to cover the things that were the most influential in the Eighties as well as the things that were likely to be of interest to people in 2017,” Druesedow said. “What surprised me most was that the dresses look really good. My memory of the Eighties is they were not so beautiful. Either our donors have excellent taste, which I believe to be true, but also the time has come where those things are looking good again. That happens as things cycle through.”
Druesedow chalks up the renewed interest in the Eighties to being generational in that designers in their 40s are recalling when they decided to go into fashion. “Mostly it’s aspects of popular culture that are reflecting the Eighties. Now women of a certain age who lived through the Eighties and wore those things are looking at it quite differently. They’re remembering the excitement and the glamour of the parties and the places where they wore those pieces,” she said.
The exhibition, which runs through Sept. 3, also features a wall highlighting the work of fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez as well as the AIDS epidemic and the Reagan years. Lopez died of complications from the AIDS virus in 1987 at the age of 44. He was credited with discovering Jerry Hall, Grace Jones, Pat Cleveland and Jessica Lange as models. Druesedow said, “I wanted people to remember that underlying all of the glamour and the glitz was the AIDS epidemic, which was devastating to the industry. We also wanted to give it some political context. I want people to know that the Eighties was a complex moment.”