FLORENCE, Italy — With a Bush as president, Madonna still a pop star, Jennifer Lopez channeling “Flashdance” and Marc Jacobs heavily referencing “American Gigolo” in his spring 2004 men’s collection for Louis Vuitton, the Eighties are still in revival mode.

But with “Excess: Fashion and the Underground of the 80’s,” a new exhibition here at the hollowed-out brick Stazione Leopolda, curators Stefano Tonchi and Maria Luisa Frisa didn’t want to craft a sentimental testimonial to the aspirational decade. Instead, they sought to distill the energies and catalysts of those heady years in an effort to explore why so much creativity, especially in fashion, flourished.

“When we worked on this project, we really didn’t want to have any kind of nostalgia,” Tonchi says. “We didn’t want to look at anything historically. It’s more like emotions and ideas that we thought were very important to understand contemporary culture.”

The duo brought in more than 40 industrial cargo containers and stacked them on each other to create a “Blade Runner”-like atmosphere. They then filled the metal caverns with enigmatic references to music, art, design and fashion from the decade that introduced the personal computer and the power lunch and celebrated women with wide shoulders and men in pastel polo shirts.

“There was this double image of gender of what being feminine and masculine represented,” says Frisa. “Women wanted to conquer the work world with authoritative clothes and men realized that they could soften up and show their feminine side.”

Combing the archives of Giorgio Armani, Krizia, Thierry Mugler, Gianfranco Ferré and Yohji Yamamoto, among others, the duo playfully showcases how women’s fashion thrived on shape, power and strong silhouettes. Think big and then multiply by 10 to truly understand the Herculean dimension of the chunky jeweled buttons on a Ferré fuchsia jacket or the padded shoulders of a Mugler leather blouson.

“Fashion in the Eighties was for the woman who came out victorious from the feminist push of the Seventies and was ready to take her role in society. The enormous shoulders allowed her to support the weight of work,” Frisa says. “Yet it wasn’t a woman dressing as a man, but a woman who wanted clothes that gave authority.”

This story first appeared in the January 13, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The various installations, ranging from Bruce Weber photos to Philippe Starck’s “high heel” chair to Run DMC’s track suits, also demonstrate the quirky nature of the era.

“In this age of branding and multinational companies, the Eighties were very much about singular voices,” Tonchi explains. “It really was the last time when individualism was celebrated.”

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