Byline: Rebecca Kleinman

It started with a safety pin here, a gold chain there. Then a few glossy fashion mags heralded the return of the punk and the preppy. But this market makes it official. You’d best stock up on the mousse and dust off those jellies, because the Eighties revival is well under way.
To buyers who flat-out detest the decade, manufacturers emphasize profusely that this time around, looks are more feminine, sophisticated and quite frankly, not as ugly.
“The Eighties are used more for inspiration, like a color or shape — not the whole item or collection,” said Jacqueline Graves, senior vice president of the L.A.-based To the Max, BCBG Max Azria’s young contemporary/better junior line.
Designer Betsey Johnson, one of the decade’s premier designing divas, considers the Eighties simply another trend to add to this year’s long list. “It’s nice to have more options than less — it gives people reason to buy again,” she said. Other designers agree, reporting that Eighties styles aren’t the only looks around, but they certainly represent one of the fresher and more fun trends to turn up this fall — especially when there’s a whole new batch of consumers unburdened by memories of parachute pants or the power suit-and-gym-shoe combo.
But designers will try to reach both types of consumers — the mother who’s already been there, done that, and her daughter who’s experiencing the Eighties for the first time.
New York-based Body Action Design (BAD), a contemporary line with a misses’ fit, includes both minis and around-the-knee skirts with side slits. “It’s like wearing a mini without actually wearing one,” chief executive officer and creative director Jeffrey Halper said of the side-slitted skirt, which caters to the 45-to-60 set.
Another example is BAD’s leggings. The more teen-friendly of the pair fits like a second skin, whereas the other, a looser, more traditional look, resembles riding breeches. Both come in fall neutrals with suede patches.
There’s a risk that mature women will find minis and leggings unappealing, but for now, manufacturers are backing their resurgence.
David Shamouelian, vice president of the Paris and New York-based contemporary firm Sharagano, shows three different lengths of minis in prints, pleats, leather and suede, with leggings in solid, stretch fabrics on the way. “We’re seeing a lot of [leggings] in Europe,” he said.
Betsey Johnson already has fitted and flared minis and plans to add leggings for holiday. “I don’t see why not. I even almost did some stirrups!” said Johnson.
As a junior line, To the Max has always had minis, but breathes some newness into them with lower-riding waistlines, according to Graves.
Conjuring up images of disco or Devo, belted dresses, jackets, jumpsuits and tops are even hotter. BAD’s Halper is particularly excited about jumpsuits with gold-accented belts, reporting they’ve already been booked by five major catalogs. “They’re like catsuits without being second skins. Instead of being trashy, they’re sophisticated, something that can be worn to a country club,” Halper said.
With the success of its belted polo shirtdress and the military and safari trends, Sharagano puts belts with silver and gold accents on all its dresses in every type of neckline and print, including conversational, stripes and geometrics. And low-slung, beaded or sash belts are frequently added to Betsey Johnson’s dolman-sleeved or sleeveless tank dresses.
According to Halper, dolman sleeves are also important. He pops them on both Lycra T-shirts and multicolored-stripe tops. Sharagano takes the look one step further with keyhole treatments on matte jersey and stretch microfiber tops in fall neutrals. Betsey Johnson leaves it up to the customer whether to opt for fitted or looser, falling-off-the-shoulder versions. “Dolmans are more sophisticated or Halstonesque now,” explained Johnson.
Other key looks come down to the three M’s: motorcycle, military and men’s wear. BAD’s so-called “power suit for the hip” is a motorcycle-inspired tropical-weight wool suit pairing a short, hardware-studded jacket with pleated or low-rise pants with gold buckle detail. Sharagano’s Shamouelian predicts that safari jackets with buckles and buttons will move forward as well.
He also foresees a comeback for the big white shirt — Sharagano’s versions incorporate stripes, boning and seam and dart treatments. BAD’s are tone on tone patterns like chevron. “They work great with all the tweed and plaid bottoms,” said Halper. Manufacturers’ takes on prints are a bit more ambivalent. They either prefer mixed patterns, textures and overlays or race full speed ahead with stripes, plaids, harlequins and geometrics.
Graves describes To the Max’s cream and brown or black and white geometrics as “looking like they were made with a Spirograph.” Variegated stripes are cut on the bias or on the straight into wrap shirts and shirtdresses. Plaids are modernized with stretch and faded treatments.
“The newness [element] is a recycled or distressed plaid or tweed, instead of them looking squeaky clean,” said Graves, adding that the recycled look has already met with some success.
Mixing black and white stripes with a harlequin print, Sharagano moving on the trend by adding a touch of mustard, brown or red in pieces like a fitted, polo shirt and cigarette pants. Striped, Lurex sweaters and floral and geometric-printed tunics appear at Betsey Johnson this fall, advancing to graffiti and brush stroke prints for holiday. Sharagano dives in with graffiti prints for fall, but tones it down with muted colors, rather than much-speculated-over neons. Finally, pinstripes receive a feminine makeover at To the Max, which features frilly ruffles and sexy Lurex. Betsey Johnson goes the men’s wear route with tailored groups in brown with gold or black with red pinstripes.
Graffiti and painted looks have already hit the denim market. Distressed and homemade treatments replace dark and dirty.
To the Max attacks denim with bleach, graffiti, studs, paint and sand-blasting. For example, a big V-shape is cut from the back and a frayed piece is sewn in. Sequins running down the leg, along with a punk-inspired T-shirt, create a funky, glamorous effect. The firm plays up punk even more with its slash group, like T-shirts with three slashes surrounded by rhinestones on the upper chest, or its lace combinations, like a zip-front cardigan with a chunky rib front, popcorn tweed back and lace detail from the wrist to the elbow.
Noting that trends come and go so quickly now, manufacturers don’t see these looks lasting longer than a couple seasons. The upside is that they think consumers will catch on quickly.
“Once a shape is understood, like the mini or the dolman, it will last awhile and eventually come back again,” said Kim Hingley, executive vice president of sales and distribution for Betsey Johnson. Already onto the next thing, the designer’s looking to the Fifties as inspiration — specifically, Sophia Loren’s outfits in “The Millionairess.”
In the meantime, Johnson summarizes the Eighties feeling for many of her contemporaries: “It’s so funny to be doing my own vintage — to be pulling from the library in my head!”