Gloria Ohland on the dog days of fashion

Photo by Bonnie Lewis

I was editor during the dog days of fashion — the mid-to-late 1980s — the era of shoulder pads, suit jackets rolled up at the cuff, the “inverted pyramid” silhouette, too much body-hugging Lycra and, perhaps worse, too much of the boxy, “unstructured” look. Remember poor, dear Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink? The ’80s was full of big, bad costume jewelry, tousled hair, air-brushed makeup — blame poster artist Patrick Nagel. Glitter and glam had gone over the top and become glitz. Punk had become cowpunk. Even David Bowie managed to look silly in his “Let’s Dance”–era pantsuits and little boots.

Some defining moments: Cropped black leather jackets worn over T-shirts or bustiers, and crinolines or petticoats, with over-the-knee socks and heavy black boots. Georges Marciano’s resurrection of Brigitte Bardot in Guess? ads that sent consumers scurrying to purchase his skintight stone-washed capri jeans zippered above the ankle. The invention by Jimmy Ganzer, that old bohemian spirit of surfing, of the “E-Z-in E-Z-out” Velcro waistband that provided the adjustability required to sling shorts way down on the hips. And then there was campier stuff: Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons in a clear plastic bikini filled with shampoo and goldfish. Designer John Babcock’s bra tops made of plastic baby doll heads and worn with skintight jeans slit and laced from ankle to hip. Michael Schmidt’s aluminum chain-mail minidresses and vests. Fake fur. Tiaras. Rubber. Gold and silver leather, with fringe.

A friend confided recently she’d finally thrown her cropped black leather jacket in the trash. A day later I saw that jacket featured in an editorial spread in the August Vogue. But it wasn’t until a recent visit to Hot Topic in the Glendale Galleria that I finally understood that ’80s fashion really is back. My 13-year-old daughter chose the fingerless leather gloves worn by Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club (1985), over-the-knee socks, bondage pants by Tripp, and a punkish kilt by Lip Service — both are L.A.-based companies that debuted circa 1985. My daughter and her friends view the ’80s as a treasure trove of fashion and music ripe for plundering. “Oh, Mom,” she protests, dismissing my horror when she tells me this, “the only reason you don’t like the ’80s is because you’ve been there already.” Hmm. Well, I was the same person who wrote in the late ’80s, in a fashion essay entitled “’70s Redux: For Whom the Bells Toll”: “ . . . The ’70s were a taste-free decade when fashion was so bad that . . .” Of course, like it or not, fashion has always been about reinvention.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY BONNIE LEWIS (“Elements of Style,” October 27, 1989) Michael Schmidt’s chain-mail dress.

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The ’80s was a fecund time for fashion in Los Angeles, and the Weekly devoted special pages to fashion “In the Stores,” “In the Showroom” and “In the Street,” made space for a column about the industry itself and, of course, spun off an entire publication, L.A. Style, devoted to the subject. Melrose was at its peak, the west end anchored by one of the city’s weightier fashion institutions, Tommy Perse’s Maxfield, in its second incarnation as an echoing, concrete museum in which was hung Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Paul Gaultier, Azzedine Alaia and John Galliano (Perse’s designer son James opened his own Melrose shop last month).

(“Short Stories,” July 25, 1986) Lip Service cotton miniskirt and Komian striped body suit; nylon/Lycra miniskirt by Tripp and a strapless Betsey Johnson (Photo by Moshe Brakha)

At the east end of the avenue — and the extreme other end of the fashion spectrum — brave young entrepreneurs were conducting combustible, short-lived fashion experiments. But, then, longevity wasn’t really the point. Y Que (since sold, and a mere shadow of its former self) was Jimmy and Rae Von Chavira’s modern take on the trading post, stocked with unusual but useful things that could be had for cheap: Amish cotton hose, men’s sock garters, cotton bloomers, suspenders, paddock boots, petticoats, religious supplies, saddle blankets. Across the street was Livestock, Judy Kameon’s showcase for local-yokel “oat” couture, a collection that included mad hats, codpieces and hoop skirts. Around the corner was Modern Objects, a partnership of Cha Cha Cha restaurateur Mario Tamayo and designer Jef Huereque, who created smoldering, Latin-flavored menswear including shirts made of stretchy black lace.

And in between were a host of great stores. Going or gone were the earliest Melrose pioneers like Black Salad, Paul Glynn’s Cowboys and Poodles, and Alice Wolf’s vast, fluorescent-lit supermarket of secondhand clothing called Flip. But still flourishing were the Soap Plant, Let It Rock, Flash Feet, Neo 80, Retail Slut, Michael Morrison, Roppongi, Claudia Grau, and, of course, Fred Segal, that enduring emporium of what the industry called “forward fashion” and which has provided 1,001 local designers with their first break. And on La Cienega was Saville Row–trained Michael Anderson’s Clacton and Frinton men’s store, while Montreal-based architect Harry Parnass’ Parachute and Mark Werts’ American Rag were turning La Brea into a fashionable address.

(“Hoopla! In the Showroom,” November 27, 1987) Lycra “crown” dress with tulle by Bruno Duluc.(Photo by Jenafer Grace Gillingham)

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