Borrowed times

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 September, 2011, 12:00am


The 1940s and '70s are emerging as key influences on autumn-winter collections for 2011-12. Even the '50s and '60s are being reworked as design houses unleash the sartorial styles of these four decades onto a willing public. So we ask four noted fashion stylists for advice on how to work that vintage magic.

1970s - disco glam and boho chic, by stylist Olivia Tsang

Hong Kong freelance stylist and costume designer Olivia Tsang loves the '70s. 'It's my favourite of all the retro trends,' she says. It was the age when Studio 54 disco divas like Angie Bowie and Bianca Jagger provided much inspiration. Musical giants like Jimi Hendrix and the anti-war camp hit on a cultural phenomenon. And those at Yves Saint Laurent, Celine, Gucci, Diane von Furstenberg and Pucci have all drawn inspiration from that era.

As skinny pants, so favoured by hipsters, gave way to the wide, voluminous hems and roomier vintage shapes, many were at first aghast. Those stacks of skinny jeans will be gathering dust in the wardrobe as everyone from Chloe to Gucci goes loose.

'Invest in a pair of mid-rise tailored flare jeans, like those at MiH Marrakesh,' advises Tsang. 'But don't go full-on, flower-child hippy; avoid crazy bell-bottoms that are so wide you could cut off each leg and wear it as a skirt.

'Chloe's python prints items interpreted the '70s trend well,' she says. 'Hi-tech printing finally caught up and made this wild pattern as good as the real thing - in an animal-friendly way. I also like YSL's A-line patent skirts and Prada's '70s air hostess uniform-referenced outfits.'

To those who want to channel this liberated decade, Tsang recommends wide-brimmed felt hats, Faye Dunaway style. 'For good examples see Lanvin and American Apparel,' she says, 'And invest in python printed items like those at Prada and Chloe this season.'

Romantic, earthy bohemia teamed with the allure of slinky disco outfits is a look to be reckoned with. The sartorial versatility of this decade is one reason it keeps coming back in fashion. For the evening, Tsang suggests donning a 'silk jumpsuit or perhaps a solid or subtle print evening maxi dress with a pair of elegant statement heels. But no bandanas on the forehead or fringed leather jackets please'.

She recommends wearing hair middle-parted and fluffy like Chloe's runway look.

'Keep colours on your face to a minimum,' she adds. 'Matte brown smoky eyes, thick round-edged brows and creamy natural lip colours are all magic touches.'

1960s - pop, mod and a free spirited revolution, by stylist Cheryl Leung

'There is a youthful and fun, free spirit to the '60s. Positive changes were conceived in this era; the social revolution, pop culture and the birth of the miniskirt,' says Hong Kong-based stylist Cheryl Leung. London-born Leung worked at The Telegraph and fashion glossy Pop magazine before co-founding British fashion publication, Let Them Eat Cake, and says she feels an affinity to the scene of the Swinging '60s in London.

'It's great to reference the energy of the '60s, when it wasn't just the fashion uprising, but the whole package of optimism,' she says.

The '60s was the era of high-octane personalities such as Andy Warhol and models Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and Veruschka, and that is reflected in the clothes. Excess, experimentation, pop culture and subcultures all flourished. For the young, it encapsulated a do-it-yourself attitude.

'Pierre Cardin, Andre Courreges and Cristobal Balenciaga, all big in the '60s, led the path in that period to inspire many designers of today,' says Leung. This provided an inspirational platform for those like Miuccia Prada, who Leung cites as drawing inspiration from the '60s Mondrian day dress by YSL.

'Of the coming autumn-winter collections, I like YSL and Prada for silhouettes and hemlines, Jil Sander for the cocoon tops and Burberry Prorsum,' says Leung. 'Small details at Louis Vuitton stood out in contrast to the fetish theme with the oversized buttons in black PVC leather and the white Peter Pan collars referencing the '60s.

'Style yourself with a hint of mod cool with slim, fitted pants and loafers. Monochrome or colour-block turtlenecks can look elegant, as seen at Celine. Avoid oversized, psychedelic prints that are an eyesore. Experiment with different hemlines. Go for mid-thigh and wear unrestricted shape skirts. Flounce in box-shaped skirts or A-line pleated ones with dropped waistlines.'

Don't be afraid to create a bold look. 'Smack on a hot-pink lip colour and curl your eyelashes,' says Leung. 'Wear your outfit with confidence - after all, the '60s were born out of creative expression.'

1950s - fragile femininity and a masculine twist, by stylist Holly Suan Gray

Even though the '50s really struck it big in spring-summer where elegant, small-waisted silhouettes dominated catwalks from Dolce & Gabbana to Louis Vuitton, the cooler season's interpretation plays on gender, as seen at Donna Karan, Paul Smith, Yigal Azrouel and Vera Wang. Designers are moving away from the high-waisted, big-circle skirts and prom dresses of summer into more sophisticated evocations of the decade. While we went mad for Mad Men, our own interpretations did not always manifest so well on the high street.

'The '50s were a bit overlooked this season,' says stylist and eco-fashion advocate Holly Suan Gray, who last year moved from Hong Kong to New York. 'Jean Paul Gaultier had elements of the '50s and Carolina Herrera had some interesting skirt suits with nipped-in waists and cape shoulders.'

The '50s dresses celebrate a womanly silhouette, she says: 'It is extreme femininity accentuating the hourglass shape.' Designers have given this decade a twist by mixing in menswear and '50s Teddy Boy inspirations into the traditionally fragile femininity of womenswear in that decade. Gray cites the iconic stars from that era that inspired future generations: 'People like James Dean, Marlon Brando, Liz Taylor, Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn.

'For the masculine look, get an oversized vintage men's plaid suit, brogues or loafers, and buttoned-up shirt,' Gray advises. 'For a contemporary twist you can get the shirt in a bright colour.'

Dolce & Gabbana make this a big feature in their collection this season with androgynous girls in pork pie hats and suspenders with masculine suiting that had a rock 'n' roll edge. To complement this style Gray advises to 'do your hair '50s style - a quiff or pin up girl style.' To rock this '50s look with a modern flair, abandon cutesy Sandra Dee or Sandy Olsson and think Betty Rizzo or even Danny Zuko.

'Scarves in the hair, shirts tied at the belly button, chequered menswear trousers' make for more fashion-forward looks 'than strapless prom dresses,' says Gray.

1940s - elegance and intrigue, by stylist Julie Ragolia

The '40s made a surprising comeback on the autumn-winter catwalks - and the influences are strong. Designers have worked ingenious turns on this decade, known as the Big Band era when swing jazz made its mark. Fashion had a certain elegance and panache, translated by Miu Miu into pretty, wartime dresses that cut a girlish '40s figure on the autumn runway. Marc Jacobs also led the crowd in his effusive love for his era for autumn, as top New York stylist and co-founder of Playground (an independent art-fashion collective) Julie Ragolia notes.

'Marc Jacobs did a phenomenal job with both his namesake label and Louis Vuitton,' she says.

'In both collections he harked back to the era, but added his own spin to make it wholly new and modern. Gucci paired the '40s with '70s glam, exciting a frenzy of colour that might lead many to ponder Casablanca in a whole new spectrum. With its understated luxury, the Row perfectly captured the allure of mystery that women seemed to master in the '40s.'

This look is perhaps the most difficult to pull off, and despite its astounding popularity this season, has been the least-exposed of all the retro trends. Ragolia gave some pointed tips about how to go '40s:

'Know your body type. Forties fashion is all about waistlines and longer hemlines, so it's important to make sure you are utilising proportion properly and personally,' she says. 'It's one thing to adopt a trend but it's another to have a trend adopt you.'

There's a sense of mystery to the '40s that other decades perhaps lack - those demure skirt lengths, V necklines and gathered shoulder yokes take extra charisma to carry off without looking dowdy. Ragolia suggests adopting 'an attitude of confidence, sexiness, and intrigue'. Colours and proportions might be important but be sure to carry off this trend 'with a sense of understated luxury'.

For those at a loss at how to sport the silhouette, Ragolia advises tailoring. 'Don't be afraid to alter your clothes with a tailor,' she says. 'What is sold on the racks does not necessarily fit everyone the same. When dressing for the '40s, silhouette is important. And remember to put your own taste and spin into it.'

Lend me your era

Aim for a modern interpretation of the retro eras rather than a head-to-toe historical rehash. Leung quotes Coco Chanel on how to rock it retro: 'When accessorising, always take off the last thing you put on.'


'Pair a python printed or chequered shirt with ink blue tailored flare jeans and leather blocked heel platform shoes,' says Olivia Tsang, 'and maybe add a soft leather hobo bag, Alexander Wang's are especially good, and a understated necklace or skinny belt for everyday look.'


'The YSL shift dress with a PVC low waistband and pleated Prince of Wales check skirt are key items. Celine's skinny fit turtle neck, Bottega Veneta's burnt orange mohair V neck top, Jil Sander's black and green waffle jumper all top my list. Sensible footwear such a midi-heel shoe works better than go-go boots,' says Leung who particularly rates 'Celine's beautiful two-tone leather pumps.'


Surprisingly Holly Suan Gray's favourite 50s-inpsired outfit is 'McQueen's look 23 - it's how Queen Elizabeth would have dressed in the 1950s' she says, citing its rich on point vintage precision.

We love cheeky pork pie hats for a masculine turn and a pale kitten heel or red cat eye shades for a more girlish take.


Key items for Julie Ragolia include 'pumps from Fendi, Christian Louboutin or Giuseppe Zanotti, that can work across many belted dress or skirt looks, as well as lean, masculine-fit trousers'.

'The coloured furs from Prada and Gucci are just wonderful,' she adds, 'and I also love the high-waisted trousers from Jason Wu, and the tuxedo jumpsuits from Pucci, Lanvin and Chanel.'