Flares, patchwork and denim skirts: back to the '70s in women's fashion

Hippie chic and the 1970s are enjoying a revival and denim plays a starring role

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 January, 2015, 6:06am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 January, 2015, 6:06am

You could almost smell the patchouli oil on the spring-summer 2015 women's catwalks of Milan and Paris as the designers came over all groovy and nostalgic about the 1970s. It is a rich decade to mine, but The Doors and Fleetwood Mac on the soundtracks set the mood, guaranteeing the free-spirited boho-hippie looks of the early '70s left the most lasting impression.

This was the era of peace, love and music, defined by rock festivals such as Woodstock in 1969 and the debut of Glastonbury. With it came the spread of hippie counterculture and a time when fashion became creative, artisanal and absolutely carefree. Kaftans, embroidered Afghan coats, hot pants and denim flares defined the look then, and are clearly a source of inspiration for designers now. Gucci, Sonia Rykiel and Chloé have plundered the era for their spring collections this season, in stores now.

Nevertheless, the strongest trend to emerge among the white lace peasant blouses at Chloé, the fringed knits at Sonia Rykiel, the tailored suedes at Gucci and the wafting Navajo prints at Etro, was the denim.

This is going to be a big year for denim. A patchwork denim jacket with a tiered indigo dyed skirt hit the catwalk at Etro; denim dungarees, A-line three-quarter-length skirts and beaded chambray shirts at Sonia Rykiel; while Gucci tailored denim dresses and sailor-style jeans - all garments that had their roots in that period.

"I like the idea of denim, that it can be used raw or washed and becomes personal to the wearer," said Clare Waight Keller after her Chloé show, which included a denim mini dress, long skirts and denim-dyed knitwear.

The catwalk designers are not alone in embracing the '70s for this season; the major designer denim brands such as Current/Elliott, J Brand, James Jeans and MiH are as well.

"Spring-summer is going to be a great season for denim: not only for '70s cuts such as flares but for denim ready-to-wear too," says Chloe Lonsdale of MiH. "Since the new year our flares (cult Marrakesh jeans) have been flying. The spring-summer 2015 trend for '70s fits, seen on the catwalk and in style blogs, has definitely pushed the popularity. This season I think women have the confidence to play a little with their style, and a flare is a cool way to change your look."

Lonsdale has a strong intuition for this market as she comes from British denim royalty. Her father Tony Lonsdale launched Jean Machine on the King's Road in 1971, importing American denim, and her godfather founded Made in Heaven (now MiH) jeans in 1969. Both were instrumental in the denim revolution of the '70s.

For spring, MiH has added a faded blue, a clean indigo wash and a '70s blue shade with a braided waistband in its Bodycon Marrakesh fit. This fit, such as Le High Flares from Frame Denim, is the most flattering, coming with the exact amount of stretch to skim the hips and elongate the leg. J Brand's flares, which similarly are fitted at the leg and fluted below the knee, are also available in form-hugging styles.

This trend for the '70s flare is the polar opposite of the skinny jean that has dominated our wardrobes for the past five years. Lonsdale suggests it is at its most flattering with a heel and loosely tucked silk skirt.

"We love flares from Stella McCartney and J Brand," says Lianna Man, vice-president of womenswear, home and jewellery at Lane Crawford who advocates going for a white top to wear with them - "anything from your favourite tee to cropped bandeaux can work", she says. Then just add a pair of wedges.

The renaissance for denim has opened the floodgates for denim dressing beyond just a pair of jeans. This, Man predicts, will take it right through autumn 2015. Lane Crawford, for instance, will be carrying Stella McCartney's denim flare skirt and top and the Chloé denim dress this season. "We are really excited about the '70s vibe we are bringing in from these collections," she says.

Around the brands, Current/Elliott offers flares, dungarees and a midi skirt in recycled denim, and MiH has the denim pinafore dress, while BLK DNM has commandeered the denim jacket adding suede cowboy fringing or badges declaring Peace and Love. Citizens of Humanity has flares and dungarees in among its regular ripped and distressed jeans offering. Then there is the "dream denim wardrobe" designed by Alexa Chung for premium brand AG Jeans featuring vintage Tennessee dungarees, which she wears with a metallic platform shoe.

For those who like shorts, another '70s throwback is sexy denim hot pants. They are pristine white at J Brand, but re-appear as cut-off shorts at Citizens, Rag & Bone and Frame, and would look pretty with one of Chloé's white lace peasant blouses and gladiator sandals. The artisanal nature of '70s dressing meant patchwork denim, embroidery, ripped and frayed details were all part of the bohemian look. Today retailers call it DIY dressing and it is making a comeback in collections such as Bliss and Mischief, and Tortoise from Their names are unfamiliar, but Bliss and Mischief, founded by Hillary Justin, seeks inspiration from the Californian desert and Mexico for her vintage-sourced embroidered denims. Tortoise is another Los Angeles brand, also only two-seasons old, but taking distressed denim to a new level and adding patches to enhance that homespun vibe. The signs are that '70s denim is being re-invented, and this is just for starters.