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Staying' Alive : Have a Nice Decade, Again--Designers Are Showing a New Flare for the '70s


The '70s are back, and to those who remember wearing hip huggers, platform shoes and love beads the first time around, it's a scary thought.

Many fear a '70s revival will mean they'll once again end up with flat hair and an exposed midriff--shades of Cher in the days she was still married to Sonny.

Fortunately, most designers are not merely repeating '70s looks but updating them, creating collections that are softer and less tailored than they've been in years. Silhouettes aren't as exaggerated as they were in the '70s, and garish colors have been toned down with neutrals and earth tones.

Bell-bottom pants have returned, but the flared leg is so subtle that many '70s veterans will hardly recognize it. Shoes have only slight platforms instead of the ridiculous heights of the past. In short, one may get a sense of deja vu when looking at spring fashions, but this is not the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

The '70s influence "definitely has a modern edge to it," says Shairee Collins, fashion coordinator for Nordstrom in Orange County.

Pants have become wider, but they're more fluid than they were in the '70s, thanks to softer fabrics, she says.

Other throwbacks to the '70s include poet's blouses with bell sleeves and ruffled collars, off-the-shoulder peasant blouses, chokers and platform shoes. Two samples: a muslin poet's blouse with a ruffled lace collar ($112) or ivory peasant blouse with bell sleeves ($76) at Nordstrom in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, Brea Mall and MainPlace/Santa Ana.

"There are certain things we never thought we'd wear again," Collins says. "For some people (the return of platforms) is bad news. But some of these platforms are very mild so you hardly notice them."


Why are these '70s styles being dug out and dusted off like so many Bobby Sherman records?

"We haven't had a big change in fashion in quite a few years," Collins says. "Now politically and socially we've had such big changes, and fashion is influenced by that."

The '70s revival began on the street before the sloppy Seattle grunge movement, say fashion retailers. Bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam have been wearing '70s threads and the looks caught on.

At cutting-edge fashion stores such as the Electric Chair in Huntington Beach, hip huggers and bell-sleeve peasant blouses have been on the shelves for several years.

Now almost every clothing manufacturer and designer is betting at least a small part of their collections on the '70s trend--but with modifications to please the masses.

Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis has turned out ribbed poor-boy shirts that fit as snugly as a sock over the torso--a classic '70s look. Christine Albers created a '70s-inspired wide-legged pant and vest that can mix and match with a bustier top or blazer in a batik print of navy and gold, blue and cream or brown and ecru.


When Mary Rubenstein opened Mi Place in 1975, she sold nothing but bell-bottoms and platform shoes. Then, almost overnight, they vanished. Now she's starting to sell them again--along with peace sign and flower power chain belts, hot pants, striped knit tops and other '70s knockoffs.

"Everything comes back around, but it's always different," Rubenstein says. "This is a cleaner look. We're seeing white blouses with vests. It's not so artsy."

Claude Montana's simple white cotton blouse, black denim vest and black hip huggers with a chain belt ($1,500) is just one modified approach shown at Mi Place in Laguna Niguel and Fullerton. Other designers are truer to the originals.

"You'll remember this look from 'Laugh-In,' " Rubenstein says, referring to the TV show as she pulls out an orange and yellow striped tank dress by C.D. Greene with a round cutout exposing the midriff ($1,200).

To go with the clothes, Mi Place has '70s-ish shoes, including a strappy cork sandal with a wedge heel by Donald Pliner ($144) or Stuart Weitzman's black suede platform with gold studs ($190).


Blouses with softly flared "angels sleeves," crocheted vests, midriff tops and bell-bottoms have been resurrected at Michael Nusskern in Fullerton. The boutique is even selling out of hip hugger pants--but they don't ride as low as the three-button originals.

"The waist is coming down. It'll be odd, because this is the first season for these--especially if you're not 17 and running after fashion," says Wakim Kirvorkian, fashion buyer for Michael Nusskern.

Neutral colors such as cream, black, beige and khakis soften the impact of the new lines, he says. A long vest by Sarah Kay comes in a cream-colored silk Jacquard ($194) and can be worn with a flowing chiffon skirt or bell-bottoms. There's a lace vest by Severin in a muted pewter shade ($310) and Robin Piccone's black bell-bottoms ($130) made of a modern fabric--Lycra.

"It's totally hippie," Kirvorkian says.

For a complete retro look, one can add '70s-style accessories such as chokers, long, skinny strands of love beads and small hoop earrings. Nordstrom carries a wide range of chokers featuring trinkets and charms on a single cord or velvet strap.


Proof that the '70s are back can also be found at beauty salons where customers are going back to minimalist makeup and hairstyles.

Many women want straight hair with a center part, says Tricia Kalani, a stylist with Jose Eber Salon in South Coast Plaza.

"Hair is natural--not so fouffy," Kalani says. Yet it's still fuller than it was in the '70s, thanks to modern body waves. Modified '70s makeup calls for clear lip gloss, neutral eye shadows, thinner eyebrows and thicker eyeliner.

Those in the fashion industry say that since this first season of the '70s caught on with the mainstream, we can expect more bell-bottoms and platforms in the fall.

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