MILAN — Heavy metal studs, leather leggings, safety pins and sequins, oversized sweaters and boyfriend jackets, power shoulders and flashes of neon. During the shows at Milan Fashion Week, it wasn't a question of whether the 1980s would be referenced, but which part of the 1980s.
Gucci's Frida Giannini and Emilio Pucci's Peter Dundas sought to re-create Studio 54's night-crawling, coke-sniffing social denizens, while the Dolce & Gabbana and Aquilano Rimondi collections were more enamored of the money-loving social climbers of "Dynasty," and Roberto Cavalli seemed to cast an eye toward angry heavy metal hair bands. The Moschino show invitation even included a Rubik's Cube.
But why the 1980s now, when we're in the midst of a historic global financial crisis that calls for collective sacrifice rather than conspicuous consumption?
For one thing, these clothes -- in top-heavy silhouettes with armor-like details -- are not subtle. They practically shout "look at me!" And it could be that when opportunities are scarce, survival of the fittest means survival of the most loudly dressed.
"Today romanticism simply doesn't feel like the right choice," Cavalli said about his collection. "You need to attack in order to win. I have declared war on the crisis."
The 1980s are also a novelty -- and a not too distant one -- to the twentysomethings that the fashion business so desperately chases. So the time period is ripe for ripping off.
Since most trendy '80s styles are not overly embellished, they are more cost-effective for designers to produce, which makes sense in a time when even luxury companies have to cut back. The flip side is that you don't need to pay top dollar for leggings and oversized sweaters, which are easy for Zara, H&M and others to copy.
There is also the small issue of the 1980s being nothing new, even in their new incarnation. American Apparel has been capitalizing on the decade for some time. Louis Vuitton has a Stephen Sprouse tribute collection in stores now, J. Crew has neon patent leather flip-flops for spring, and boyfriend jackets have been on the radar since last year.
Bloomingdale's fashion director Stephanie Solomon says many 1980s looks are already selling in her stores, including leather leggings, which are "blowing out." By the time the fall clothes we're seeing on the runways now arrive in August, she says, the customer will be on to something else.
The 1990s, perhaps?