Topics in the News
In the 1970s women had a new range of fashion open to them. Influenced by the women's liberation movement and the protest years of the 1960s, American women were no longer willing to follow the lead of fashion designers. Women wanted more than one look and seemed to thrive on choice. Selecting from a variety of fashions and styles suited women's new sense of fashion independence. As designer Calvin Klein explained, the new ethic in clothes was that they must work "over and over" in varying ensembles, from day to night, and from season to season. Hemlines could be either short, like the miniskirt, or long, like the peasant dress. Pants were no longer controversial. More and more women chose to wear casual no-press pants to work and luxurious velvet or satin pants for an elegant evening out. Growing interest in the Third World and Asia launched a new ethnic look for women, while concern with ecology set off an antifur backlash. With all these choices American women could design their own look, one that expressed their own unique sense of style. Choice, personality, and comfort were the fashion hallmarks of the 1970s woman.
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A Quiet Revolution.
Like women, men in the 1970s benefited from the same spirit of choice and experimentation unleashed by the 1960s. The two most important innovations in the 1970s were the increase in men's lei-sure wear and the use of new colors and fabrics. The white shirt fell into a fashion abyss, while double-knit and stretch-knit suits became popular. Rose, purple, orange, and green became acceptable colors for men's leisure wear and regularly appeared in bright patterns on the synthetic shirts worn by men in urban centers. Wide ties in big floral prints could be seen under light-colored, wide-lapeled jackets and slightly belled and pleated pants on a typical evening out in any city in the United States. By 1977 menswear came out of its "peacock period," as one critic commented and returned to classic traditional fabrics, tailoring, and styling that would come to epitomize the look of the 1980s.
Men had more choices for leisure wear in the 1970s. Throughout the decade more and more men unbuttoned their shirts and went without ties and often without jackets. Advertisers no longer showed men just at work as slave to the dollar but in holiday or weekend scenes enjoying the company of friends. This new ethic of leisure and individuality emphasized lifestyle over work, and the lifestyle of choice was fun and relaxation....
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Age of Protest.
The spirit of political protest did not end with the 1960s. In fact, with President Richard Nixon's expansion of the war in Vietnam in the early 1970s, young people continued to protest the war. The antiwar movement was predominantly made up of draftage men and women who rejected the presence of American troops in what they considered to be a Vietnamese civil war. Rejecting the Nixon administration's explanation for the war, these protesters also questioned the entire value system of their parents' generation. Like the black power movement of the 1960s, the antiwar movement also spawned its own sense of alternative clothing and lifestyle.
Spilling over from the hippie movement of the 1960s, young Americans embraced self-expression and androgyny. United in their common rejection of the fashion industry, both men and women turned to unisex dress and hairstyles. Men and women wore faded denim jeans or army fatigues, cotton T-shirts or sleeveless tank tops, and boots. Many college-aged men and women continued to wear their hair long. The shag cut, short on top, longer on the sides and flat in back, became popular mid decade. It was one of the first haircuts to be popular with both men and women.
A New Look from Women's Liberation.
Many women coming of age in...
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A Radical Chic.
Early in the decade the unisex protest look was considered high fashion. The youth made anti-fashion fashionable by taking control of their own designs, and American designers followed suit. For instance, the androgynous look was stylized by Rudi Gernreich in his line of unisex clothing that envisioned a world without gender distinctions. American designers such as Halston rejected the vestiges of formal dressmaking in the spirit of innovation. His designs did without zippers, pockets, ruffles, or notched lapels.
Designer Jeans.Nothing captures the irony of "radical chic" more than designer blue jeans. In the 1960s and early 1970s blue jeans were the universal language of people under twenty-five. Dirty, ragged, and adorned with political slogans, jeans were the quintessential anti-fashion statement of a generation. Fashion moguls nonetheless decided to capitalize on the jeans phenomenon. Designers such as Calvin Klein redesigned and repack-aged jeans into a haute couture item. These designer jeans had little in common with the youth culture jeans except denim. Instead of the peace symbols, globes, and women's liberation signs embroidered by protesters on their jeans, designers adorned their denim with embroidered logos, rhinestones, and silver studs and sold them at three and sometimes four times the cost of ordinary
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A Cleaner, More Efficient Car: American Automobiles
Business as Usual.
American car manufacturers in the early 1970s continued to produce the large sedans and the popular hot rod muscle cars that they had been perfecting since the 1950s and 1960s. The muscle cars—Pontiac's GTO, Ford's Mustang, and Oldsmobile's 442—were small, modestly priced automobiles with souped-up engines that gave the driver a feeling of power and speed. The gas-guzzling muscle cars were fun but dangerous unless equipped with fully functional high-speed brakes. Detroit's large sedans—the Lincoln Continental, Cadillac, and Buick—also paid little heed to fuel efficiency. Comfortable as the traditional force in the United States automobile market, American manufacturers entered the 1970s with a sense of business—and profits—as usual.
Energy Crisis.Detroit's peace of mind was shattered, along with its business strategy, when on 16 October
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American Architecture: Postmodernism Takes Off
Goodbye to Modern Architecture.American architects gained international stature in the 1950s and 1960s with their gleaming high-rise buildings of reflecting glass and steel. The generation of architects trained by Mies van der Rohe put modern architecture, the International Style as it was known, on the map. These building designs were simple, unadorned, and built with modern materials that expressed their structure. The cardinal rules of modernism were that less is more and form follows
By the late 1960s a handful of innovative architects turned away from the cool distance of modern architectural design. Tired of glass-box monuments in the cityscape, younger architects wanted to break the rules of what they saw as a rigid and ahistorical style. They developed a new type of architecture called postmodernism. Postmodern architecture...
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Following the exuberance of the affluent and innovative 1960s, interior design in the 1970s settled down. The poor economic situation provoked moderation in home design. Rather than bizarre experimentation, people were interested in historic preservation. As a result old homes were renovated, and urban neighborhoods were reclaimed. Some homeowners combined preservation with economic moderateness by remodeling existing homes and converting stables, carriage houses, clock towers, and barns into dwellings. Eclecticism in interior design grew throughout the decade.
Opening Up Space.
Open space became very popular in the 1970s. With its roots in the egalitarianism of the 1960s counterculture, interior design sought to create community by dispensing with walls as rigid space dividers. Contemporary designers of homes, offices, and schools opened up rooms to full sunlight and outside views while still accommodating the needs of the occupant. These wide-open spaces were called "interior environments." Space was no longer divided into rooms but into activity centers for eating, study, or work. Areas were separated by plants or furniture groupings.
The concept of open-space planning dominated office design in the 1970s. It provided a flexibility in the work environment,...
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Blass, Bill 1922-
DESIGNER OF ELEGANT CLOTHES FOR WOMEN
American Casual Wear.
Bill Blass is one of a handful of American designers to make casual clothes elegant and comfortable in the 1960s and 1970s. By making comfort fashionable, Blass launched what became known in fashion circles as a distinctly American look. Classic styles and tailoring emphasized the elegance and highbrow look of Blass, but his soft fabrics and exquisite materials reflected comfort and ease. Blass was especially admired for his glamorous, feminine evening clothes. His daytime fashions were considered elegant and simple and were noted for their refined cut, excellent tailoring, and for their interesting mixture of patterns and textures. As well as designing clothes for women, Blass had a line of sports-wear, rainwear, Vogue patterns, loungewear, scarves, and men's clothing. He also designed automobiles, uniforms for American Airlines flight attendants, and even chocolates. In 1978 Bill Blass perfume for women was introduced.
Blass was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1922. In high school he played football, worked on the school newspaper, and dabbled in art. A fascination with the fashions in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar led him to study for six months at the Parsons School of Design in New York. His first fashion job was as a...
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Graves, Michael 1934-
The Best of a New Generation.
Michael Graves was one of the most influential architects of the last thirty years in the United States. As an educator at Princeton University, Graves influenced his students with his philosophy of architecture as a "symbolic language" that expressed not merely the need for shelter but "society's pattern of rituals." Coming of age during the heyday of modern architecture, Graves rejected the machinelike structure of the 1950s for more humanly scaled, environmentally aware, and socially conscious buildings. Like those of other postmodern architects of the 1970s, Graves's designs blend classical and modern forms in new ways.
Michael Graves was born on 9 July 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana. During childhood Graves enjoyed drawing and painting, which he claimed he turned to as a way to avoid playing the violin. His parents, who were farmers, discouraged Graves from a career in fine arts and steered him toward architecture or engineering. Graves took their advice, and in 1958 he earned his B.A. degree in architecture at the University of Cincinnati.
In 1959 Graves completed his master's degree at Harvard University, and in 1960 he won the prestigious Prix de Rome prize. A fellowship allowed Graves to study in...
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Casual and Sexy.
As the 1971 and 1972 winner of the Coty American Fashion Critic's top award (Winnie), Halston was the premier fashion designer of the early 1970s. Halston established himself as one of the guiding forces in fashion by adapting the classical look of sportswear to the active life of American women. As one critic commented, Halston's "special brand of casual but sexy has become one of the most recognizable and individual looks in American fashion."
Roy Halston Frowick was born in April 1932 in Des Moines, Iowa, the second of four children. Halston's first attempt at fashion design came in the way of a homemade red hat which "was a smash and really flattered my mother." After World War II Halston attended the University of Indiana for two years before enrolling at the Chicago Art Institute as a fine arts major. While a student he designed window displays by day and sewed hats by night on a secondhand sewing machine in his small apartment. Soon he talked the hairdresser at the Ambassador Hotel into displaying his hats. They were so well received that the twenty-one-year-old designer opened a millinery salon in the hotel. Halston stayed in the Ambassador until 1959 when he took the position of head milliner at Bergdorfs.
The Pillbox Hat.
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Johnson, Philip 1906-
After fifty years spent in and around the profession, Philip Johnson is considered by some to be the dean of American architecture. His career has been varied and controversial, and his designs have always been at the leading edge of his profession. Johnson began his career in the early 1930s as a historian and critic of architecture. As director of architecture at the newly chartered Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Johnson and critic Henry Russell Hitchcock defined what they called "the international style." They predicted that simple, un-adorned modern buildings were going to be an international architecture that would reflect a global aesthetic, devoid of local and regional characteristics.
Life as a Modernist.
Throughout the 1930s Johnson continued to advocate modernist architecture through museum shows, teaching, and writing. In 1936 Johnson left his post at the Museum of Modern Art to become a practicing architect. In 1943, at the age of thirty-seven, Johnson graduated from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. In 1946 Johnson returned...
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Karan, Donna 1948-
A Touch of Sexiness.
"My clothes say woman," claimed fashion designer Donna Karan. As chief designer at Anne Klein for ten years, and later head of her own clothing line, Donna Karan defined the cutting edge of women's fashions for nearly three decades. After Anne Klein's death in 1974, Karan continued Klein's mission: to replace the flowered luncheon dresses favored by affluent suburbanites with mix-and-match separates—blouses, skirts, jackets, sweaters, pants—to create casual, elegant out-fits. In the 1980s Karan softened the highly tailored male-derivative career clothes that had been the obligatory look for working women. She also added a touch of sexiness that made her a favorite with some of the country's most visible professional women, including Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, and Candice Bergen.
Fashion figured largely in Karan's childhood. She was born on 2 October 1948 in Forest Hill, Queens, in New York City. Her mother, Helen Faske, was a model, and her father Gaby was a custom tailor. As a girl, Karan fantasized about becoming a designer. At age fourteen, she worked at a boutique and learned the basics of design: "what people looked good in and what they didn't." In 1966 Karan enrolled in Parson's School of Design in Manhattan where she met Louise Dell'Olio. The two became...
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Klein, Calvin 1942-
Elegant Casual Wear.
No one helped American fashion come into its own more than designer Calvin Klein. Storming the world of haute couture in the late 1960s, Klein reinvigorated the fashion industry at a time when it appeared to have been abandoned by a generation of antifashion youth. In 1972 Klein began creating his flexible collections of interchangeable separates that were casual and elegant. His separates offered women, and to a lesser extent men, a wide range of choice for around-the-clock wear. Known for his designer jeans, his perfumes, his underwear, and his advertisements, Klein has succeeded in reinventing himself and American fashion with each passing year.
Calvin Richard Klein was born in the Bronx, New York, on 19 November 1942. As an adolescent Klein was drawn to fashion. He sewed and sketched clothes and regularly visited Loehmann's, a high-fashion discount store in the Bronx, to look at the Norman Norell samples and other high fashion. Klein graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1962 and apprenticed for designer Dan Millstein. In 1968, with backing from a childhood friend, Klein founded his own company called Calvin Klein.
In 1972 Klein turned his attention to sportswear. He launched his...
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Lauren, Ralph 1939-
Designing the American Look.
As the winner of more Coty American Fashion Critics' Awards than any other designer (three for men's clothes, three for women's), Ralph Lauren is considered by fashion observers to be the quintessential American designer of the 1970s. Lauren's designs were clean lined, adaptable, imaginative, and, at the same time, classic and contemporary. Lauren first gained attention in the late 1960s with his Polo menswear collections. In 1972 he introduced his first Ralph Lauren collection for women. "I stand for a look that is American," he explained in a 1978 interview. "It's an attitude, a sense of freedom. I believe in clothes that last, that are not dated in a season. They should look better the year after they're bought."
Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx, New York, on 14 October 1939, the youngest of four children. He and his siblings legally changed their name to Lauren in the mid 1950s. As a youth Lauren was interested in sports, movies, and the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He first became interested in clothes when he was in the seventh grade. "My friends were the hoods wearing motorcycle jackets, but I was wearing tweed Bermudas and button down shirts." While in high school, Lauren worked part-time as a stock boy at Alexander's Department Store....
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Pei, I. M. 1917-
Modernist with a Flare.
Architect Ioeh Ming Pei was one of a handful of American architects to have significantly affected twentieth-century architectural design. Pei's designs have often been on the leading edge of aesthetic technological and urban innovation. More than any of his contemporaries, Pei has taken modernist principles of architecture and translated them into reality.
Born in Canton, China, Pei attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. His principal teacher at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, Walter Gropius, liked to say that Pei was by far his most promising student. Gropius proceeded to make Pei an assistant professor in 1945 before he had finished his master's degree. In 1948 Pei left Harvard and became the director of architecture in developer William Zeckendor's firm, Webb and Knapp. Pei established his own practice in 1955 and has headed the firm I. M. Pei and Partners ever since.
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Venturi, Robert 1925-
The theories of Robert Venturi helped launch the postmodern movement in American architecture. Venturi, through his books Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) and Learning from Las Vegas (1971), did more than any other author text to advance a shift away from the simple austerity of modern architecture. More than his buildings, Venturi's writings epitomized the rejection of modernism for a more eclectic, historical, and vernacular style of architecture. His attention to everyday life, ordinary buildings, and popular designs unsettled the architectural establishment in the 1970s while inspiring a new generation of designers.
Robert Venturi, the son of a wholesale fruit grocer, was born in 1925 in Philadelphia. From the age of four Venturi knew he wanted to be an architect. He nourished his love of architectural history at Princeton University. Venturi's studies in the history of architecture led him to appreciate the work of earlier architects rejected by the modernist movement. As the recipient of the...
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Yamasaki, Minoru 1912-
ARCHITECT OF THE TWIN TOWERS OF THE
WORLD TRADE CENTER
Keeping Art in Architecture.
The work of architect Minoru Yamasaki was the focus of a larger controversy concerning the place of art in architecture. Detractors of Yamasaki's designs complained his buildings were too artistic and ornamental, that they existed solely as decoration. His followers, on the other hand, agreed with Yamasaki when he said that the social function of an architect is to create a work of art. Despite the controversy, Yamasaki had a considerable influence on American architecture. At a time when many modern buildings were designed as plain, sterile-looking products of the industrial age, Yamasaki designed buildings as sculpture, richly ornamental and playful or serene as the occasion demanded.
Minoru Yamasaki was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1912, the son of an immigrant Japanese farmer. His uncle, an architect, fueled his interest in the profession. Determined to rise above his tenement surroundings, Yamasaki worked summers in fish canneries in Alaska to earn the tuition to...
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People in the News
Laura Ashley, an English designer known for her floral patterns and colors, begins to influence American fashion's return to femininity in the late 1970s.
American designer Scott Barrie shows his simple and elegant satin slip dress in the spring of 1978. With its deep-slit hemline that showcases the wearer's legs, this dress combines the fun of the mini with the comfort and sensibility of longer skirts.
In February 1976 Liz Claiborne forms and soon becomes famous for her simple and affordable line of women's sportswear.
In 1978 designer Perry Ellis opens his new line of men's clothing, Perry Ellis Sportswear.
In 1976 former model and star of the hit television show Charlie's Angels Farrah Fawcett-Majors makes news with her feathered haircut.
In July 1975 First Lady Betty Ford removes historic mid-nineteenth-century wallpaper from the White House dining room. Installed by Jacqueline Kennedy, the wallpaper depicted Revolutionary War battle scenes that Ford thought were "kind of depressing."
American designer Rudi Gernreich somewhat cryptically declares in 1971 that "the fashion industry as we know it is dead. Today fad equals fashion."
American designer Halston incorporates his design line...
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COTY AMERICAN FASHION CRITICS'
(The "Winnie"—to an individual selected as the leading designer of American women's fashions)
1970—Giorgio de Sant' Angelo
Donna Karan and Louise Dell'Olio
(Award to a designer whose work merits a top award for a second time)
HALL OF FAME...
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Cristobal Banenciaga, 77, Spanish designer whose revolutionary designs in the 1950s and 1960s created a new, more relaxed look in women's clothing, 24 March 1972.
Marie-Louis Valentin Bousquet, 88, Paris editor of Harper's Bazaar for fifty years, 15 October 1975.
John Ely Burchard, 77, educator, architectural historian, and dean emeritus of the School of Humanities and Social Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 25 December 1975.
Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel, 88, French designer of comfortable, fashionable women's clothes, 10 January 1971.
John Donnelly, 67, architectural sculptor who designed the facades of the New York Public Library and the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., 27 April 1970.
Charles Eames, 71, American architect and designer of formfitting chairs, 21 August 1978.
Norman Hartnell, 78, dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II, best known for the elaborate, pearl-embroidered wedding dress for the queen's 1947 marriage to the duke of Edinburgh, 8 June 1979.
Charles James, 72, English-born dress designer known for his single one-seam or no-seam dresses that were much copied in the United States. Considered a "designer's designer," James won two Coty fashion awards, and...
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Ray Browne and Marshal Fishwick, eds., Icons of America (New York: Popular Press, 1978);
Sherrill Whiton, Interior Design and Decoration, fourth edition (New York: Lippincott, 1973);
Architectural Forum, periodical;
Architecture Record, periodical;
Art in America, periodical;
Art News, periodical;
Gentlemans Quarterly, periodical;
Harpers Bazaar, periodical;
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Important Events in Fashion and Design, 1970–1979
- According to Rosemary McMurty, vice-president of McCall Patterns, denim blue jeans are "the youth status symbol of the world."
- Young fashion is found in Army Navy surplus stores and thrift shops.
- The miniskirt continues to grow in popularity.
- The unisex T-shirt-and-jeans look becomes the uniform of choice for the college and high-school set.
- The shag haircut is the ultimate unisex hairstyle.
- The weekly haircut for men ends. Barbers complain that they are losing business as more men keep their hair long or go to salons for stylized haircuts.
- New words are: hassle, rip-off, preppie, fast-food, put down.
- American automobile producers suffer a 10 percent decline in car sales during the 1970 model year due to new fuelefficient foreign imports.
- Hot pants, very brief shorts for women, become a fashion sensation.
- Ralph Lauren premieres his first design for women: a women's version of the classic men's cotton Oxford shirt.
- All U.S. automobile producers adjust their 1971 engines to use new low-lead or leadless gasolines in an effort to reduce pollutants from new cars.
- Chinese influence is apparent in...
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