LONDON The most talked about fashion show of the moment is, ironically, Pierre Cardin's 40-year retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The 1960s is a major movement in fashion everywhere today, but especially here. Cardin's space-age designs from the decade when he moved from conventional to futuristic designs provide key source material. Though the youth revolution in fashion began here with Mary Quant, it was quickly taken up by Cardin and Andre Courreges in Paris.
In their current incarnation of the '60s spirit, the most successful designers have softened the sharp edges and blunted the aggressive thrust of clothes of that time. If you listen carefully, you can catch an echo of the protest, but many of the clothes shown in the spring collections here last week are simply gentle and relaxed. Only the very short hemlines remain.
"It's the '60s adapted for the '90s," Arabella Pollen tried to explain. A friend of the Princess of Wales, Pollen began designing clothes nine years ago and seems to have hit her stride. Her clothes are young, stylish, and friendly. Skirts and shorts both flare gently. Shapes are simple. Pieces of plastic glow in the dark, but they are mainly belt buckles, buttons, or jewelry.
For drama, there are black and white checks for day and short clothes covered with pieces of mirror for evening. The mirrored clothes deserved their ovation. It was a satisfying collection.
So was Jasper Conran's, which managed to suggest the '60s without recalling the frenzy. His daytime uniform was a tailored blouse cut something like a jacket and tucked into matching pants for the neatness of a jump suit without the inconvenience. Long evening skirts fastened with three buttons at the hips and then stayed open. Best of all were fitted navy or white dresses decorated only with silver hip belts. Colored organdy coats were belted over snug black or white swimsuits.
"It didn't come easy," Conran said of his spare designs. "I started playing with the straps on swimsuits and moved to dresses."
Why did he emphasize simple clothes?
"Economics," he said swiftly. "If you don't have much money and you want to buy something new, you don't want to put it into sequins."
Two icons of the 1960s, Zandra Rhodes and Jean Muir, have been invigorated by the attention to the time when they first developed their style. Miss Rhodes called her collection "flower power," and went to her files to revive her signature prints. Her printed or painted tights with her odd squiggles and personal calligraphy looked right on target with either solid or printed tops.
Bruce Oldfield says, "I lived the '60s." He didn't start his own business until 1973, but his formative years in the '60s resulted in a smashing group of black and white cotton-knit clothes that were pure and graphic, providing a nice contrast to his fluffier evening styles.
As in the real '60s, not everything on the runways was sweetness and light. Helen Storey, also new to the showings, inscribed "RAGE" on her red catsuits. Workers for Freedom wrapped linen bands around bodices and dresses and called the collection "delicate bondage," not realizing that all bondage is dubious.
Rifat Ozbek focused on the ethnic part of the '60s scene with a collection called "Afrodizzia." It was presented as a video, with stretch clothes and some African prints worn by dancers. It was more about dancing than clothing.
Vivienne Westwood kept her reputation intact as British fashion's major iconoclast. Just as everyone seemed to agree that short hemlines were the length of the '90s, she opened her show with narrow suits with very long skirts. They were more like the '50s than the '60s and very well cut.