I remember: the first time I heard the word underground was in connection with Andy Warhol and the band, The Velvet Underground. At the time, the â€˜inâ€™ style was to be outrageous â€“ any combination of modernism, biker, retro camp and glitter. The object was to stand out from the droning crowd, be an individual, a free spirit. After a good many years, the â€˜styleâ€™ eventually made its way into the commercial pop culture. It was co-opted by the show-biz industry and gave birth to monstrosities of taste. Then the punks came in, getting rid of hair, bringing in their masochistic tattoos and accessories and ripped, ugly clothing. That was revolutionary at first, but soon became co-opted as fashion. Now the ’style’ is mostly sported by weekend visitors to the Village, or, as true-blue New Yorkers call them, the bridge-and-tunnel people. But if it werenâ€™t for them, the Village â€“ East or West – would be blandâ€¦.It seems as if styles have completely turned around, as discreet dress code is a must for even the most famous underground figures. The only artist I know who still dresses up is Colette – but it is part of her artistic creations as she herself is the subject of her art.
Having been raised in Paris, I was always intrigued by the cool, worn look the New York artists seem to effortlessly exude. The Euro attitude is: have few clothes, make sure they are in perfect condition and wear your best stuff as often as possible. Quite a contrast… In the sixties, when Paco Rabane and Cardin hit the streets of Paris with their geometric shapes and mini-skirts, I only wore long dresses from the flea market, going as far retro as the Pre-Raphaelites, not just the1920s and 30s. But at the height of the glitter phase, I sported a totally shaved head as early as 1976.
In the last few years, there is a nostalgia expressed in dress styles that refer back to fun times of the past: on the right wing side, the fifties with the prim and proper twin-sets and on the left-wing side, the sixties and seventies hippies, with an almost frightening variety of prints and loud colors, with crazy little outfits that only cover some parts of the body, leaving a lot exposed… it may be why I never see anyone on the street wearing them. These new self-serving styles that nobody wears express a crazy, desperate artistic expression of nostalgia for the freedom values of the pastâ€¦ before the world turned to conservatism. One example is Disco Nostalgia â€“ an exhibit at the Performing Arts Library celebrated the lost days of the last good times when people actually allowed themselves to dance and enjoy loud music with beat and be ‘wild’. Nobody is ‘walking on the wild side’ (Lou Reed) now! But even the nostalgic styles are somehow off the mark when they only express a need for attention and sex, whereas the original hippie and beat styles were provocative in a different way, with personality, self-expression, revolt, not just sexually.