Monday, July 6, 2009
Hard Times Are Here Again
The journalist and broadcaster Robert Elms 'Hard Times' article in the September 1982 issue of The Face was certainly the first major written piece to highlight a trend. So called 'Hard Times' was developing in London's clubs-specifically 'Le Beate Route'- as a reaction against the 'dressing up' of the New Romantics.
One of the main fashion statements of what Elms called 'Hard Times' was the ripped and patched Levi 501 jean. However Elms article was derided at the time for trying to create a name for this look, which was not exclusive to London. In fact ripped jeans had been firmly part of youth culture since the hippies of the 60's and the seminal New York punk band The Ramones had made them part of their uniform. Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols also wore ripped jeans (he was a Ramones fan) so consequently what is now viewed as an 80's trend really originated long before.
Madonna famously wore ripped jeans and, so the story goes, Simon Foxton, one of Britain's leading stylists and i-D magazine’s Fashion Director was once arrested in London for wearing jeans so ripped and torn that you could see his perfectly formed backside.
In my book 'Rebel Rebel : Anti Style' I look at the influence of denim in the first chapter which is called 'Jean Genie':
"During the 'Hard Times' trend for shredding denim in 80's Britain-to reflected the pretty dismal economic and political mood of the time....in the Fall of 2000, I took a pair of tattered thrift store Levi 501's and inserted a Union Jack patch into the torn seat".
Ray Petri, the famed 'Buffalo' stylist whose work appeared in The Face and I-D in the mid 80's also utilized ripped jeans in many photo shoots. Petri’s style incorporated homo erotic undertones that had certainly been present in gay culture since well before the 1980’s.
What occurred in the 80's was that mainstream fashion companies produced and marketed ripped jeans for the masses and that hadn't really happened before. The distressed jean look went form the clubs to being sold in Top Shop and marketed in Guess Jeans ad campaigns-and that’s when it went ‘over ground’ into mass culture.
Ripped denim hit the stores in a time of economic turmoil-Reagan was the President is the USA and Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s Prime Minister. In the early part of the decade both the US and the UK were in economic dire straits. A bit like the global economy today.