Runway Review: Can Something Old Ever Be New Again?

If we learn anything from our pasts, it’s that fashion, like history, repeats itself. Usually, though, we can take this mantra with a grain of salt — color palettes change, ruffles are added, and silhouettes are tweaked to satisfy more modern appetites.

This doesn’t, however, seem to be the case with fashion these days. Today’s fashion records seem to be stuck on repeat, with no new track in sight.

Shoulder pads, pleat-front pants, sequins and even scrunchies have been spotted on runways and donned by trend-setters around the globe. Have we travelled through time and landed smack dab in the middle of the 1980s? Nope, these the trends of today.

It seems that with each new fashion month, a new decade becomes all the rage, with the 80s being the longest reigning period of choice. In Fall 2009, the 80s took over with clichés like big shoulders, sequined leggings and poufy micro-minis thanks to Betsey Johnson, Erin Fetherston, Marc Jacobs, and the king of ode-to-the-80s designs, Christophe Decarnin of Balmain. Thankfully, Spring 2009 saw hints of 90s grunge from designers like Alexander Wang and Balmain, with oversized bags, ripped jeans, and baggy tops.

Now we’re past the dark attitudes of the 90s, big hair of the 80s and into the neutral tones and flowy tailoring of the 70s. Hannah MacGibbon of Chloé and Phoebe Philo of Celine hit the trends on the head with button-up shirts, wide-leg pants and tailored silhouettes for Fall 2010. And Rochas sent models down the runway that looked eerily similar to that ultimate 70s good girl, Mary Tyler Moore. Other designers followed suit by incorporating bell-bottoms and earthy, muted color palettes –- anything but black –- into their collections. One of the most noteworthy 70s nods of the fall runways came from Boy by Band of Outsiders with their brown and tan plaid trousers.

Why is it that we get so excited about trends that we’ve seen – and hated – before? How have shoulder pads, the bane of our mothers’ existences, been welcomed with open arms by Gen Y? Who would have thought that the grunge looks of our favorite early 90s rock stars are being repeated by industry newbies? Is it that each season’s trends are simply so different from those that saturated the market prior, that they give our eyes a much needed rest from over-exposure? Or is it that the fashion greats have already created everything there is to create? What is it about these tired trends that keeps us drooling for more?

And even though the fashion world has -– thankfully -– moved on from the tough-chic, rocker-girl looks of the past couple seasons, we’re still not seeing anything ground breaking. Designers continue to draw inspiration from trends of the past. And it seemed popular for designers to pit their pre-Fall and Fall inspirations as arising from the late designers of their respective fashion houses (i.e. Nicolas Ghesquière using carapace-back jackets that André Leon Talley described as “so Cristóbal” in Vogue’s March issue).

It has become a rareity for fashion designers of today to be truly artistic and revolutionary — really forward thinkers. A few of the greats — Galliano, Lacroix, Lagerfeld –- do send looks down the runway that really are works of art. The late Alexander McQueen was also in this league of designers, and his passing reminds us of the vision, talent and yes, opinion, that it takes to keep fashion a relevant medium in the art world.

Creativity did show some signs of revival on the Fall 2010 runways. Issey Miyake gave us tops and head pieces made of Crayola-colored scarves and Gareth Pugh kept us on our toes with Matrix-like outerwear and a chain-linked gown. But typically avant-garde lines like Rodarte and Ann Demeulemeester fell short of compelling this season, further evidencing the stagnant industry.

Even though fashion is cyclical, and we can always count on seeing trends of late resurface, it’s tiring to see fashion front-runners become so enthralled with “new” looks that are really anything but. As economies around the world continue to improve and sentiments continue to rise, hopefully we can see a resurgence of innovation in fashion. If the Fall 2010 runways were any indication, creativity seems to be making a slow comeback, but a comeback nonetheless. Here’s to an inspiring 2011 season!

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