32 Three writ­ers ex­plore fash­ion’s never-end­ing love af­fair with the past.

Olivia Stren’s search for the denim skirt of her 20-some­thing dreams has her re­flect­ing on what is and what might never be.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents -

I grew up watch­ing Three’s

Com­pany and cul­ti­vat­ing the con­vic­tion that be­ing a grownup meant liv­ing with a cou­ple of good-look­ing room­mates some­where near a beach and get­ting em­broiled in mis­un­der­stand­ings in­volv­ing dou­ble en­ten­dres and a swing­ing kitchen door. But mostly it meant that I would grow up to wear the hell out of ’70s-style midi-length skirts like Suzanne Somers’s Chrissy Snow. If Chrissy was my style hero, it wasn’t for the tight tops or bounc­ing flaxen pony­tails. (Lord knows, blond and busty I am not.) But those swingy, waist-whit­tling A-line sil­hou­ettes, in shades of rust and sand and sad­dle brown, ide­ally part­nered with es­padrilles or stacked-heel boots, em­broi­dered them­selves in my imag­i­na­tion as the ul­ti­mate cos­tume of young adult­hood. In fact, it oc­curs to me now that I’ve spent most of my life want­ing to dress like (be?) a char­ac­ter in a ’70s sit­com. The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Mary Richards in­stilled in me the fan­tasy that all that stood be­tween me and com­pe­tent, in­de­pen­dent, self-pos­sessed wom­an­hood was a pair of dra­mat­i­cal­ly­high-waisted wide-legged trousers. (I’m par­tic­u­larly weak to their sum­mer sis­ter, wide-legged but­ton-front sailor pants. I’m sorry to add that I now claim more pairs of sailor pants than Cap­tain High Liner, but it ap­pears that I’m still wait­ing for the “com­pe­tent” part to kick in. The pos­ses­sion of high-waisted trousers, it turns out, does not re­sult in sexy self-pos­ses­sion.)

For all of this long­ing for a by­gone time and its su­pe­rior out­fits, I can also blame my mother. She is French and there­fore un­usu­ally bril­liant at long­ing. For her, nostal­gia, along with its pas­sel of écharpe-wear­ing, Gi­tanes-puff­ing rel­a­tives—en­nui, melan­choly, malaise—is a cul­tural sport. (It’s also, come to think of it, the only sport at which I ex­cel.) But what­ever the rea­son for this sar­to­rial pin­ing—maybe it’s be­cause images of these out­fits are so well par­celled with my child­hood or be­cause they dressed char­ac­ters at the start of their new ca­reers and lives—these clothes seem to me to be the wardrobe of beret-toss­ing hope and free­dom. If I’m still weak in the face of a D-ring belt and a calf-graz­ing hem­line, it’s be­cause these clothes, to me, evoke a fan­tasy of fresh adult­hood: the sit­com ver­sion— one not yet but­toned to com­mit­ments and un­creased by dis­il­lu­sion­ment.

I am hardly alone in my love af­fair with ’70s fash­ion. French fash­ion house Chloé has long es­corted us back to a silk-jer­sey-swathed golden age; its newly minted creative di­rec­tor, Nat­acha Ram­say-Levi, has cited ’70s stars An­jel­ica Hus­ton, Is­abelle Hup­pert and Sissy Spacek as style he­roes. (Suzanne Somers was not on the list. I know—a stun­ning over­sight.) Mean­while, in­die cult brands like New York’s Apiece Apart can’t keep their pin­tucked over­alls and wide-legged

cropped Merida pants in Chris­syfriendly shades of camel in stock. And ’70s-style denim—a buckle-belted midi-skirt from Lon­don-based de­signer Re­jina Pyo, a wide-legged con­trast-stitched cropped jump­suit from Ulla John­son and an A-line cot­ton-cham­bray shirt­dress from Gabriela Hearst—brought a cer­tain come-and-knock-on-my-door vibe into the cur­rent era.

All of this might ex­plain why, when I was about 23, I bought an A-line dark denim midi-skirt—a Chrissy Snow clas­sic as far as I was con­cerned—and pro­ceeded to spend the bet­ter part of my 20s wear­ing it. If a decade can be de­fined by a piece of cloth­ing, this skirt was the uni­form of my 20s. Here’s how we met: I was in New York for a week­end, vis­it­ing a friend, when I popped into Agnès B.—a move that felt, at the time, like sashay­ing into Cé­line—and fell in desta­bi­liz­ing love. I still re­mem­ber the skirt’s price tag ($145 U.S.) be­cause I spent the rest of the week­end ra­tio­nal­iz­ing why it was en­tirely worth this( then- reck­less-and-fi­nan­cially ru­inous) sum. I was just about to start my first real job (as a ju­nior ed­i­tor at a magazine), and the skirt—sim­ple but with just enough work­ing-girl pluck—would be my ar­mour for my pro­fes­sional de­but. I bought it. I quit that job a few years later, but I re­mained deeply com­mit­ted to the skirt. Then, some­time af­ter I turned 30—I don’t know when or how—I lost it. I moved so many times from apart­ment to apart­ment (none of them near a beach, by the way), I don’t know what be­came of it. Sort of like a col­lege boyfriend, it was so cen­tral in my life for so many years un­til one day it wasn’t. Although it dis­ap­peared over 10 years ago now, I find myself won­der­ing about it, long­ing for it, some­times even pop­ping into Agnès B. think­ing it will be there. (It never is.)

I have now worked as a freelance writer for 15 years and never quite be­came the ca­reerist I thought I’d grow up to be. (I have the wide­legged trousers but not the newsroom and I’m-gonna-make-it-af­ter-all life to wear them in.) I now spend more time in play­grounds and in py­ja­mas than I do, say, trad­ing wit­ti­cisms and toss­ing berets on my way up the pro­fes­sional lad­der. I’m all for the present...I know you can’t live in the past, fair enough, but you can try.

In Paul Si­mon’s ’70s “Slip Slidin’ Away,” he sings that “a bad day’s when I lie in bed / and think of things that might have been.” On a re­cent bad day, as I on­line-shopped for the per­son I might have been, I came across the dreami­est dress ver­sion of that long-lost skirt, cour­tesy of Los An­ge­les-based brand Co, which is helmed by mar­ried cou­ple Stephanie Danan and Justin Kern. It was di­vine in dark-rinse Ja­panese denim and ac­cou­tred with patch pock­ets and a full A-line midi-skirt. “The ’70s is a place of nostal­gia for me, too—it’s the time I re­mem­ber my mother at her most glam­orous,” Danan, who is from Mon­treal, tells me. “My mom was a de­signer in the ’70s and ’80s. She sold her line at Holt Ren­frew and had a shop-in-shop at Ogilvy, and ev­ery Satur­day I would fol­low her around for hours on end from vin­tage store to vin­tage store on St-De­nis Street. And so be­gan my own re­la­tion­ship with nostal­gia and look­ing at clothes from a more his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive.” Danan and Kern founded the brand in 2011 af­ter years of work­ing in the film in­dus­try. Their sig­na­ture sil­hou­ettes are hot sellers on Net-a-Porter and Goop, and they count Gwyneth Pal­trow, Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal and Jes­sica Se­in­feld as fans.

When I meet Danan and Kern at their of­fice in down­town L.A., I con­fess my ’70s sit­com habit and my cur­rent in­fat­u­a­tion with that denim dress. “We tend to ref­er­ence the ’40s more in our clothes,” Kern of­fers sum­mar­ily. “That dress def­i­nitely has a ’40s vibe, but you can also imag­ine it with a pair of ’70s boots,” adds Danan. I pre­fer to imag­ine myself in it. In it, I’ll be young, at the start of some­thing new and ex­cit­ing, and I’ll be the per­son I might have been. It will take me back to a time when I only looked ahead. Danan kindly sug­gests that I try it on. But the dress looked so much bet­ter on me in my head. Maybe be­cause what I want is not the skirt or the dress but the time of life it be­longed to. It turns out you can’t find the past—not even at full price on Net-a-Porter.

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