Tuesday, 18 June 2013

What goes around comes around

Retro is in. Lunching at the newly opened Music Bar on ul. Olkuska (across the way from the well-established Burger Bar, just off Puławska), we are surrounded by hipsters sporting trendy beards, short-back-and-sides haircuts, narrow jeans and looking like... well, hipsters from the early 1960s. The music being played (at a pleasurable volume) was be-bop jazz - Charlie Parker, John Coltrane.

The crowd is dressed the part; the late-40s-early-50s aesthetic has parted to make way for the styles of half a century ago. The 1960s are cool again; it's as though the 1920s were cool in the 1970s - but hang on a second - they were! I remember that wave of beige and brown Oxford Bags, geometric-striped tank-tops and correspondent shoes that hit England's high streets in the wake of the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby (currently re-made half a century on and once again in the cinemas).

And go back one century further to the 1870s; how the Victorians loved the late Middle Ages! Today, it's hard to imagine that six hundred years separate Westminster Abbey from the Palace of Westminster, the latter built in the same Gothic style.

Retro has always been in. Difficult to think of when it wasn't. Well, the 1960s were actually quite original; the whole Space Race thing and designers like Pierre Cardin using new man-made fabrics; and while hem-lengths were above the knees in the Roaring Twenties, they reached new heights in the Swinging Sixties. Once there, all hems could do was to recede, and then to yo-yo back and forth as fashion designers grasped with increasing desperation for the New and found only the Recycled.

I can't remember an age where so much of the current aesthetic is so obviously a rehash of the past. It's comforting at a time of austerity, to hark back to a more affluent era - the 1960s were all go; supersonic flight, mods on scooters, classlessness, the Death of Deference (the Profumo Affair broke 50 years ago); a new generation of classless lads like David Bailey, David Frost, David Hemming and David Hockney (that's just the Davids) broke the mould and did new things that hadn't been done before in photography, interviewing, acting or painting.

Today, timidly, we reach back for a comfort blanket and laugh at how old-fashioned things were, while all the time realising what massive breakthroughs were being accomplished. A few seasons of Mad Men have influenced contemporary aesthetics - from men's clothing to interior design.

And note the wild success of the Keep Calm and Carry On - the typeface is everywhere as are variations of the slogan (a garden kneeler saying 'Keep Calm and Carry On Weeding', a wide range of Keep Calm greeting cards in Warsaw's EMPiK store). Again - retro comforts.

The 1960s were radically different from what came before. The technology, the popular culture, the attitudes, the mores. I dare say that one day I'll be able to identify with my grandchildren's generation far better than with my parents' generation. By the 2030s what will there be new to grasp on to, style wise? Great Depression chic? Steam-Punk Neo-Victorianism? (penny-farthings on our cycle paths?) Or the 1980s revisited, the New Romantics crossed with Dynasty?  Or the late-Renaissance? Or a cross between the two? Machiavelli meets Adam Ant? A depressing vision.

Given society's track-record in recycling historical aesthetics, I feel it will be unlikely that something entirely new will burst onto the scene in the same, fresh, way that we witnessed in the 1960s. Hendrix's guitar and Mary Quant's hems. Finally a generalisation: is it correct to posit that when economic times are tough, we instinctively, lazily, reach for the aesthetics of yesteryear as a comforting antidote?

This time last year:
Warsaw's southern bypass by this time next year?
[No, it's likely to be the end of 2013]

This time last year:
Stand Easy! - a short story

This time four years ago:
God Save The Queen - I mean it, Ma'am

This time five years ago:
Legoland, Dawidy Poduchowne

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