They’re Baaaaaaack : Fashion: Hold on to your love beads. Bell-bottoms, the quintessential statement of the ‘60s, make a surprise return to style.
Straight from the Woodstock Generation, bell-bottoms are blasting back into fashion. Those flared fiends from the ‘60s are insinuating their way into summer ’90 style.
Some of the first signs of the revival appeared last fall when New York designer Betsey Johnson showed her “flower power” collection complete with black hip-hugger bells, while Italy’s leading fashion spoofer, Franco Moschino, put a paisley velvet bell-bottom pantsuit in his line. Earlier, in Paris, Christian Lacroix included bell-bottoms in his fall ’89 show.
At first, fashion watchers surmised flares would go the way of poufs--those strapless cocktail dresses with the bubble-shaped skirt. They parachuted to a fashion victim’s death within months of their launch about three years ago.
But flare power is fanning out.
Landlubber, the bell-bottom blue jean label considered a must for any hipster’s wardrobe 20 years ago, is back in business after more than a decade of dormancy. For summer, the Los Angeles-based company reissued several of its classic bell-bottom styles. They will be in stores in June, priced at about $40.
At Fred Segal on Melrose, where the jeans will be available next month, denim wear buyer Brett Wanger says: “I’m really excited to have Landlubbers back at Fred Segal where they originally sold so well--it’s a perfect marriage.”
Not to be outdone, Guess?, another Los Angeles-based jean company, introduced denim hip-hugger bells in the MGA stores around Los Angeles this week. They are priced at about $60.
And Paris-based Marithe and Francois Girbaud are gearing up with a denim “baggy cowboy” bell-bottom style, which will be available in Los Angeles stores by mid-July and priced at about $65.
While some fashion followers will try the look for the first time this summer, there are those who never gave it up. Levi-Strauss bells from the ‘60s never died or even faded away.
“There are groups of very loyal customers, not teen-agers, but older individuals who have worn them all along, so we continue to make them,” says spokeswoman Jill Novack. Since 1970, Levi-Strauss has manufactured Levi 583s, with a 20-inch flare, and 584s, a big bell with a 26-inch flare.
The pants, which sell for about $23, are available at Bell Sales Co. on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Los Angeles. The typical customer is male, 35 or older, who favors cowboy boots or construction boots and simply finds bells more convenient for this look.
All along, loyalists and first-time buyers have been able to find vintage bells at Time After Time, a resale shop on Melrose that offers unworn, 1968 blue jean bell-bottoms with various labels for about $45. These are low-slung hip-huggers with ultra-wide bells; the original store tags are still attached.
“I’m too young to remember Woodstock,” laments Gabrielle Shanahan, 28, on her way into Time After Time. “Yet I adore fashion, which compels me to buy these absurd pants that define a moment in time.”
If there is any doubt customers are ready for this revival, it has to do with one style of bell-bottoms in particular--hip-hugger bells.
Steve Weiss, who is overseeing the bell-bottom revival at Landlubber, says the company opted not to bring back the hip-hugger look because it’s too unflattering on all but the most slim, straight figures.
Instead, the company is offering the pants with a normal, waist-length rise and a modified flared leg, as well as a wider bell. “It’s an updated ‘60s look for the ‘90s,” says company spokesman Marshall Bank.
The Girbauds also decided to eliminate the hip-hugger look, having learned through trial and error. They re-introduced hip-hugger elephant bells three years ago, but “the pants never even made it to the store,” says Joni Fiore, creative director for the company. Girbaud’s current crop is more streamlined, high-waisted and cuffed.
Designers and retailers predict junior customers, ages 13 to 25, not nostalgic baby boomers, will be the best customers. The younger generation is ripe for the ‘60s look, Weiss says.
“A lot of college kids are asking two things,” Weiss says. “ ‘When is the next Grateful Dead concert?’ and ‘Where can (I) get (my) hands on hippie revival clothes?’ ”
New York-based Johnson says shoppers in Manhattan and Los Angeles boutiques are far more excited about the revival than are heartland customers. “They flew out of some stores and bombed in others,” she says. Her Soho (Manhattan) and Melrose boutiques fared the best.
Johnson continues to search for ways to update the ‘60s fashion icon for the ‘90s. Her holiday collection will feature a one-piece, off-the-shoulder, tight, panne velvet bell-bottom bodysuit in black with red roses, priced about $175.
“The bodysuit look is more modern and sleek, more ‘90s than ‘60s, more Star Trek than hippie,” says Johnson.
Other designers are updating the look in luxurious fabrics rather than denim, with luxury size price tags to match. Ralph Lauren’s fall, 1990, collection includes fluid, black silk bell-bottom evening pants, for about $1,200.
New York’s Jennifer George shows flared evening trousers for fall, priced at $360 for black velvet, $510 for the silver metallic look. “It’s a very strong new silhouette we’ll see more of,” predicts George. “It just takes time to catch on, like short skirts did a few years ago.”
London designer Rifat Ozbek’s entire fall ’90 collection is built around bell-bottoms and crop tops in stretch panne velvet. In fact, the bell-bottom revival first emerged on the London streets and was reported last February, on MTV’s “House of Style,” a video fashion magazine. The flared pants are an important part of the head-to-toe hippie look popular there.
Among denim wear labels, Lee is manufacturing and selling bell-bottoms in England and across Europe. But Lee executives do not think American consumers will accept the look, says Michael McEntire, the company’s U.S. vice president.
Similarly, Wrangler has no plans to manufacture bell-bottoms in America but does so in Great Britain, Holland, Denmark, Germany and Belgium, where, having just been reintroduced for spring ’90, they’re selling briskly, says Sally Purifoy, Wrangler’s product and development manager.
Deborah Hancock, director of fashion marketing for Cotton Inc., also noticed young Londoners wearing bell-bottoms at dance clubs this spring: “Although I can’t envision bell-bottoms returning with the same vengeance as before, teen-agers in London are wearing black and white optical check bells.”
Her prediction for the look? “It’s part of the ‘60s underground look, definitely not mainstream.”
At least one fashion watcher predicts the future rests with none other than Madonna. For one stage costume on her current Blond Ambition tour, Madonna wears black hip-hugger jeans with polka dot insets.
“If anyone’s going to bring bell-bottoms back, it’s Madonna,” says Alisa Bellettini, who produces MTV’s “House of Style.”