Fashion designers inspired by the '60s and '70s -- Anna Sui, Jill Stuart, and Donna Karan embrace retro looks with a modern edge

By Liza Schoenfein
Updated June 30, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

While a slew of songs counsel ”Don’t look back,” your more adventurous designer is sewing to a different tune, and it sounds a lot like ”Everything old is new again.” Actually, for designer Anna Sui, it sounds just like the Beatles: ”I was totally inspired by the release of the Beatles’ Live at the BBC, with songs I’d never heard,” says Sui.

The cut of Sui’s suits for fall is based on the archetypal two-piecer of London’s Carnaby Street heyday: short, sleek, and narrow. But there’s a modern edge to the designer’s line, and it’s attributable — at least in part — to more current influences, like new British bands Elastica and Oasis. ”Both have a very mod flavor,” says Sui.

Other designers reaching back before the Age of Aquarius include Jill Stuart, Gemma Kahng, and Donna Karan. Stuart’s fall line includes an homage to The Avengers, the fashion-forward British TV series of the ’60s. ”One of our best styles is called the Avenger,” says Stuart, who’s created a white pantsuit Emma Peel (the series’ super-sexy sleuth played by Diana Rigg) would kill for. ”I also had in mind movies like Casino Royale and What’s New Pussycat.” If you’re too young to remember those flicks or The Avengers, you’re just the right age to wear the fashions, which require a minimum of thigh and a maximum of lean leg.

The rage for all things retro doesn’t stop with the ’60s. The ’70s continue to be a gold mine for the pins-and-needle set: Mock croc and fake lizard — staples of the disco decade — are turning up on skin-hugging pants by designers such as Kitty Boots. And shoe designer Patrick Cox’s nostalgic Wannabe loafers are footwear Starsky and Hutch would have loved — not to mention Stephen Dorff, Johnny Depp, Michael Hutchence, and Madonna, all of whom have snatched up a version.

Getting a ’90s makeover, too, are jellies — those see-through, sherbet-colored rubber sandals that were de rigueur beachwear for little girls back in the ’70s. This time round, big girls like Roseanne and Patricia Arquette are wearing them — and paying big girl prices: $45 to — 125 at Barneys, as opposed to a few bucks at the five-and-dime. The ’70s’ most ubiquitous fashion symbol has returned without a lick of remodeling. We would be referring, of course, to those feisty little alligators from Lacoste and the collared, knit shirts they called home throughout the decade. Once a WASP staple, the jerseys are now equally prized by club kids. Call it Preppies II: The Next Generation.

An even larger trend — sizewise anyway — is the giant rocks appearing on the fingers of your bolder movers and shakers: cocktail rings that hark back to a time when Dietrichs and Garbos walked the earth. ”The scale of the jewelry is monumental, not just big,” says New York City-based jewelry designer Lawrence Vrba, creator of some of this year’s biggest baubles. ”These rings would need to be worn by somebody with a real sure sense of who they were.who is very aggressive and who, without a doubt, has a sense of humor.” Paging Sharon Stone.