Why Elton John Is This Season's Unlikely Style Icon

Artwork: Meg O'Donnell

As party season kicks off, we can always expect a little extra sparkle in our wardrobes. But over the past few months, you may have noticed that glitter has swept fashion into a flurry of excess.

It may be true that trends are recycled every 20 years, but the grunge attitude and minimalism of the '90s has dominated the industry for so long. So why has the color, camp, and extroversion of the '80s finally made it's way back into the zeitgeist?

“At a time when the global political climate is fractious, there’s comfort in a certain kind of nostalgia," Katie Smith, retail analysis and insights director at Edited, a fashion and retail technology company, explains. "The '80s were a time of economic boom, when fashion and lifestyles were fast and frivolous. With millennials delaying home purchases and starting families, they have disposable income which revisits some of that '80s hedonism. The '80s are somewhat akin to pure escapism from the harsher realities of life.”

And really, who embodies the maximalism of the decade more than Elton John? Since the '70s, the singer has taken stage costumes to new heights, with legendary costume designer Bob Mackie (a.k.a. The Sultan of Sequins) behind many of his most memorable pieces. Whether it’s the fringed rhinestone jacket and pink geometric sunglasses he wore when performing at Madison Square Garden in 1986, the star-spangled velvet jacket (with matching earrings) when on stage in Sydney the same year, or the wide-lapeled brocade duster coat he wore around Hollywood in ‘87, John championed outlandish and extraordinary dressing throughout the era.

Photo: WWD/REX/Shutterstock
Photo: WWD/REX/Shutterstock

But how does the musician’s vivacity translate today? One look through Gucci’s spring 2018 offering and you’ll see how creative director Alessandro Michele has made the decade’s euphoric aesthetic both nostalgic and contemporary. The brand’s iridescent jumpsuit emblazoned with color-pop musical notes? It’s Elton John on stage 30 years ago. According to Vogue, Michele drew inspiration from his friend Elton’s costume archives, with more than one look a reference to recognizable pieces worn by the icon. The designer even embroidered John's initials onto the back of jackets and T-shirts. Sequins dominated the 108-look collection, with a kaleidoscope of color glistening down the catwalk — ‘80s hedonism indeed.

Gucci isn't the only delivering the exuberance of the ‘80s sequin into 2017, either. Michael Halpern, the London-based Central Saint Martins graduate, has been championed by everyone from Donatella Versace to Sarah Mower for his shimmery pieces. Sure, he may draw inspiration from Studio 54’s ‘70s heyday, but styled with a pink satin jacket with razor-sharp shoulders (as it is in his fall '17 lookbook, it’s the ‘80s through and through.

“We've seen a real return to glamour with a revival of sequins and sparkle from brands such as Halpern, Attico, Osman, and DVF,” Natalie Kingham, buying director at MatchesFashion.com, notes. “There has also been an emergence of luxurious fabrics such as jacquard and brocade in metallic, or with lustrous accents from designers such as Gucci, Peter Pilotto, Carl Kapp, and Rochas.” Reiterating Smith’s point about escapism, Kingham advises buying into the fantasy and frivolity of the decade: “Investing in luxurious clothing doesn’t always need to be about simple timeless pieces. There is something decadent and glamorous about investing in a strong sequin look from Michael Halpern to cheer yourself up and add some flamboyance to your wardrobe.”

Fast-fashion is tapping into the decade of decadence, too. By analyzing retail trends, Smith can measure the growth in demand for ‘80s pieces: “Ruffled items are up a stunning 181% this fall compared to last, whether it’s down the sleeves of a sweater or blouse, across the hem of a skirt, or on the neckline of a jumpsuit. One-sleeved and asymmetric ruffled styles pack the most '80s punch,” she says. “Exaggerated sleeves were popular through the summer and returned during autumn on statement jumpers in bold poster paint palettes. We’re seeing dolman, batwing, and lantern sleeves, which, when paired with an oversized silhouette or a dramatic turtleneck, look like they stepped straight out of the '80s.”

ASOS, for example, has embraced the return of the decade, and is going all-out for party season. “Chandelier earrings, power shoulders and cocktail dresses are the perfect way to celebrate the holidays,” ASOS womenswear head of design, Sian Ryan, says. “The '80s oozes glamour and decadence...exaggerated shoulders and sleeves, metallic fabrications, dramatic embellishments and silhouettes — all of these elements encompass the party.” Her advice on styling the trend? “Mix it up, don’t be too literal, and have fun with luxe fabrics and elaborate silhouettes. Enjoy the opulence, it’s the holiday season, after all!”

Photo: Courtesy of ASOS

And while sparkles may be perfectly suited for holiday season, the '80s aren't going away once the festivities have come and gone. “While the '80s trend has had a strong impact over the last couple of years, it’s too strong an aesthetic to have an enduring influence on fashion,” Smith notes. “However, next season will certainly still be influenced by the '80s, as the spring '18 collections have attested.” Whether you go for Princess Diana-inspired sports casual with pearls and cycling shorts at the ready, or go all-out-Elton John with glitzy and glamorous hedonism, either way, it’s time to flash back to the '80s.