Optimistic analysts and experts are predicting a repeat of the Roaring Twenties once lockdown is finally lifted, replete with raucous, champagne-soaked parties and Gatsby-esque levels of hedonism and excess. But if fashion’s latest collections are anything to go by, the outfits will be less flapper and more flower power.
From the hallucinogenic swirls in shades of lime green and lilac that adorned hooded capes at Raf Simons to the acid bright palette at Dries van Noten, the SS21 collections were awash with psychedelic colours and motifs. New York-based label Collina Strada, known for its fun, playful aesthetic, eschewed the traditional runway format for its SS21 presentation in favour of a delightfully trippy film in which a diverse cast of models danced alongside animated cows and flower characters in a virtual dreamland of candy-coloured cornfields, dressed in trousers festooned with scribbly, hand-drawn flowers and dresses in bright, zingy hues.
The hallucinatory mood was a mainstay in the recent AW21 collections too, as seen with Maisie Wilen’s skintight dresses and catsuits in neon kaleidoscopic prints and Prada’s psychedelic print bodysuits that were perfect for dancing in. Buzzy London knitwear label AGR unveiled a collection of technicolour knits with undulating acid-trip patterns, while Anna Sui’s ‘Phantasmadelic’ collection was directly inspired by 1968’s mind-bending movie Wonderwall, and featured fuzzy bucket hats and hand-painted jeans with psychedelic neon green swirls.
Indie labels Paloma Wool and House of Sunny, which have garnered a cult following on Instagram, have also cornered the market for groovy, swirl-print clothes in mood-boosting colours. Now House of Sunny has released an even trippier collection for AW21, which it describes as "Disney’s Fantasia meets the Yellow Submarine". Featuring everything from swirly psychedelic trousers and retro flower and mushroom motifs to a varsity jacket emblazoned with the slogan "Take A Trip", it feels like a paean to summer festivals in sun-dappled forests.
Just what is it about multicoloured mind expansion that is capturing the fashion zeitgeist? Part of its appeal might be down to the serotonin-boosting hues and prints, which are more likely to grab our attention on screen as well as inject a little joie de vivre into our lives. "We wanted to bring a playful and psychedelic feel to everyday life," says House of Sunny’s managing director, Camilla Ley. "Textiles were developed to provoke memories and fun stories and bring comfort and escapism to people."
"After several seasons of plain basics and stay-at-home looks, designers and consumers alike are wanting to put the fun back into fashion and they're craving mood-boosting fashion pieces," Hannah Watkins, senior prints and graphics editor at trend-forecasting agency WGSN explains. "Punchy prints in impactful colours offer the perfect answer to this," she adds. "It’s also a reaction against minimalism and the type of serious aesthetic that we've been fed over the past decade as being fashionable," agrees fashion historian Sara Idacavage.
It makes sense that we’re craving fun, uplifting clothes at a time when fun has been sorely lacking and dispensing with preconceived notions of good and bad taste. But the trend also feels symptomatic of a deeper collective desire to escape the doldrums of pandemic life by returning to happier, more carefree times. "Psychedelic fashion evokes nostalgic feelings of freedom, community, participation, memories of long summers, festivals and being close to the people we love," says Caroline Stevenson, head of cultural and historical studies at the London College of Fashion. "Even if you didn’t experience psychedelia in the '60s, its fashion is a visual reminder of these things so it’s no surprise that designers would look to revive these emotions, memories and desires."
Kaleidoscopic fashion of course grew out of the counterculture movement in the 1960s, a time when drugs, free love and rock and roll swept through youth culture, culminating in the mythic ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967. With the explosion of LSD in the mid ‘60s, it wasn’t long before the drug’s influence made its way into mainstream culture, from The Beatles’ trippy Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album to the bright, experimental aesthetics seen across the UK’s most fabulous boutiques.
"Dressing in clothing that was unrestricted and flowing with bright colours and patterns was a way to visually eradicate social boundaries and enhance community participation," Stevenson explains. "In party settings, vibrant psychedelic fashion merged with lighting displays and music to create a total phantasmagorical environment."
Sustainability has also become a growing preoccupation for consumers and brands alike, and the intoxicated aesthetic and natural motifs of flowers and mushrooms chimes with the current mood. "Even though we might not think of the crazy paisleys and hallucinogenic swirls as necessarily being that Earth-friendly, the social movement of the 1960s was very much about getting back in touch with nature," explains Idacavage. "Although LSD wasn't a natural compound, it was associated with being connected to the Earth and moving away from the artificiality of capitalist life, so even though it might not seem like it at surface level, that sort of ethos is still expressed in psychedelic fashion today."
Collina Strada’s colourful crayon-scrawled dresses and retro flowery motifs also reflect the label’s environmentally conscious approach, from upcycling the majority of its collections to imploring people at its shows to grow their own food and become more self-sufficient. "People often describe me as being a modern-day hippie," says Collina Strada designer Hillary Taymour. "I love flower power, crazy florals, anything loud, so I guess that feels very '60s."
While the uptick in psychedelic references and mushroom-adorned garments can be seen as reflective of an industry-wide shift to a more sustainable way of thinking, perhaps it is also indicative of a wider societal shift in attitudes towards mushrooms and psychedelics in general. Thanks to the adaptogen craze in the wellness industry, mushrooms have a new trendy cachet. London’s one-stop wellness destination, Glow Bar, reported a huge rise in interest around its ceremonial shrooms and immunity mushrooms during lockdown as many turned to super herbs and ayurvedic medicines for their mental and physical health, and even released a limited edition "Shrooms" logo sweatshirt last month.
Hallucinogens such as LSD, ketamine and magic mushrooms are also getting a fresh look in medicine thanks to new research that suggests their potential as a treatment for conditions such as depression, compulsive disorders and chronic pain. Last November, Oregon became the first state to legalise the hallucinogenic compound in magic mushrooms, psilocybin, for medical use, and now a number of start-ups are developing psilocybin-based treatments in anticipation of a psychedelics gold rush.
"Mushrooms have taken the fashion, beauty and interior worlds by storm, and are a motif we're expecting to continue to see uptrend," says Watkins. "Long associated with their psychedelic qualities, mushroom imagery has taken on new meanings of late as their healing and wellness properties are explored and as a result, we’re noting Gen Z, a generation that prioritise their mental wellbeing, beginning to buy into fashion items that are emblazoned with mushrooms." Even if you’re not someone who worships at the altar of wellness and takes their coffee with a sprinkling of shrooms, wearing a psychedelic print or a mushroom motif on a top can act as a sartorial reminder of feelings of ecstasy and bliss. After a year of staring at the same four walls, we’re all looking to fashion for escapism – and an acid trip is as good an escape as any.