What was it about the ’80s and ’90s that made people as carefree as ever when it came to clothing? I don’t just mean social events occurring that affected clothing—I mean the need for heightened individualism and expression, gender equality and power. Social restrictions on clothing in the early 1900s through the ’50s created an invisible structure people followed that made certain things “acceptable” and “unacceptable”. With the turn of the ’80s, it seemed like it all went out the window and a new air of creativity swept the social scene. Some of this resulted in what many refer to as the “dark ages in fashion” while a lot of it was simply too bizarre to not appreciate. Regardless of what your own belief may be, you can’t disagree that the ’80s and ’90s brought about some of the most iconic figures in music and fashion, and if anything, paved the way for artistic development.
One of my favorite artists that emerged in the ’80s would definitely have to be Mylène Farmer for her culturally empowering contributions in French popular music and international style. Born in Quebec, September 12, 1981 and raised in Paris, she is a singer/songwriter and occasional actress whose career was a complete surprise. In her early years, she had a passion for horse riding and discovered acting at age 17. She took on the last name “Farmer”(replacing her original last name Gautier) after her idol, Frances Farmer, a 1930s Hollywood actress known for her involuntary commitment to a mental hospital and psychological problems. Mylène herself was known to be a kooky woman with a unique image and bushy hair. While trying to make a living, she worked as a model in commercials which eventually led her to seek more acting opportunities. After replying to a newspaper ad seeking an actress for a small film, she met Laurent Boutonnat, an aspiring film director in 1984. They formed a creative alliance, writing and producing music. Her first popular song “Maman a tort” was originally written for another artist but when she gave singing it a try, they knew she was on to something. She instantly reached fame for the song’s catchy beat, poetic lyrics and explicit music videos. Her videos contained homosexual themes, hints of sodomy and the first full frontal nudity seen in a major music video by the singer. Many were banned but created a platform for Mylène to flourish artistically.
Her debut album established her mysterious and sexually ambiguous musical style with a fusion of 19th century literature, which had a major impact on her clothing choices. The leading single, Libertine, features her in very masculine Revolution-themed attire contrasting with stark nudity. The following single, Tristana (great song) continued her cinematic approach to music and clothing. It wasn’t until her second album however, Ainsi soit je, that she reached complete fame, becoming the best-selling female album in France in the 1980s. This album featured songs inspired by the romance of French author Charles Baudelaire and the horror of Edgar Allan Poe. If you can imagine these two elements as a major driving force in clothing, you’d end up with a style completely unique to Mylène.
As her career progressed, she continued to fuse cinematic and literary elements to derive a new gothic style. The prominent masculine features seen ’80s culture were upstaged by her choice in extravagant overcoats, mini skirts and thigh high boots as well as topless and powerful pant suits. In each outfit, she highlighted hyper-sexualized themes that created her iconic image, of course, were topped by her bright orange hair. Today, she continues to be a contributing force to music and fashion to the French-speaking world leaving a legacy comparable to that of Madonna’s in her prime (yes I went there).
— Alinnette Hernandez