Last month, this caught my eye outside Night & Day on Oldham Street…
I thought: It looks like 1983!
…black & white photos, the violinist’s short-back-and-sides and white buttoned-up shirt, ‘Dancing and Laughing’ (like Falling and Laughing by Orange Juice?)… it’s all so earnest, monochromatic, modestly stylish, yet slightly tatty… just like the early 80s…
At Manchester Poly, in the mid-80s, I was taught about Kondratiev Cycles; the art-history lecturer described 30-year economic cycles during which fashions and trends come full circle, first observed by Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev in the 1920s.
The lecture focussed on “backward looking” versus “forward looking” attitudes within society, and the knock-on effect which these have on fashion and retail: in boom times, people look forwards and embrace new technology, while in economically depressed times, people look backwards and adopt “old-fashioned” values.
At the time, in the mid-80s, natural materials were “in” and synthetic materials were “out”. Plastic, nylon and other synthetic fabrics reeked of 1970s dated tackiness back then… the notion of “kitsch appeal” hadn’t yet evolved.
The lecturer told us that our mid-80s obsession with natural materials and pseudo-1950s styling was part of a generalised “backward looking” trend, which arose directly from the national economic down-turn we were living through.
My own aversion to man-made materials felt very personal and tactile… (nylon bed-sheets, nylon paisley shirts with massive collars, etc.) The idea that this was linked to economics seemed a big imaginative leap to make, although the notion was intriguing.
The lecturer characterised “backward looking” periods as conservative. But my experience of mid-80s Manchester was anything but: lots of small independent creative endeavours and businesses flourished in an exciting hive of activity, while many larger established companies were losing their way.
When I looked up Kondratiev Cycles recently, I was disappointed to discover that the 30-year cycle which I remember from the lecture doesn’t really tally with the original theory.
But the Manchester Poly art-lecturer’s tweaked version of Kondratiev theory appears to be working well, if my Oldham Street photo is anything to go by!