Fashion rolls back to disco days

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NEW YORK

Dust off that satin bomber jacket and pull on those tube socks — right to the knee, please — then delve into the attic on a mission to find your roller skates: “Xanadu” has opened on Broadway.

Could this be the start of a roller disco redux?

Before you shake your head in disbelief, consider that Macy's giant Herald Square store plans a “Roller Boogie”-themed in-store boutique, leggings already have become ubiquitous, and gold lame had a presence on the red carpet at the Oscars this year (a Carolina Herrera gown worn by Jada Pinkett Smith).

Sure, the 1980s might very well be the most maligned fashion decade, but many of its key looks are being worn today — maybe those wearing sorbet-colored tube tops and white-trimmed jogging shorts simply don’t know that those pieces had their first heyday as accessories to old-school, four-wheel skates.

At a recent preview of “Xanadu,” a musical based on the 1980 movie starring Olivia Newton-John about a muse who encourages a starving artist to pursue his dreams of building a roller rink, the cast wore the metallic leggings, graphic T-shirts and barrettes made of woven satin ribbon. That was all to be expected.

But what was particularly noticeable was the mint green dance dress, yellow track jacket and hot pink metallic shoes on a woman in the audience — she could’ve jumped onstage and blended in seamlessly.

“We’re definitely seeing ‘80s as the latest retro influence, from high-waisted jeans to super bright neon colors to big hair and the return of perms — spotted on both males and females,” says Carla Avruch, director of consumer insights and trends at market research firm the Zandl Group.

She points to bands with an ‘80s throwback sound, such as I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness, ‘80s-themed nights at clubs and the success of American Apparel, a company that’s made tiny, shiny workout shorts cool to people who were probably in diapers when the trend was worn the first time.

The entire skating industry is in the midst of a generational shift, reports Nick Skally, marketing manager for Rollerblade USA, which introduced its first inline boot skate 27 years ago. “The first skaters now have families and are skating with their kids, so there is this weird retro thing going on. It’s retro in a cool way, feeling nostalgic for the bold color patterns that remind them of past days.”

Andy Young, a 30-year-old actress, puts on her shortest shorts and miniskirts a few times a week to skate at Central Park in Manhattan. She says as one of seven children, she grew up watching her older brothers and sisters roller skate and she was eager to join in.

“It’s like a mini little show. There are always people watching us and we’re creative people — I’m an actor, there are a lot artists. We like pizazz and razzle and dazzle. The more fun we’re having, the more other people want to join us — and it’s reflected in the clothes,” she says.

The look hasn’t really changed much over time, Miss Young says. “Maybe it’s a little funkier, but it’s still about showing your body. Being skaters, most of us have really great legs.”

Russell Orlando, a fashion director at Macy's East, remembers that the “Let’s Get Physical” craze was in full swing in the early ‘80s — both in fitness and in fashion. “I was there then. It was carefree and fun, but even though it was a casual look, it was always neat,” he says. “It was body conscious. Shorts were skintight, but everyone was doing Jane Fonda.”

Anoma Whittaker, fashion director at skater magazine Complex, says the style of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s is now appealing to a younger crowd because it comes from a time that is perceived as exuding confidence and expression.

Street brands Stussy, 10 Deep, Reason and Mighty Healthy clearly have been influenced by the era with their carefully calculated chaotic prints and patterns, the fashion director says. “It was a fun time. There was confidence of color and texture. There was nylon, metallics and a touch of sport.”

At American Apparel, designers didn’t overanalyze the how and the why of bringing back roller-inspired fashion, they simply saw “Roller Boogie,” a 1979 movie in which Linda Blair tries to save her favorite on-wheels disco, one too many times.

“We become obsessed with that movie. We made a lot of pieces that were inspired by it. It was a whim and obsession with that film — and the items have sold,” Matthew Swenson, the company’s fashion media director, explains. “On a whim, we also bought lame fabric and turned them into leggings, and the gold and silver took off.”

Now the company is making leggings in seven different fabrics, offering two different unitards and several bodysuits.

But he warns against being too literal in one’s interpretation of the ‘80s roller skating culture. “It’s been modernized to a degree, we’re not talking about oversized sweatshirts and side ponytails with the leggings. You’re mixing them with high fashion,” Mr. Swenson says.

Mr. Orlando of Macy's also caught that Linda Blair flick. “She wore a bodysuit and little shorts and a cinch belt, and puts her skates in a Gucci skatebag. It’s something to see.” he says with a laugh.

And now you will see it at the world’s largest department store — in a toned down way — with a display of shorts, rompers, bodysuits, and tube and halter tops in a smattering of summery colors such as watermelon, turquoise, coral, yellow and orange.

Mr. Orlando notes how good this whole look was on Jessica Simpson in last year’s video for “A Public Affair.”

“I had already seen a lot of ‘70s and ‘80s retro and the active trend — then I saw Jessica Simpson. I said, ‘This is a piece of what’s going to happen in spring ‘08.”

This season’s display is a way to get ahead of the trend, he explains.

But while the clothes are making a comeback and even a smattering of roller derby leagues have popped up across the country, Miss Avruch of Zandi’s doesn’t expect to see an actual revival of roller skating until the skates themselves get a makeover.

“I’m actually shocked retro Adidas-styled skates aren’t already for sale at Urban Outfitters,” she says.

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