Power Hungry: Dame Joan Collins on the return of 80’s fashion
Shoulder pads! Big sleeves! The spirit of the Eighties is back on the catwalk. About time, says Dame Joan Collins…
In the Eighties, Dynasty became the most popular series on prime-time TV, not least because of the gorgeous and glamorous outfits created by Nolan Miller for all the actresses. I enjoyed working with Nolan, helping to create the elegant and stylish outfits for my character, Alexis Carrington Colby. When Alexis had to command groups of men, either in her office or the boardroom, she needed to look feminine but ruthless. The look empowered women and, across the world, career women were taking to tailored suits and well-coiffed, lacquered hair.
Power-dressing even proved true for me in the Nineties, when I fought the Goliath that was Random House in a real-life US courtroom drama to protect my reputation as a writer, after they tried to take away an advance they had given me for a book.
I appeared each day in court wearing subdued colours and sober and simple outfits. I looked and felt vulnerable, and was bullied and harassed by the elderly prosecutor (who I thought was a total chauvinist, by the way). I eventually burst into tears because I felt so intimidated, and I thought I was losing the case. The next day, a lawyer friend suggested I ‘become Alexis’ both in attitude and outfit and stand up to Mr Prosecutor, so I did just that.
I put on a vibrant blue pin-striped skirt suit, a statement pearl choker and white, V-necked silk gilet and I immediately felt, and consequently behaved, confidently and assertively. I was suddenly totally in charge, telling the old man not to come near me, to stop intimidating me and overall calling the shots in the cross-examination. I believed my clothes were my armour and I won the case.
Princess Diana was also at the forefront of wearing trendsetting outfits of that decade and I must confess that Nolan and I sometimes borrowed a few of her ‘looks’ from pictures in magazines and newsreels. Although since she was given the moniker ‘Dynasty Di’, it was a fine line who borrowed from whom. I like to think that we collaborated in upping the stakes of that glamorous decade.
That’s not to say I didn’t go too far sometimes. In Paris, I bought an extremely avant-garde suit from Pierre Cardin with enormously high angel-shaped sleeves that practically covered my cheeks. I wore the suit in an episode of Dynasty but a problem emerged when I had to answer a phone, and struggled getting the receiver to my ear. Our esteemed producer sent me a memo the next day to the effect of, ‘Don’t wear that jacket again — it’s you we want to see, not your f***ing shoulder pads.’
Skimming through the August issues of glossy, trendsetting magazines, I couldn’t find anything to wear that would suit me, so I’m delighted that there is a return to so-called Eighties fashion. I say ‘so-called’ because all fashion is cyclical and, in fact, those broad shoulders and cinched waists were all the rage in the Forties, as worn by legendary film stars like Joan Crawford and Lauren Bacall. In fact, the Forties is a well-admired decade fashion-wise, which is why I find it curious that so-called fashionistas have constantly derided the Eighties.
I have never stopped wearing shoulder pads, big sleeves and long earrings. I strongly believe, as did the iconic Claudette Colbert and Bacall, that if you find a style that suits you, you stick with it, because fashion is ephemeral but style is eternal.