The library is great here in Berkeley. Been diving into the eighties. Much on Reagan; will later compare his populism during the autumn and winter timeframes dominating the 80s with Dutch populism during the autumn and winter timeframes that dominate culture again since 1999. On the lighter side of life the 80s were also the years of Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. Both born in de Bronx from Jewish immigrants, Klein in 1942, Lauren in 1939. Klein used the beginning of the 80s to turn men’s underwear from functional boxer shorts to sexy briefs with his name adorning the elastic, and made a perfume into a national Obsession. Klein’s advertising campaigns, oozing sexuality, pushed the boundaries of what was considered proper, evoking discussion and therefore an competitive edge during the hedonistic and opportunistic autumn part of the eighties. Photographer Bruce Weber turned the buff Olympic pole vaulter Tom Hintinaus into one of the decade’s most popular pinups - for women and men. Klein himself became a caricature of eighties hedonism. He did everything and everyone, separated from his first wife, got himself a younger new one, all of which didn’t keep him out of Studio 54 and the pants of men.
Ralph Lauren (who’s best kept secret was his birth name, Ralphie Lifshitz), invented the name Polo for his line of wide colorful ties in 1967: “A little cachet,” he would recall. “Glamorous, international, and playboyish. Very suave characters went to polo matches.” In 1972 he adornes his shirts with the poloplayer. Halfway through the 1980s Ralph Lauren appealed to a public returning to traditional values and anxious about their status. And as with Calvin Klein, lavish advertising campaigns and Bruce Weber photographs swept him upward, although Lauren ads evoked elegant British country houses rather than sleazy San Francisco bathhouses (hey, it was a winter timeframe by then!)
Only a few months after opening his grand flag store on Madison Avenue in NY in 1986, Lauren makes the cover of Time: “Selling that sporty look, Polo’s Ralph Lauren”. That’s how important brands were in the eighties. The cover, starring Lauren looking like he just stepped out of a tennis court, is only subtly spoiled by a small heading in the corner: “Chernobyl - A Startling Report”. The world may be on fire, there are always a brand to safe us. (And to honor winter, I have bought a Ralph Lauren jacket, just the thing for a middle aged man)