In the 1990s Tom Ford performed at least two miracles. There was his public miracle of transforming the fortunes of an Italian luxury brand which had sunk into tacky naffness through a series of family feuds and bad licensing agreements and making Gucci once more a label associated with the highest jet set glamour and allure.
He also wrought a personal miracle on my head by making me think, with all his visual references to slinky Halston and necklines slashed open to the waist (the look we have recently been reminded of by American Hustle…), that the 1970s had been a decade of great fabulousness.
It wasn’t. The 1970s was the ghastly decade. It was absolutely hideous.
This has been brought back to me recently by the spate of repellent sexual abuse cases from that era which are currently being aired in the UK.
The foul J. Savile is the most notorious (I shudder even to type the name), but in the wake of those revelations hordes more women have felt able to come forward and report crimes that were visited on them around the same time by other celebrities who felt entitled, at the very least, to cop a good feel.
It seems to some an odd coincidence that so many well-known men could suddenly be revealed to be ruthless sexual predators. Not to me. In the 1970s that kind of revolting male behaviour was considered not just normal – but admirable. It’s not just the individuals who are on trial, it’s the whole hideous decade.
The most recent nauseating thing to emerge is that, in 1975, the National Council for Civil Liberties – a most excellent human rights advocacy organisation founded in the 1930s and operating now as Liberty – granted official affiliate status to a vile coterie of creeps called the Paedophile Information Exchange.
They claimed to be campaigning for the ‘rights’ of paedophiles and in the heat of the 1970s moment, when everybody’s rights to be recognised equal were up for grabs – women, homosexuals, people of colour (to use the US term) – they hopped aboard in the heady melee.
This revelation has been used this week by the British gutter press to smear by association the Labour MP and Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, Harriet Harman, who was working at the NCCL at the time.
Of course Ms Harman had nothing to do with giving that toxic group credence (much too busy working on equal pay for women), but the fact that such an organisation ever did, is another example of just how warped ideas about sexual ‘freedom’ had become in the 1970s.
The hangover of the sweetly naïve free love ideals of the 1960s, combined with the freedom from inconvenient unwanted pregnancy – without the need for any male responsibility for it – made possible by the contraceptive pill, created a ‘sexual revolution’ which at the time seemed like a marvellous step forward from the repression which had gripped since the Victorian era.
What it actually turned into was sexual open season for men. And all women under forty were prey.
I was a busty teenager in the 1970s and I remember it with horror. Just to walk along the street was to be ogled and catcalled. A visit to the local garage to collect the car with your mum, meant being confronted by walls of bare breasted women.
TV shows aired at peak family viewing times featured men aggressively pursuing women as a hilarious norm. Even the lauded Monty Python made me squirm with discomfort at the way women were depicted. The theme music from Benny Hill still makes me feel nauseous.
The celebrated sexual antics of the great rock bands of the time were another symptom of this epidemic of sexual exploitation under a false banner of freedom and I now understand that this was one of the reasons I fell upon punk rock with such a sense of relief in 1976.
Punk rock was completely asexual. Male and female punks dressed the same – thank you Vivienne Westwood for making bondage trousers that fitted me as well as for my boy pals. Men punk rock stars weren’t sexual warriors – Johnny Rotten? Joe Strummer? no way – and the women weren’t sex objects.
OK, the mesmerising, Debbie Harry was the object of many teenage boys’ fantasies, but I always felt she played up her looks on her own terms.
When I went backstage after gigs by the Boomtown Rats, the Jam, the Buzzocks etc, to get quotes for my fanzine, Punkture, none of the bands treated me as a groupie. We met on equal terms, eye to eye, united in our joy at the music which defined our generation – and separated us from the ghastly old pervy hippies.
It was part of the beginning of the next stage in sexual politics. As feminists like Harriet Harman began to create legislation which formally protected women’s rights, the wild dog phase of 1970s sexuality died down and soon began to look as outdated and ugly as the flares, chocolate brown leather jackets and centre-parted long hair and face pubes often sported by its perpetrators.
So while Tom Ford made us all believe for a while there that the 1970s was all glamour and silk jersey – and Amercian Hustle is starting it up again – let’s not forget what it was really like in the dark ages.