The designer behind the CND sign would be spinning in his grave - now
half a century old, it is more often seen on catwalk models than
protest marchers. Clare Coulson reports
Friday August 22 2008
The British artist Gerald Holtom, creator of the CND sign, penned a
solemn note to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, before its first
public outing on a London peace march in 1958. "I was in despair," he
wrote, explaining how the symbol came about. "Deep despair. I drew
myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands
palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya's
peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line
and put a circle round it."
Holtom died in 1985. If he had been alive to see this month's Vogue
or Tatler, he might have been surprised to see an advertisement for
Tiffany & Co in which Lily Cole wears a platinum and diamond peace
sign pendant. Half a century after its creation, this potent
ideological symbol has become one of the world's most recognisable
designs - and one of its most commercialised too. With 4.8 carats of
round-cut diamonds set into platinum, the Tiffany pendant has a price
tag of £2,550.
Holtom, who was a conscientious objector during the second world war
while working on a farm in Norfolk, would probably not have been too
impressed. But Tiffany is not alone in cashing in on the design,
which has adorned Fendi bags, limited-edition Volkswagen cars and
Madonna's favourite Ed Hardy T-shirts. This autumn Barney's, the chic
New York department store, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the
peace sign with its Peace and Love holiday extravaganza.
Barneys' British creative director, Simon Doonan, has strong memories
of the symbol in its original context: growing up near the
Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment, he remembers "going with my
parents and seeing the CND sign held up on broomsticks". These days,
he believes, "a lot of people don't necessarily know the sign came
out of the nuclear disarmament movement. But it still has meaning to
people, it still carries a positive message of peace. It's become
almost akin to a smiley face." He has asked designers including
Nicolas Ghesquière of Balenciaga, Alber Elbaz of Lanvin, Phillip Lim
and Alexander Wang to create dresses inspired by the peace sign. The
store has commissioned a plethora of hippy-inspired products: tie-dye
Converse hi-tops, psychedelic backgammon boards and high-fashion
accessories including a Fendi baguette bag with a peace-sign key chain.
All this rampant consumerism doesn't sit easily with the principles
of turn on, tune in and drop out. Sadly for CND (and for Gerald
Holtom's estate) a copyright was never sought for the sign, which
allows it to be commandeered for pretty much anything - including
Tiffany pendants - although CND do ask for a donation from companies
who have used the symbol.
Doonan disputes the idea that Barneys' "Have a Hippy Holiday"
campaign is at odds with the original message of the peace sign.
"Sure, it's probably not what the hippies had in mind, for it to
become a marketing campaign for a department store. But it's a symbol
of the mainstreaming of counter-cultural ideas, of things that were
part of the alternative lifestyle - like environmentalism, and
organic food. Isn't that ultimately what the hippies would have wanted?"
Not necessarily, says Christopher Breward, head of the V&A's research
department, who suspects "Holtom is probably spinning in his grave
now. The original anti-bomb marchers came from a very anti-fashion
perspective." Next month the V&A opens Cold War Modern: Design
1945-70, which will delve into the relationship between fear and
fashion and design during the postwar decades.
Breward sees correlations between our current economic and social
climate and the prevailing mood in the 60s and early 70s. "These
decades offer answers to present problems; think of the 70s eco
movement, an alternative way of living. There's a really strong
connection between then and now."
Ever since the summer of love, fashion has drawn inspiration from
hippie style and symbols. Yves Saint Laurent took his cues from the
bohemian band of friends who populated his Marrakech riad, including
Talitha Getty. Kenzo also took hippy style and gave it a high-fashion
spin, while Tom Ford created his own tribute to the summer of love
while at Gucci in the early 90s.
Now designers are plundering the look once more. After a summer of
wedge sandals, maxi dresses and festival dressing (where even
orange-faced Wags were hopping on the hippy bandwagon), autumn sees
the return of gilets, tasseled boots and folky prints.
The look is most pronounced at Gucci, where creative director Frida
Giannini has fused Russian bohemia with a hefty dash of 70s rock
chick. There are fringed boots and tight velvet pants, low-slung
embellished belts and printed peasant tops all topped off with piles
of jangly charm bracelets and necklaces. The current advertising
campaign for Gucci's "hippy deluxe" range shows a gaggle of models
prancing around in a meadow in what seems like a post-festival haze -
complete with whopping great Gucci bags, of course.
The day after Giannini's autumn/winter show back in February,
newspapers were cooing over the brazen commerciality of it all.
(Ironically, the reviews probably started Giannini brooding in her
Via Pontaccio office - few fashion designers like to be tarred with
the commercial brush.) But the critics had a point - there is
something very saleable about the style of the late 60s and 70s. As
Christopher Breward puts it: "Everyone can have a piece of this look
as it's so simple - it's a fashion shorthand and it's incredibly accessible."
So accessible, in fact, that Giannini delved deeper into the 70s for
her resort range (which will go on sale around November) with printed
maxi dresses, flared trousers and numerous tributes to Talitha Getty
and Jane Birkin, who both inspired the collection. And Giannini isn't
the only one.
Michael Kors gives a nod to the style in his resort collection too,
with long tie-dye kaftans and patchwork dresses. Meanwhile, this
autumn Dolce & Gabbana ditches its usual ultra-sexy style in favour
of shaggy long gilets and midi-length skirts. There are more fluffy
gilets at Isabel Marant and Etro, while Bally, the Swiss firm that is
now steered by ex-Versace designer Brian Atwood, has faded-print
peasant tops and slouchy suede boots.
It's all a far cry from the thrift-store aesthetic of the original
hippies. Any residual meaning in hippy style - and probably the peace
symbol - has been virtually sucked dry by the fashion business, with
the look becoming a moneyspinner for global luxury brands. Next year
sees the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Giannini is probably
rummaging through the archive pictures already.