What changed for women in 1970? On the surface, not much; in truth, a lot.
While the ’60s saw feminist movements struggling to gain rights, the new decade began with a new certainty—that which the post-’68 generation appropriated, after having previously been won by their elder “sisters”, mothers and grandmothers: the acknowledgement of their equality with men.
The women of the ’70s were girls—and girls they would remain for life—resolute, brazen, emancipated. They were because they could be, because it was “normal” for them, just as it was “normal” to pound their fists on the table of politics. In those years, women were appointed to ministerial positions for the first time (Tina Anselmi in Italy, Simone Veil in France), women were elected to parliaments (Emma Bonino in Italy). Angela Davis, a woman, was considered by the FBI as one of the 10 most dangerous criminals in the United States. Why? Because she wouldn’t be quiet.
“Normal” in those years meant having sex, talking about sex, experiencing sex, enjoying sex, writing about sex: Lidia Ravera—together with a man, Marco Lombardo Radice – scandalized Italy with the novel Pigs Have Wings. “Normal” was also being the head of a powerful economic group, as was the case in Italy with Marisa Bellisario.
Moreover, the traditional concept of beauty associated with the mute woman became invested with new meaning.
Actresses, for example, no longer had to be merely beautiful – indeed they could even not be beautiful—but had to represent the women they played. Annie Girardot and Marlene Jobert emerged in France, Diane Keaton in the US.
The stud with a car? Obsolete. Women in the ’70s got their license at the age of 18 and, if they could afford it, bought a car and took off with their girlfriends.
Jewelry? Why wait for some guy to give it as a gift? The era of the 18th-birthday string of pearls was over, now it was all about gold chains and colorful pendants. At least that’s how the founder of Pomellato, Pino Rabolini, read the situation. The son of Milanese goldsmiths, he was the first to understand this generation of women inclined to buy a jewel simply because they fell immediately in love with it, like being struck by lightning.
I think of Diane Von Fürstenberg, who rewarded herself with a new jewel every time she signed a new contract. She and her friend Marisa Berenson, though born in different eras, fully embodied the feminine independence that the ’70s had ushered in. Diane showed great business acumen in building her empire of seduction. Years later, she would write her memoirs, titling them The Woman I Wanted to Be… the mantra of those years. Marisa deftly navigated the world of cinema, working straight away with great directors such as Visconti, Ken Russell and Bob Fosse.
In fashion, the era of nostalgia had begun. On the one hand, women were flocking to the flea market, while on the other, even the most skilled couturiers were gazing tenderly back at their own childhoods.
In Italy, the great Walter Albini, and in Paris, the famous Yves Saint Laurent were both inspired by the ’30s. As a whole, fashion offered great freedom: you could be a gypsy or a cowgirl, a China girl or a Russian girl, you could adopt the style of the Finzi-Contini or that of the cabaret. The key? Playing, including with hairstyles, perhaps with the help of a toupet or wig. The world hadn’t seen such high hairstyles since the time of Marie Antoinette. Thin belts, wide belts, platform shoes, ankle boots, go-go, boots, necklaces, sautoirs, chains, bracelets and earrings all symbolized the joie de vivre and carefree spirit of the age.
Text by Stephan Janson
Illustrations by Olimpia Zagnoli
Photos of jewels by Enrico Suà Ummarino
Photo of Milan by Gabriele Basilico