Updated: Aug 27, 2019
I loathe what I remember of the 90s: I was a young child back then, experimenting with differing styles and grappling with my sense of identity. Faced with the crucible of growth that was the 00s, I quickly developed a taste for a language that was boundary-pushing and screamed against the grain of conformity. That said, I am now able to dissect the vast and diverse influx of 90s nostalgia that we are faced with, and ask the question: Why should we give a f*** about the 90s?
We can’t escape the 90s. 90s-inspiried fashion dominates street style; the Marc Jacobs SS19 Resort Collection is a redux of his seminal 1993 Perry Ellis Collection. Contemporary chart music is laden with tracks pining for the decade - think Busted’s ‘Nineties,’ with a video shot by Rankin, or Charlie xCx and Troye Sivan’s ‘1999.’
“the 90s represents the most diverse era in recent fashion history, where the only point of having rules, was to break them.”
A Diverse Decade
But you’d be remiss to think that the 90s was solely Nirvana band tees and butterfly hairclips that many retailers love to bastardise in the name of a vintage throwback. In fact, the 90s represents the most diverse era in recent fashion history, where the only point of having rules, was to break them.
The decade, in all of its diversity, was both polarised and polarising. In the space of a few years, Paris, New York and Milan were intoxicated by excess, in love with an opulence that was seen on a Versace or Lacroix runway, and then discarded it all in the name of Helmut Lang’s minimalism, which was very much a rejection of decorative detail. Martin Margiela’s AW 1998 Ready-to-Wear Collection echoes this idea, with a pursuit of simplicity seen in its clean lines, luxury fabrics (such as cashmere and lambskin) and by capturing a tension between elegance and normalcy.
“There’s no denying that the decade was gripped by sex”
A War on Herion Chic
Undeniably, one of the decade’s most contro- versial trends was that of ‘heroin chic,’ which brought with it a moral panic that prompted the White House to condemn the fashion industry and its open celebration of drug culture. We only need to recall the waifish figure of Kate Moss in a Calvin Klein ad to evoke this image.
Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby
90s fashion made other eras appear compara- tively puritan. There’s no denying that the decade was gripped by sex. But the 90’s sex obsession was more political than it was libidinous. In a period when the artistic industries were deci- mated by the AIDS crisis, sex and its deathly possibilities were made tangible. Jean Paul Gaultier eroticised the nude body in his naked body suits. He flirted with fetish in his French Cancan collection of 1992, where he presented his models in hound’s-tooth gimp suits. The decade was breast-obsessed, marking the dawn of the Wonderbra and the arresting image of Mugler’s metallic bras, which contrasted sensu- ality with a chilling discomfort. Who can deny that the faces of the decade were arousing sex symbols, lusted for, and illustrious - Claudia Schiffer, Laetitia Casta, Naomi Campbell.
“We were spirited to a fantastical realm, wherein designers were unafraid to make their couture cosmic.”
The fashion industry not only reached new heights, but also strived for what is beyond the stratosphere. We were spirited to a fantastical realm, wherein designers were unafraid to make their couture cosmic. Just picture Thierry Mugler’s snake women, walking down the runway like celestial sorceresses. Yves Saint Laurent took us to the harem when Kate Moss became an odalisque for his Opium campaign. Comme des Garçons slashed the gender binary with the fantastical androgyny of models that pre-empted the queer influ- ences in today’s fashion.
The 90s Impact Answered
90s fashion, in all of its variety, was characterised by a single question - what would a designer do next? There was a palpable anticipation. Today, we only wish to discover the next great enfant terrible, rather than see the highest echelon outdo their oeuvre. In an attempt to stay ahead of the ever-oscillating curve, the creators of the 90s demonstrated a total disregard for what was acceptable. Even today, with the surveillance of social media, collective tastes veer towards the temperate.
We should give a f*** about the 90s because the decade reminds us not to give a f***. It is by breaking rules that we change them for the better.
This article appeared in Issue 23
By Giorgio Grande
Montages by Luke Walwyn