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'90s Angst: Minimalism and Grunge

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We're just now far enough removed from the '90s to casually remember it as a happier, simpler time. It was, after all, pre 9/11, post-Berlin Wall, and the last years of human history without ubiquitous internet and the Pandora's box it has opened. But when we consider the '90s in context, it was rife with uncertainty: from Desert Storm to domestic terrorism and welfare reform, serial killers and sensational scandals on TV, and the specter of omnipresent technology looming the not-too-distant future, it was a time of intense introspection and intense angst.

Fashion has always dealt with angst through irony, and the '90s world, sandwiched between Reaganomics and the specter of Y2K, was an age of fashion that met its angst head on. On the one hand was a completely new, almost aggressive form of minimalism that aspired to a brighter, clearer, sexier version of modernity, and on the other was the golden age of grunge, a symbolic rejection of oppressive mainstream culture. Both are back in a big way this season, as seen through an SS18 prism.

We're just now far enough removed from the '90s to casually remember it as a happier, simpler time. It was, after all, pre 9/11, post-Berlin Wall, and the last years of human history without ubiquitous internet and the Pandora's box it has opened. But when we consider the '90s in context, it was rife with uncertainty: from Desert Storm to domestic terrorism and welfare reform, serial killers and sensational scandals on TV, and the specter of omnipresent technology looming the not-too-distant future, it was a time of intense introspection and intense angst.

Fashion has always dealt with angst through irony, and the '90s world, sandwiched between Reaganomics and the specter of Y2K, was an age of fashion that met its angst head on. On the one hand was a completely new, almost aggressive form of minimalism that aspired to a brighter, clearer, sexier version of modernity, and on the other was the golden age of grunge, a symbolic rejection of oppressive mainstream culture. Both are back in a big way this season, as seen through an SS18 prism.

On the one hand was a completely new, almost aggressive form of minimalism that aspired to a brighter, clearer, sexier version of modernity, and on the other was the golden age of grunge, a symbolic rejection of oppressive mainstream culture.

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Sailor Pant in Salt by JESSE KAMM, Nyota Jacket in Putty, Lark Top by SHAINA MOTE

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MINIMALISM

Minimalism has always been rooted in art culture, but the '90s version was also a reaction of sorts against '80s yuppie chic. It was more artful, more sculptural, but more importantly, it rejected most outward signifiers of conspicuous consumption in favor of subtlety, slick lines, and a mostly monochromatic palette.

Cap Sleeve Long Dress by PROENZA SCHOULER, Tabi Boot in White Denim by MAISON MARGIELA, Net Fabric Bag in White, Brass Choker by MM6

This was the golden age of Calvin Klein, with Kate Moss as its indomitable face and the the glamorous, jet-setting Carolyn-Bessette Kennedy as a publicity machine.

It was also the apotheosis of Maison Margiela (and the era that is still the source of the house's mystique), and high water mark for the house of Jil Sander, a golden era of minimalist music from Aphex Twin and Phillip Glass to Björk, and sleeker, more chic and less eccentric time for icons like Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow.

01 Calvin Klein Collection Spring 1997, Vogue Runway
02 Erin O'Connor in Helmut Lang Ensemble, photographed by Mario Testino for Vogue, 1998
03 Calvin Klein Collection Spring 1994, Vogue Runway
04 Gwyneth Paltrow '90s, Who What Wear UK

Cap Sleeve Long Dress by PROENZA SCHOULER, Tabi Boot in White Denim by MAISON MARGIELA, Net Fabric Bag in White, Brass Choker by MM6

This was the golden age of Calvin Klein, with Kate Moss as its indomitable face and the the glamorous, jet-setting Carolyn-Bessette Kennedy as a publicity machine.

It was also the apotheosis of Maison Margiela (and the era that is still the source of the house's mystique), and high water mark for the house of Jil Sander, a golden era of minimalist music from Aphex Twin and Phillip Glass to Björk, and sleeker, more chic and less eccentric time for icons like Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow.

01 Calvin Klein Collection Spring 1997, Vogue Runway
02 Erin O'Connor in Helmut Lang Ensemble, photographed by Mario Testino for Vogue, 1998
03 Calvin Klein Collection Spring 1994, Vogue Runway
04 Gwyneth Paltrow '90s, Who What Wear UK

 

 

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Sailor Pant in Salt by JESSE KAMM, Nyota Jacket in Putty, Lark Top by SHAINA MOTE

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GRUNGE

'90s grunge, on the other hand, had its roots in '70s punk, '80s underground and the ideas of activist theorists like Hakim Bey and Naomi Klein. It was a bird flip to middle class politeness, and its driving ethos was a 1:1 rejection of the symbols of suburban anonymity. And like punk before it, the fact that these looks could mostly be culled from secondhand stores was in itself a defiant act of non-participation in the traditional economy.

Ripped denim, heavy boots, plum lipstic, velvet, and not-for-nice-girls silhouettes went viral via MTV and through cult shows like Daria, and the looks were often cited as evidence of moral and societal decay.

Still, grunge had gone full on mainstream by the time Kurt Cobain died and had been co-opted into high fashion a year earlier by the breakout act of Marc Jacobs' career—his "grunge" collection for Perry Ellis—and was embodied even more spectacularly by Vivienne Westwood's mid-'90s runways as the logical progression of the punk-inspired work she'd been doing since the 1970s. Isn't it ironic?

01 Anna Sui Spring 1994, Vogue Runway
02 Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood Fall 1993, Vogue Runway
03 Backstage at Helmut Lang Fashion Show, photographed by Juergen Teller, Spring Summer 1994
04 Chloe Sevigny in Miu Miu Spring Summer 1996

Ripped denim, heavy boots, plum lipstic, velvet, and not-for-nice-girls silhouettes went viral via MTV and through cult shows like Daria, and the looks were often cited as evidence of moral and societal decay.

Still, grunge had gone full on mainstream by the time Kurt Cobain died and had been co-opted into high fashion a year earlier by the breakout act of Marc Jacobs' career—his "grunge" collection for Perry Ellis—and was embodied even more spectacularly by Vivienne Westwood's mid-'90s runways as the logical progression of the punk-inspired work she'd been doing since the 1970s. Isn't it ironic?

01 Anna Sui Spring 1994, Vogue Runway
02 Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood Fall 1993, Vogue Runway
03 Backstage at Helmut Lang Fashion Show, photographed by Juergen Teller, Spring Summer 1994
04 Chloe Sevigny in Miu Miu Spring Summer 1996

Cap Sleeve Long Dress by PROENZA SCHOULER, Tabi Boot in White Denim by MAISON MARGIELA, Net Fabric Bag in White, Brass Choker by MM6

Ripped denim, heavy boots, plum lipstic, velvet, and not-for-nice-girls silhouettes went viral via MTV and through cult shows like Daria, and the looks were often cited as evidence of moral and societal decay.

Still, grunge had gone full on mainstream by the time Kurt Cobain died and had been co-opted into high fashion a year earlier by the breakout act of Marc Jacobs' career—his "grunge" collection for Perry Ellis—and was embodied even more spectacularly by Vivienne Westwood's mid-'90s runways as the logical progression of the punk-inspired work she'd been doing since the 1970s. Isn't it ironic?

01 Anna Sui Spring 1994, Vogue Runway
02 Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood Fall 1993, Vogue Runway
03 Backstage at Helmut Lang Fashion Show, photographed by Juergen Teller, Spring Summer 1994
04 Chloe Sevigny in Miu Miu Spring Summer 1996

 

 

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