Slacker chic: Why grunge is the trend that refuses to die

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The 1990s are taking over the catwalks again with elegant updates of the functional, minimalist street style embodied by grunge and the Riot Grrrls. And unlike the short-lived 1980s revival, this one looks set to last, says Harriet Walker

Can a moment happen twice? Fashion is certainly adept at repeating itself; it's a clever way of keeping the young 'uns interested without alienating the oldies. Though with trends from the catwalk now taking hold on the high street almost instantly, and always vigorously, you could be forgiven for thinking that there's no such thing as a "moment" any more. There can't be in a cultural climate where the style press tout shoulder pads as the next big thing one minute, and reviles them two weeks later when some character on the deeply unfashionable Emmerdale dons a pair.

That's why the smart money – indeed, the chic money – has begun to concentrate on the slow-burners. The spring trends for utility, minimalism and romance have long been in the offing and, when they subside, it won't be to the extent that you daren't even admit you ever bought into them.

The 1990s revival is gentler than the 1980s counterpart we saw a few seasons ago. Perhaps it's because 1990s clothes were less aggressive; the catty might even call them a bit "blah". But they would be wrong.

The spring collections all referenced the decade, and were full of softly structured tailoring, denim, purism, grunge and luxuriously utilitarian sportswear (that's fashion sportswear, not a Kappa tracksuit – some things are beyond reviving). And the mood continued at the autumn shows last month. It-boy Henry Holland, who has already been inspired by 1990s teen melodrama Beverly Hills, 90210, took none other than the plaid shirt-wearing Clare Danes in the cult series My So-Called Life as his muse. You couldn't get more 1990s if you had a party and invited only Nirvana, John Major and Helena Christensen.

It is a lack of conspicuous bad taste that gives the 1990s a reputation for dullness; the 1980s were shot through with it, which may have made the look more memorable and exciting, but is also why the trend hasn't really lasted second time round. Fashions that endure tend to be classic in some way, and the 1980s were too extroverted. It's easy to come up with dozens of power dressers and New Romantics that you wouldn't want to look like, but much harder to name their 1990s counterparts. Fine, Kriss Kross – but then not many people wanted to dress like them at the time, either.

Big labels such as Jil Sander, Prada and Armani created an enduring aesthetic on the catwalks, but movements and scenes such as grunge, street style, Riot Grrrl and Seattle sound influenced the 1990s in a much bigger way. And they're still relevant. They are the modes of dress that people embraced the last time the economy went to pot, and they continue to resonate.

One of the landmark collections in the evolution of 1990s style was the one that got Marc Jacobs fired. His spring/ summer 1993 show for American lifestyle brand Perry Ellis is known now as one of the seminal moment in 1990s fashion, if not modern fashion more generally. He took a fashion label better known for its blazers, chinos and loungewear and dressed models in skullcaps, plaid shirts and distressed denim. It now seems prescient; any one of them could be nipping out for milk in 21st-century Shore-ditch or enjoying a gig in Williamsburg, 2010. The functional slouch of loose knits, faded motif T-shirts and sloppy shirts thrown over ensembles is a perfect look for living in. It may not be a flamboyant Thierry Mugler-esque number, but who needs that at the supermarket?

The essentials of 1990s style – mannish blazers and trousers paired with fitted and more feminine pieces – have never really gone away. In a celebrity-driven market, fashion has given us body-con cocktail dresses and bare legs in winter, ' but the woman on the street rather than in the limo never strayed too far from her jeans.

London label Preen used plaid shirts in its autumn 2001 show, paired with simple but new-line jodhpur-esque tweed trousers; Helmut Lang, although better known as a minimalist or a deconstructionalist, also knew the power of androgynous black trousers and a slouchy tank. His spring 2003 collection is remarkably contemporary in a way that many more Zeitgeist-driven brands are not.

Plaid and lumberjack shirts, as worn near-religiously by grunge music scene figureheads such as Nirvana and Sleater-Kinney, were deliberately low-rent when styled as part of a nonchalant and capacious, layered look. Recently, the look was reinvented for the uptown set in pussybow blouses and smocked dresses for autumn 2008 by Luella Bartley, and pin-tucked girlish sundresses for spring 2009 by Parisian designer Isabel Marant.

Marc Jacobs referenced that Perry Ellis collection for autumn 2006, in both his mainline show and his Marc by Marc Jacobs diffusion line. In each, the look was tidy and well put together, but in a loose, unpremeditated and casual way. It was art student, rather than Lollapalooza.

The new version was heralded in the glossies as "glunge" – glam grunge. The fashion press may like a new word as much as dictionary compilers do, but fashion fans also like a tried-and-tested way of looking good while dressing down. Purveyeors of modern grunge include Rick Owens – whose gothic take gave it a new sleekness, with an elongated silhouette and more fitted styles – and Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, whose collection was all rock with none of the grot. Hole frontwoman and 1990s icon Courtney Love testified in an interview that her signature coiffure was achieved simply by accidentally burning off various strands while lighting cigarettes. Today's grunge girl has shiny, rich hair but artfully musses it, no lighter fuel in sight.

Alexander Wang perfectly captured the vibe with his autumn 2008 collection of denim, oversized vests and beanie hats. It was Seattle all over again, but it took on a more bourgeois air – perfectly reinventing a look that had supposedly had its moment over a decade ago. Similarly, London duo Meadham Kirchhoff showed floaty dresses for spring/summer 2010, worn with low-maintenance hair and stompy boots. It was Bikini Kill all grown up.

Swedish designer Ann-Sofie Back's autumn collection last month, meanwhile, was full of ripped denim, long skirts and crop tops. The 1990s revival continues apace, and part of its strength is that no one has really noticed. You could never say that about the 1980s. n

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own