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Money can't buy you grunge

TO THE fashion world, 'grunge' is the look of the moment. Since November, when Christian Francis Roth and Marc Jacobs, two American designers barely known in Europe, showed their new collections in New York, no catwalk has been complete without its version of the dressed-down Seventies' hippie style.

But grunge is a thrift-shop fashion adopted by those who cannot afford designer labels. Marc Jacobs's new collection for Perry Ellis, sold by A La Mode in Knightsbridge, London, includes zip-up sweatshirts for pounds 195, silk jersey trousers for pounds 285, and jackets for pounds 495.

So are the New York designers cashing in on poverty by reproducing grunge in luxury fabrics with prices to match? It's certainly a long way from the low-budget philosophy of the original grunge movement, invented in the late Eighties to describe the style of rock groups such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden from Seattle. The grunge bands are deeply suspicious of this latest interaction between two powerful strands of popular culture.

But fashion has been here before. In the Seventies it took punk, another 'anti-fashion' style associated with a musical movement, and turned it into haute couture.

Fashion commentators say that grunge is a genuine sign of change: a reaction against power dressing in the dress-for-success years. The musicians believe that it is simply a sanitised and snob version of their look.

Jeff Ament, bassist with Pearl Jam, has accused designers of 'jumping on a bandwagon' to 'make a mint'. The way he dresses has nothing to do with fashion, or with making an anti-fashion statement. 'Ever since I've lived here, I've known people who went to thrift shops because they had to,' he told Harper's Bazaar, the US fashion bible. And to show the fashion 'bandwagon' that he is serious, he has stopped wearing the flannel shirts that are quintessential grunge.

'There's something creepy about taking the whole Salvation Army sort of aesthetic and marketing it with a designer name,' agreed Kim Thayil, guitarist with Soundgarden.

In London, the youngsters who popularised the look are on the side of the musicians - if they accept that there is a look at all. In Camden market, north London, Jacinta Stringer, 24, unemployed and wearing a plaid jacket, ripped jeans and Doc Marten boots, said: 'I'm not grunge. Is that what you think I am?'

Kerry Hagger, 21, a travel agent, in a shaggy jumper from Nepal and cotton trousers from Chipie, looked blank: 'Never heard of it]'

Lorraine Macdonald, 20, a student from Inverness, wearing a big plaid coat from C&A, jeans from BhS, and walking boots from Berghaus, offered a definition: 'It means wearing comfortable clothes that you throw on without trying to co-ordinate. It means not using make-up and not bothering about how your hair looks.'

Pete Millac, 24, a chef, agreed: 'Grunge meant not worrying about your appearance and not spending any money on clothes. Now it's hip it's ridiculous. You read about it in magazines like Elle, and the clothes cost a fortune. Grunge is as low-grade as you can find. Or at least it was before the fashion people got their hands on it.'

By the original definition, Mr Millac was out-and-out grunge, wearing a battered leather jacket which he said he had found, a check shirt that cost pounds 1 in Brixton market, a pounds 2 scarf from Camden market and jeans. What did he think of those who paid thousands to achieve a similar look? 'If people want to spend their money on looking bad, that's fine by me.'

DESIGNER GRUNGE: pounds 2,000


She is wearing Ikat denim coat, price pounds 1,050; suede waistcoat, pounds 195; T-shirt, pounds 95; shirt around waist, pounds 520; and trousers, pounds 170. Grand total, pounds 2,030.

REAL GRUNGE: pounds 45


He is wearing beanie hat, pounds 2; plaid flannel shirt, pounds 3; hooded sweatshirt, pounds 8, jeans, pounds 12; and trainers, pounds 20. Grand total: pounds 45.

(Photographs omitted)