Guilty Plea­sure

For any­one who wor­ships at the al­tar of ’90s fash­ion, in all its con­trast­ing glory, never fear: It’s still here.

Fashion (Canada) - - Products - By Leanne De­lap

The peren­ni­ally sooty Mi­lanese air was alive with elec­tric­ity on the spring night that Tom Ford ex­ploded a sex bomb on the run­way. It was the show—low-key in a black room at a men’s club (un­like the blowout spec­ta­cles to fol­low years later)—for his Fall 1995 col­lec­tion, when he put Gucci back on the map. It wasn’t just the bed­head (a new idea at the time) or the smoky eye (also fresh) or the satin blouses worn open to the navel. It was the swag­ger: Am­ber, Shalom, Kate and then He­lena in per­ilously low-cut jew­el­tone vel­vet bell bot­toms, horsebit pumps, non­cha­lant chubby furs and sassy mo­hair coats. Chan­nelling the howl­ing youth of Jag­ger and Mor­ri­son, Ford cranked the vol­ume up to 11.

We like to poke fun at the ’90s, re­duc­ing the decade to Rachel hair and plaid shirts, but I cut my fash­ion teeth then (and that show still blows my socks off). I was a kid from Pick­er­ing, Ont., learn­ing on my feet how to be the fash­ion re­porter for a na­tional news­pa­per. Run­way news was brought back from the front lines then, with a six-month time lag, by just a hand­ful of pho­tog­ra­phers and re­porters. We still wore Levi’s and com­bat boots to fash­ion shows—be­cause we were work­ing and it was kind of a war. There were no celebs in the front row. Cell­phones were not yet com­mon­place, so we filed copy from Eu­rope by stick­ing suc­tion cups to the re­ceivers of land lines at ho­tels in a com­pli­cated pro­to­type of dial-up.

Yes, things were slower, but that meant big ideas cut through, and in the thick of a ’90s re­vival, there’s some­thing to be learned from go­ing back briefly to what hap­pened then. Just one sea­son later, for Prada’s Spring 1996 show, Mi­uc­cia Prada—who be­gan back in the ’80s as a strict ad­her­ent of min­i­mal­ism— laid down her fresh, in­tel­lec­tu­ally charged vi­sion of jolie laide, or “ugly-pretty.” The stiff clothes with clash­ing pat­terns, like awk­ward school­girl uni­forms wrought in sal­low shades of mud and snot, were a rev­e­la­tion—and I loved them. In their per­ver­sity and con­fi­dence, they spoke to me (then in my mid20s) much more than the slick Ver­sace vix­ens or stern Sander and Lang clones. Ear­lier this year, Prada pre­sented a Re­sort col­lec­tion that re­called those defin­ing ugly prints of the past and was styled with schol­arly turtle­necks un­der wide-col­lar polo shirts that one might ex­pect to find in a Wes An­der­son film.

Very sim­i­lar com­pet­ing ten­sions are at play in fash­ion right now: edge and irony, soft and hard, slick ver­sus au­then­tic. The ’90s are in­deed back with a vengeance. The first vol­leys came via so­cial me­dia, of course, cap­tured off duty with the cur­rent crop of su­per­mod­els—specif­i­cally the Ha­did sis­ters, who be­came the fore­most pro­po­nents of this ’90s re­vival: Bella of spaghetti-strap tops and army boots with miniskirts, Gigi in her crop tops and em­bel­lished jean jack­ets. It is also worth not­ing that the breath­tak­ingly young and fresh Kaia Ger­ber looks so much like her mom, Cindy Craw­ford, in the ’90s that

the trap­pings of the decade seem preter­nat­u­rally suited to her.

Like then, our cur­rent mood is a scat­tered, emo­tional hang­over born of per­pet­ual crises, and fash­ion is a re­ac­tive medium: The spec­ta­cle of Anita Hill’s brave tes­ti­mony be­ing ig­nored in the Se­nate Cau­cus room has been echoed by Chris­tine Blasey Ford’s painful ex­pe­ri­ence; No Means No has been up­dated with the #MeToo move­ment; Dubya has been su­per­seded by Trump; and Y2K para­noia has been re­placed by sur­veil­lance para­noia. Thus, it is no sur­prise that there is a riot of ’90s vibes out there, mashed up with wit and irony be­cause, well, there is com­fort to be found in re­vis­it­ing fa­mil­iar shapes and ideas. The ’90s was when thrift­ing re­ally took hold as a cul­tural force, and that was the phe­nom­e­non that Prada was tap­ping into for that sem­i­nal ’96 show (ex­cept she was cre­at­ing from scratch; she is a ge­nius, after all). Mean­while, on the higher end, de­sign­ers were ex­plor­ing min­i­mal­ism and sil­hou­ette de­con­struc­tion car­ried over from the Ja­panese and Bel­gian avant-garde move­ments of the decade be­fore it. Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, sub­cul­tural mo­ments were emerg­ing from the dark­ness of the club and into the day­light. The big­gest were goth and grunge, both of which were co-opted on the run­ways by Olivier Theyskens and Marc Jacobs at Perry El­lis re­spec­tively. Streetwear, hip-hop, over­sized and logo love com­peted loudly for our at­ten­tion. These were the nascent signs of ath­leisure in the guise of match­ing track suits, which we see com­ing back so hard right now. It was a time to break rules and mix up se­quins for day and to don jeans for evening or wear your slip out as a dress.

Those after-dark in­flu­ences vibe to­day with Ben Tav­er­niti’s Un­ravel Project’s gor­geous lace-up pants and silk hood­ies that show­case the la­bel’s Los An­ge­les ori­gins, with hits of Paris via Mi­lan along the way. It feels like the gang from Kids all grown up—and with money. The la­bel takes the lay­er­ing and edge of the ’90s and pumps it up with vol­ume and luxe tex­ture play and is per­haps a shin­ing ex­am­ple of how streetwear can ac­tu­ally work for evening. Nineties deca­dence is key to the Saint Lau­rent aes­thetic un­der Anthony Vac­carello; the Bel­gian de­signer deftly melded sparkly, su­per-short, big-shoul­dered evening dresses with LBDs made fresh with scal­loped neck­lines. And he rammed home the mes­sage of legs-legs-legs with shorts suits in a pal­ette of fa­mil­iar yet mean­ing­ful black.

As for the de­signer who grabbed fash­ion by the throat back in the ’90s, Tom Ford is also refin­ing his own ter­ri­tory as he re­vis­its the decade of his rise. How­ever, he’s not re­peat­ing his work from back then; he per­haps re­al­izes he was too self-se­ri­ous back in the day and has em­braced irony as a ve­hi­cle that stands the test of time. For his re-en­er­gized epony­mous la­bel, Ford of­fered liq­ue­fied metal­lic leg­gings, black iri­des­cent leg­gings and even more leg­gings—stamped with skin prints from ze­bra to snake. The old rules, Ford sug­gests, are bor­ing. He of­fers mod­ern sexy clothes with a play­ful el­e­ment be­cause he un­der­stands that wit is what is re­ally in fash­ion right now.

De­sign­ers pluck moods from the ether. They stare down sen­sory over­load and carve a sense of calm out of it. But it is re­ally the cool kids who are still chart­ing the course of fash­ion. The same nerdy fash­ion diehards dig­ging through by-the-pound bins to­day in­spired Prada all those years ago. They are fash­ion’s foot sol­diers, gath­er­ing up the leop­ard print and the leg­gings, the bike shorts and the hoop ear­rings and plug­ging them back into the larger fash­ion en­gine. There is a ma­chine hard at work that we don’t see. But the up­shot is this: We can turn to ei­ther the ’90s role mod­els of yes­ter­year for in­spi­ra­tion or, if not them, maybe their chil­dren.

Breath­tak­ingly young and fresh Kaia Ger­ber looks so much like her mom, Cindy Craw­ford, in the ’90s, that the trap­pings of the decade seem preter­nat­u­rally suited to her.


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