March 04, 2013 Paris, Saint Laurent a/w 2013 by Hedi Slimane
By Tim Blanks (edited version)
California grunge was the inspiration for Hedi Slimane’s second women’s collection for Saint Laurent.
With a little adjustment, that’s a pretty fair description of what Slimane has been trying to do with Saint Laurent. The legacy today was grunge, not YSL; the longing was his own ardent attachment to a scene that was a continent and an ocean away from a kid in Paris at the beginning of the nineties. Slimane is not the only designer motivated by a powerful impulse to reimagine youthful yearnings. Anna Sui and Marc Jacobs (for Perry Ellis, s/s ’93 collection) immediately spring to mind as masterful mediums of pop-cultural watersheds like The Factory or the Beats. And of course, it was Jacobs who famously lost a job over his original recasting of grunge in a high-fashion context.
But there was no job on the line, no sense of present danger, with Slimane’s collection today. And with regards to that adjustment, there was no expert skirting of nostalgia. Almost nothing looked new. Which didn’t trouble Alexandra Richards, Alison Mosshart, and Sky Ferreira in the least. Such dream clients were all thrilled by what they’d seen. “That’s the way I dress anyway,” was their party line on the baby dolls, the schoolgirl slips, the vintage florals, the random mash-ups of sloppy cardigans, plaid shirts, and sparkly dresses accessorized with ironic strings of pearls and black bows, fishnets and biker boots. All well and good, and money in the bank for retailers etc., etc., but anyone expecting the frisson of the future that Slimane once provided would have to feel let down yet again. At the odd moments when he allowed it to happen—as in a cutaway jacket over a plaid shirt over slashed black leather cuissardes—there was a glimpse of the kind of rigorous sensibility that hybridized passion and fashion into an irresistible force at Dior Homme.
But wouldn’t it be radical if Slimane was actually saying that there is nothing new under the fashion sun, that all that ultimately exists is the energy and inspiration you derive from those elements of the past that you value and love. The same kind of fanboy ardor makes, say, Shibuya 109 in Tokyo or Trash and Vaudeville in New York such wonderful retro romps. This collection will undoubtedly send orgasmic tremors through such places.
Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent a/w 2013
Grunge music is inspired by Alternative rock, hardcore punk, heavy metal, punk rock, hard rock and indie rock, Grunge fashion is a combination of the same, but it’s also boyfriends and girlfriends wearing each others clothes. And the ultimate icons of Grunge are Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love in the late 80ties and early 90ties.
“Grunge is nothing more than the way we dress when we have no money,” designer Jean Paul Gaultier told Vogue in 1993, the year fashion co-opted the look. It had grown out of the raw, messy scene surrounding the raw, messy sound—produced by a bedraggled pack of flannel-clad Pacific Northwest dropouts—that was suddenly the talk of the fashion establishment.
Grunge’s Goodwill aesthetic was, as Gaultier observed, largely born of necessity; it was functional, too (flannels for warmth, boots to keep out the wet). In 1989, Everett True, reporting in Melody Maker about an upcoming band call Nirvana, had drawn readers’ attention to the authenticity of an emerging music genre: “Basically, this is the real thing. You’re talking about four guys in their early twenties from rural Washington who wanna rock, who, if they weren’t doing this, would be working in a supermarket or a lumberyard, or fixing cars.” The grunge-grunge style (as opposed to fashion-grunge) was slept in, picked up off the floor, swapped, scrounged from the ragbag. It was a sartorial representation of nihilism that had been evolving among members of the college-rock and hardcore underground for more a decade but was only just beginning to meet the commercial mainstream via MTV.
“Punk was antifashion,” James Truman, then editor in chief of Details, said. “It made a statement. Grunge is about not making a statement, which is why it’s crazy for it to become a fashion statement.” Truman’s quote appeared in The New York Times in November 1992, the month that Grunge was served up to Seventh Avenue by a trio of young downtown designers: Marc Jacobs at Perry Ellis, Anna Sui, and Christian Francis Roth. (At Roth, models were accessorized with laminated backstage Nirvana passes strung on ball chain.) The shows’ immediate impact was one of those tempests in a teapot that are rehashed with relish in the fashion annals.
Critics were then, and remain, divided over the new up-from-the-street look. The English actress Sophie Dahl, then an impressionable pro-Grunge teenager, would later reminisce in Vogue: “The word itself was antisocial, the premise antidotal to what had gone before. The style was perfect for that awkward stage of adolescence, layers that one could shrug off and hide behind, an armor of sorts.” In contrast, the fashion critic Suzy Menkes distributed “Grunge Is Ghastly” buttons among her colleagues.
Jacobs, the prime mover of the trend, described his infamous grunge collection, which eventually cost him his job at Perry Ellis, to the Times as a “hippied romantic version of punk.” Visually, the look dovetailed neatly with the neogypsy chic coming out of Europe and modeled by Madonna on the October 1992 cover of Vogue. Yet grunge was, on a deeper level, more about garages in Granite Falls than ganja on the beach in Goa. And unlike the bondage pants and shellacked mohawks of punk, it wasn’t just low-maintenance, it was no-maintenance. The faux-real grunge aesthetic was a difficult fit for fashion, which is—by the very nature of the beast—marketed with aspirational images and biased toward fantasy.
“Your rendition of grunge fashion was completely off,” one disgruntled reader complained in a letter to Vogue. “If the whole idea is to dress down, why picture models in $400 dresses? No one who can honestly relate to the music labeled grunge is going to pay $1,400 for a cashmere sweater (especially when they can buy a perfectly comfortable flannel shirt for 50 cents at the local thrift store).
It irked retailers in the extreme and, materially speaking, didn’t amount to much. Jacobs’s famous collection was never even produced. Still, the movement was a game changer. It challenged the status-oriented status quo, and introduced a layered, rumpled new silhouette. “All fashion is loosening up, in an apparent rejection of the hard-edged styles and attitudes of the ’80s,” observed a reporter for Knight Ridder Newspapers in the seminal year of 1992. “Grunge is the realization of that backlash at its most extreme. And ugliest.” (Vogue, too, would later lump the “clunky downtrodden look” among the “worsts” of the 1990s.) And while grunge disdained—or just didn’t think about—the hierarchies of fashion, it also played loosey-goosey with gender. Though a male-dominated scene, it embraced androgyny. “In the wake of an overload of macho,” the journalist Charles Gandee wrote in Vogue the following year, “and with the rise of the gamine, a new breed of young actors, models, and musicians is reshaping our idea of what’s attractive in a man.”
Fashion images, both in advertisements and in editorial pages, began to attempt to represent what was “real.” The photographer Juergen Teller talked about this sea change in the March 1994 issue of Vogue: “We’re not this generation of finding a girl with tons of jewelry attractive—nobody has to have some bloody nose job and breast implants,” he said. “We live in very hard times, and that’s why the people in my pictures maybe look a bit fucked-up or, you know, maybe tired. Because life is tiring.”
Grunge & Glory
Vogue US December 1992 Steven Meisel (this story was based on the grunge collection Marc Jacobs presented for Perry Ellis)
La fièvre Grunge
by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott for Vogue Paris September 2013