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Child of the Nineties

Fashion News

When Sir Winston Churchill opined, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” he wasn’t talking about your closet this season. Or was he? In case you haven’t been paying attention, we are poised on the brink of a full-on 1990s revival, and, get this, Winston—we are planning to learn from it and repeat it!


Isn’t it amazing how quickly these decades come in and out of focus? No sooner have you donned that ‘60s Ali McGraw beret, that droopy ‘70s Talitha Getty caftan or that ‘80s Madonna bustier, that a whole new era pokes its head into your exhausted consciousness. And though it didn’t seem so at the time, now the 1990s seem so quaint, so innocent. No cell phones until late in the decade—not even flip phones. No Facebook. No tweeting Presidents.


I am assuming here that you are a person who is old enough to even remember the decade of “Harry Potter” and NYPD Blue, Monica Lewinsky and Tonya Harding—even if you were just a child at the time. If not, you need to double down on your education—not just two Friends reruns each day, but four. A study group with your buddies where you teach each other to emulate Rachel’s hair, and consider suiting up in Elaine Benes’s oversize blazers and Becky Connor’s striped sweaters.


As you may have already guessed, whatever the larger culture has decided to embrace is invariably reflected on fashion runways. But don’t worry—no one is going to force you into high-waisted stone washed denim, Slap bracelets and pastel athleisure pants straight out of “Clueless.”

Because, as it turns out, plenty of designers have also spent the past year in a time capsule, watching videos of Lady Di and Paris Hilton. At Raf Simons’s much anticipated inaugural collection for Calvin Klein, the homage to Helmut Lang’s ‘90s designs was apparent in details like drifting feathers imprisoned in transparent plastic. (And fun fact—Helmut was the guy who, back in 1998, decided to stage his show in New York before the European collections, precipitating a calendar shift that remains in effect to this day.)


Phoebe Philo at Céline, who can always be counted on to offer something artfully avant-garde but eminently wearable, has deconstructed slip dresses straight out of the Yohji Yamamoto playbook. And Donatella Versace says the starting point for her most recent couture collection was the Versace ad campaign of Fall 1998, a medieval fantasia featuring those shining stars of the ‘90s modeling galaxy: Carolyn Murphy, Audrey Marnay and Maggie Rizer.


Believe it or not, right at this very minute, your little niece and her sulky friends are rummaging through your attic in search of the latest must-have accessory—a black nylon Prada sack. But no need for you to settle for the second hand-model—Prada continues to offer its iconic backpacks, totes and wallets with the little silver triangle we loved so much back in the day.


But perhaps the highest—and at the same time lowest—manifestation of this craving to relive the halcyon days of the Clinton impeachment hearings and the OJ Simpson trial is the renaissance of grunge. Time to unearth that 33 rpm Nirvana album and turn up the volume on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The original runway incarnation of this trend cost Marc Jacobs his job at Perry Ellis back in 1992, when he had the audacity to introduce thrift shop styles on a runway, pairing sheer dresses with clunky boots, popping hunting vests over flowery confections, wedding maximal plaid skirts to minimal t-shirts.

Perhaps the apotheosis of the plunge into grunge can be said to take place at Gucci, where the nutty cross-pollination, the radical mixology, is dramatic and inspiring—a joyful noise combining tartans and blossoms, appliques and tweeds. If the original proponents of all this brilliant mayhem were those grunge princesses who stomped gleefully into fashion two decades ago, who can blame their daughters and granddaughters for stepping into flimsy frocks and thirsty boots, in search of a good time too?


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