It feels like every Forever 21 has stocked a faded black Nirvana smiley face T-shirt since the dawn of time. But it wasn’t too long ago that grunge—or capital-F fashion’s take on the style—was met with downright rage.
Take, for instance, Marc Jacobs’ “Grunge Collection” for Perry Ellis.
By 1993, grunge had infiltrated airwaves, but it had yet to fill department store aisles. True, Courtney Love had already trampled onto the scene in her combat boots and plaid collared dresses, and kids all over the country may have been digging into thrift store bargain bins for a used flannel to emulate their rock heroes. But the fashion world had turned its skinny shoulder to the movement.
In 1993, Chanel’s spring collection included its go-to tweed, as always. Valentino’s buttoned-up show featured models in imposing blazers, remnants of the previous decade’s more-is-more mentality. Jacobs, then 29 years old, wanted to do things differently.
Approximately 3,000 miles from Seattle (which Jacobs infamously did not visit when planning his collection), the show saw the likes of supermodels Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Kate Moss doing their best riot grrrls in sample-sized nightgowns, plaid skirts, and Birkenstocks.
Criticisms were immediate. “Rarely has slovenliness looked so self-conscious, or commanded so high a price,” Cathy Horyn wrote in The Washington Post. (The columnist rethought her words in a 2015 piece for New York magazine.) New York Times fashion critic Bernadine Morris decreed that: “A typical outfit looks as if it were put together with the eyes closed in a very dark room.”
The hullabaloo was so swift, in fact, it cost Jacobs his job.
Twenty-five years later, the designer seems to hold no hard feelings. His label has reissued a capsule of 26 replica pieces from the original collection. As the Jacobs reminisced in a press release, “The ‘Grunge’ collection epitomized the first time in my professional career I was unwavering in my determination to see my vision come to life on the runway, without creative compromise.”
Once more, Jacobs has called in a slew of supermodels to assist in hawking a line reportedly inspired by the disenfranchised. Some, like Gigi Hadid, were born after 1993; at 30, Dree Hemingway is just a few years older than Jacobs’ take on grunge.
The designer told Elle that his decision to remake the line—which reportedly required his staff to search eBay for the original pieces—was because “he just wanted to mix things up.” (Reps for Marc Jacobs declined to comment to The Daily Beast.)
In Jacobs' words, “There are all these conversations in my head about, What is fashion anymore? Who is fashion for? Where’s it going? With the internet, it all becomes so overwhelming.”
If Balenciaga can “(elevate) what kids buy for $15 at the mall and (make) it for $2,000,” Jacobs rationalizes at the end of his Elle piece, so can he.
It won’t be surprising if Jacobs' collection, out November 15, does well. Nostalgia sells (see Versace’s back-to-the-animal-printed basics collection of 2017), especially among younger clientele who weren’t around for the first time, and see only romance in the designs.
But in no small part due to Jacobs' vision of a gentrified grunge, the style has filtered down to fast fashion staples.
In the early ‘90s, nailing the look required the stylistic eye of a broke but trendy kid who didn’t mind braving their local Goodwill. Now, all prospective band T-shirt buyers need now is around $20 or the will to stand through a long line at Forever 21—no pesky concert or merch table required.
By going back to his roots, Jacobs could be attempting to will back a former edge. It's no secret that his label has been struggling for some time—as The New York Times reported earlier this year, the designer lost around $61 million in recent years and creative team turnover is high.
On a less desperate, but still slightly embarrassing, note, Vogue editor Anna Wintour tried to leave Jacobs' fall fashion week show before it began almost an hour and a half late. (“Whatever, it was still fabulous,” The Daily Beast's Tim Teeman reported.)
Whether or not Jacobs' grunge collection is a smoke-and-mirrors attempt to distract shoppers from inner turmoil, or an earnest celebration of seasons past, is up to interpretation. Either way, the story has a happy ending.
Upon hearing of the re-release, Perry Ellis, once so anti-grunge, has a decidedly different opinion. In a statement sent to The Daily Beast, reps for the brand congratulated Jacobs for having the chutzpah to create “the first of its kind collection that changed the direction of contemporary womenswear.”
So while grunge may have never left, it has definitely grown up.