This article is from our Fashion-Insider Angela Krewenchuk. Angela regularly provides Retail Insider with fashion updates on the latest trends with her own unique and knowledgeable fashion perspective
I remember it like it was yesterday and that is no joke.
It was the fall of 1992; I was 17 years old and had just graduated from high school. That summer I went to my first rave in Whistler British Columbia. It was called Summer Love. I did not know what a rave was that summer but I would live and learn between 1992-1997.
The much-anticipated Fall edition of Vogue came out and there were images I could relate to. Back then they were still using models in fashion magazines. Kristen McMenamy’s eyes pierced me from the fashion spread (see image at top). The look was called Grunge and the fasion designer responsible for it was Marc Jacobs. I knew that he had taken over the helm at Perry Ellis because I was a good nerd and had been following Fashion TV since I was in grade six when it debuted in the early 1980’s.
Being in love with fashion the way I was back then was not really cool – it was an escape from an abusive family life and being bullied at elementary school. In my early adulthood, at the height of the Grunge era, one of the worst insults you could throw at someone in my social circle was to refer to someone or something as MAINSTREAM. Mark Jacobs’ ill-fated Grunge collection featuring thousand dollar cashmere waffle sweaters was a direct assault to the grunge ethos. Grunge was about being underground and in-the-know, the aesthetic in its most pure form was spawned from alienated youth.
I later read in an interview with the lead singer from le Tigre, who had been friends with Kurt Cobain and Courtenay Love that in a misguided PR attempt someone at Perry Ellis had sent them garments from the seminal grunge collection that resulted in Marc Jacobs being fired. Cobain and Love’s response was reportedly to burn the offending garments. The same PR stunt was used one decade later by the Juicy Couture duo who sent jogging suits out to several high profile celebrities including Pamela Anderson and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld to prance around in and impart social-proof that the derriere hugging jogging suits made of velour were cool and would grant you fashion elite insider status if only you were willing to part with several hundreds of dollars to have the word JUICY written across your behind or breasts.
In fact, I knew a lady who after a breast implant job in the early naughts that bragged to a group of girls captive at an intimate dinner at her house that she had just bought a $70.00 t-shirt that spelled JUICY across her prized new appendages. She briefly consulted with us to see if we were in agreement that the signage was not too sexually explicit. The group collectively granted her permission to proceed with this aesthetic decision. The decision to wear a –shirt spelling JUICY across her JUICY new breasts – very Avant guard then – no? Never mind, it was the early part of the new millennium; clearly there was acultural aesthetic malaise. This was the pre-dawn of the VonDutch fad, after all.
Several years ago, in a misguided endeavour to obtain another degree in social work, I read in a textbook that during the height of the Grunge era spanning 1992-1997, Canada’s unemployment rate was the highest it had been since the Great Depression. We were young; we were told that if we got a university degree we would have good lives. The Grunge subculture knew better. Writers such a Douglas Copelandin the The Gen-X reader reiterated the menacing social fact that we would be the first generation of Canadians to not be able to attain a standard of living as luxurious as the one our parent’s generationmortgaged the earth and global economy to obtain.
Fast forward to today and we see that is true.
In the 1960’s the Canadian dollar had way more spending power and land was nearly given away for free in Vancouver. It was mercifully easier to get ahead back then than it is today and has been for at least the last two decades. Baby boomer doctors and lawyers graduating from university regularily defaulted from repaying their student loans with little to no consequence and there were companies lining up to give university graduates jobs in the 1960’s.
Grunge reacted against the consumerist ideologies of the boomers and yuppies. Grunge said “F*** you establishment” – I’m going to shop at the Salvation Army and stay up all night dancing to deep house music while doing MDMA, a drug that had been legal in California and used in couples therapy during the late 1980’s revered for its ability to allow people to express ‘empathetic feelings‘. That is, before the FDA classified it as an illegal substance.
Some 20 years later, MDMA is now being used experimentally in the treatment of war veterans with post-traumatic-stress disorder. Just like Grunge, what is old is new again, and just like in the 1990’s Grunge era, pure MDMA appears to have found its way back to what looks like the rebirth of an illegal dance party era. But don’t you dare refer to these all night events in illegal, unpermitted, warehouse spaces as“raves”. Trust me – you may risk looking passé to the young 20-something Neo-Grunge hipster/promoter.
More on Grunge then and now next week…
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