Kate Moss by Corinne Day [Image Source]

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

One of The most important aspects of artfully executing the original Grunge look circa the early 1990’s was having a ‘Grunge body’. Now what exactly entailed the maintenance of  the original Grunge physique? The answer – in essence, a very low Body-Mass-Index (“BMI”). This is one of the central differences between the original grunge era look and its modern replication. Here is the backstory. 

In the early 1990’s the photographer Corinne Day skyrocketed to fame with the publication of a series of revolutionary photos taken of the relatively unknown Kate Moss (see top image). Kate Moss who was still in her teens and had the ideal waif body. This body type had not been in fashion since the 1960’s Twiggy era and was in stark contrast to the curvaceous sometimes described as Amazonian bodies of the former supermodel trinity consisting of Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista. Kate Moss measured a tiny five foot eight by prevailing modelling standards and weighed a reported 95 pounds during this time frame. 

Kate Moss by Corinne Day [Image Source]

Furthermore, the Corrine Day style of photography was unique in its purposeful non-glamorous depiction of the subject. In these pictures Kate Moss often appeared having stringy somewhat dirty hair, with a slightly grainy resolution posing in relatively mundane scenarios. Again, this was in stark contrast to the often heroic depictions of the supermodel trinity which took on exalted and highly idealized stances in their print work best exemplified by the photos taken of Claudia Schiffer in the Guess jeans advertisements that ran during that ran then. 

Mary-Kate Olsen by Terry Richardson [Image Source]

We can see the modern evolution and reference to the Corinne Day style of photography popularized by Terry Richardson who’s aesthetic signature is exemplified by a somewhat seedy depiction of its subjects most often printed in color and Jürgen Tellers style of photography. These two artists work are in stark contrast to the black and white photography favoured by the late Corinne Day while remaining true to the non-glamorized portrayal of their subjects featured in gritty compositions with a purposeful amateur aesthetic signature.

In essence, the original Grunge aesthetic was so powerful for several reasons. First, the visual arts exemplified by the photographic work of Corinne Day supported Grunge. Second, the dominant musical genres then maintained the grunge lifestyle and attitude best exemplified by Nirvana, and lastly fashion adopted the Grunge look. There were three cultural and aesthetic genres maintaining Grunge as their dominant standard. Had it not been for the support of these three societal pillars it is arguable that Grunge would not have had the lasting effect on popular culture that it has for the past two decades. Indeed, it is just as iconic now as the post war Christian Dior “New Look”, the flower children of the 60’s and the disco kings and queens of the 70’s.

Todays mainstream resurgence of the Grunge aesthetic is primarily supported in Fashion only. In effect, the cultural zeitgeist is not conducive to the Grunge lifestyle so it lacks the staying power and cultural significance of the original aesthetic. Because Neo-grunge today consists only of the recycling of iconic artifacts from the original period such as Doc Martin footwear, black toques, converse sneakers and beat-up concert shirts it is merely a fashion choice adopted mostly by millenial’s not aware of the cultural underpinnings behind the look they are now BUYING into. Most of the concert t-shirts worn by the millenials are not second hand and their clothing is sourced brand new, off the rack, from mass distribution retailers. The original Grunge enthusiasts would not have approved of the current lack in ideological grounding behind the resurgence of the look. Neo-Grunge is devoid of any counterculture statements in protest of the mainstream. 

Madonna, Vogue, 1992 [Image Source]

While out in the field conducting research I took the opportunity to approach some millennials who worked in fashion and would most likely self identify as “fashionistas”. I asked them each, “what is the cultural reference underpinning your look”. This question more often than not resulted in a quizzical look. I would then proceed to ask them if Marc Jacobs’s seminal collection for Perry Ellis had influenced their neo-grunge look. Much to my horror NONE of them knew about the ill-fated Marc Jacobs collection for Perry Ellis, which was met with a firestorm of controversy in 1992 and ultimately resulted in Marc Jacobs losing his job there. In effect, these young lades had adopted the neo-grunge look for purely stylistic reasons and knew nothing regarding the collision of art and popular culture that informed the original Grunge purists. Shocking to me – to say the least.

When is thin ‘too thin’? [Image Source]

Lastly, one of the biggest differences between the original Grunge look and the millennial adoption of neo-Grunge is that the ideal body type today is in stark contrast to the original idolized Grunge waif. Today curves are in fashion and it looks like this is not a passing fancy but rather a massive societal shift. In the decades between Grunge and Neo-grunge concrete legislation has been implemented in some international locations that expressly prohibits the use of models who’s BMI fall’s under 18. Anna Wintour from American Vogue has implemented the practice of not using models younger than 16 and who APPEAR to have an eating disorder. Note the lack of specific BMI numbers cementing the Vogue rhetoric. In spite of the concrete metrics backing the Vogue stance against the Waif there has been a widespread movement against the emaciated aesthetic. This political, ideological and cultural shift is exemplified by the creation of the (Model Alliance), which has been formed to protect the rights of young ladies entering the profession today who were in the past treated as an easily exploitable and highly expendable resource. It appears that the original Grunge waif is dead – please pardon the tasteless pun.