Editor’s note: Steven Dolan, a University of Washington student, is interning for our opinion section and contributing to our Opinion Northwest blog.
Is there anything less typical of Parisian style than the loose layers and intentionally impoverished look of grunge?
A fashion show under the house started by Yves Saint Laurent — just called Saint Laurent now — challenged such preconceptions in Paris on Monday. Hedi Slimane’s second ready-to-wear show for the iconic French label was built on flannels, cardigans and baby-doll dresses in various florals. Slimane cited “California grunge” as an inspiration, though the movement is rooted in the Pacific Northwest.
Grunge as a music movement emerged in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-to-late ’80s and peaked in the ’90s. The music was angst-ridden and disenchanted with society at large and its fashion style reflected those ideas. Grunge was anti-high fashion.
Slimane’s collection draws from the past — which is entirely valid — but doesn’t offer anything new.
Dana Landon, creator of It’s My Darlin’, a Seattle street-style blog says that grunge is entirely relevant in the way people in the Pacific Northwest dress today, calling the integration of grunge elements part of “the uniform of twenty-somethings in Seattle.”
“I think that it used to be a style and now it’s almost ingrained in how everybody in Seattle dresses a little bit,” she said. She went on to cite Portland and parts of New York as places grunge has influenced style.
Combat boots and plaid flannel shirts, two of the major elements of grunge, were very visible in Slimane’s Saint Laurent collection. As Landon says, this is a look we’ve seen before.
Design should push people. To paraphrase Diana Vreeland, image-makers should give consumers something they didn’t even know they wanted.
Singer Courtney Love sang Slimane’s praises, tweeting, “having gasms at the idea of rich ladies buying what we used to wear, finally someone got the actual look exact, no beanies.”
Love later told The Fashion Law, “It reminds me of Value Village. Real grunge. I love that rich ladies are going to pay a fortune to look like we used to look when we had nothing.”
While Slimane’s accuracy might be worth acknowledging, it could also be considered fairly literal recycling of the grunge style.
Seattle-based fashion designer Michael Cepress—who is both a friend and a boss to me— admits grunge has never been a specific inspiration in his work, though he is well-versed in referencing the past. He sees drawing on the past as a way to push toward the future of fashion.
“It’s not about regurgitating what [we] already know, but to make it fresh,” he said “That’s the challenge of being a designer.”
Cepress is right. Slimane’s appropriation of the street and the past comes off as lazy.
His collection is very commercial, with plenty of covetable pieces. Even if critics don’t appreciate it, it will sell and sell well.
In a business sense it probably will be successful, as sales are the reason fashion can stay alive. As a part of an artistic conversation, however, it fails to challenge the eye.
What Slimane has done could be called a challenge to the system – a value that real grunge championed. Yves Saint Laurent’s own work often challenged established class systems too.
A literal interpretation of a style, however, is not challenging. If Slimane wants a revolution, he shouldn’t rely so heavily on the past and its place in the present.
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