Does This Look Current?

Marc Jacobs revives his ’90s, career-damaging ‘Grunge’ collection. Whatever for?


Mark Jacobs is not known to let the past remain in the past. So it’s no surprise that he is bringing the past back. To be specific 1992’s ‘Grunge’ collection that he did for Perry Ellis, and shown during the 1993 spring/summer season of New York Fashion Week. Saying the collection wasn’t well received is putting it mildly—even now, in a culture of trolls. Subsequently, Mr Jacobs, aged 29, was asked to leave his position as head of women’s wear at the then 14-year-old American label.

‘Grunge’ will be reissued in its entirety later this month. According to the brand, it’ll be Marc Jacobs cruise 2019—in the form of “Redux”, rather than an entirely new collection, as it would be if resuscitation wasn’t in the plan. For a less-known designer, would that be considered laziness? Permission, as reported, was granted by Perry Ellis International, the current brand owner. Comprising 26 looks, “Redux” will include clothing in their original fabrics and prints (also cartoons by Robert Crumb), as well as head wear, jewellery, accessories, and shoes (those Doc Martens boots!). A complete comeback. Marketing genius.

This return of what some consider Mr Jacobs’s breakthrough is clearly timed to appeal to those who had no chance to enjoy the introduction—either because they were not clued in then or were not born yet. It is also very likely to cash in on the tail end of the love of flowy, floral dresses worn to capture hipster cool rather than prairie charm, a look that can be traced to the early days of Vetements. And now adopted by even an unlikely brand: Uniqlo.

Marc Jacobs Cruise 2019 G1

Mr Jacobs’s collection circa 1992 was not the epitome of originality since, back then, it was a look already adopted by those who cared not a hoot about designers, and certainly not Perry Ellis designed by a relative unknown (it is doubtful the consumers of today know who Mr Ellis was). The too-relaxed clothes, in the heydays of Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, were decidedly downmarket looking. But despite the disapproval of designer fashion appearing so thrift store, what Mr Jacobs showed seized the attention of the mainstream already ready to adopt shabby dresses and granny sweaters the way girls these days make their own with denim cutoffs and hoodies.

Grunge was basically two things. Foremost, it was music—part punk rock, part heavy metal (the Seattle band Nirvana exemplified the sound). As a subculture emerged from the popularity of the music, it became the second thing—fashion. Women, as well as men (who wore sleeves of flannel shirts tied around the waist so that the garments fell like skirts), were influenced. One of the results of grunge fashion: women started to move away from high heels, since grunge devotees mainly wore boots (and, to some extent, sneakers). It prompted one noted Singaporean designer to say, “women no longer know how to walk. Grunge killed heels.” Marc Jacobs may not take credit for that, but he certainly was part of the rapid casualisation of fashion.

Grunge re-wrote the language of high-end style. Chic was redefined, so was elegance. Both in dress and gait. While grunge may match today’s preference for dressing down, Mr Jacob’s reissues do not exactly enliven the vapid state that fashion has found itself in. Dull is the only word for it. It does’t help that Gigi Hadid here, one of the girls headlining the campaign, appears bored, even disgruntled, and looks unimpressed. Her face is telling: That she in a lacklustre granny macrame sweater and dime-a-dozen-now floral slip dress, originally worn in 1992 by Cecilia Chancellor, still says one thing—while old is new again, it is ultimately not new.

Marc Jacobs “Redux” will be available online from 15 November. Photo: Juergen Teller/Marc Jacobs