Looking back, for those of us who spent our childhood sporting the iconic popper-leg tracksuit bottoms, the nineties is not always a decade synonymous with fashion. If we stand back from what appears to be a casual sportswear phenomenon we can see how the consumer craze for easy to wear clothing was reflective of a society that had become more liberal as it marched towards the new millennium. After the electro overload of the 1980s fashion extravaganza, the fashion industry embarked on a detox of big hairstyles and disco-inspired prints in favor of a sleeker, minimalist silhouette.
So who were the pioneers of this new streamlined trend? Donna Karan’s portfolio was phenomenally successful, with sales exploding from $96.6 million to $510.1 million over the course of four years. Some pieces from the mid-nineties collection included silky sweater vests and tulip skirts, placing more emphasis on the cut and feel of materials. Calvin Klein’s ‘Clueless’ mini dress, as worn by Alicia Silverstone in the film, is possibly as minimal as it gets and the slinkier predecessor of the body-con trend last year. Popular colour choices were predominantly nude shades but not everyone celebrated the muted tones of grey, cream and taupe which dominated the collections of so many major fashion houses. After all, the nineties was all about just being yourself… Wasn’t it?
Step right this way Jennifer Anniston! She became one of the most famous female actors after the hit sitcom Friends made her a familiar face on our television screens. For the purpose of our discussion however, Anniston’s acting ability is not what I’m talking about – she wasn’t the only star born from the cast of Friends, her hair was too. It has become one of the most copied hairstyles from London to Los Angeles. On the high street The Gap’s emphasis on quality basic pieces not only synchronized with the casual ‘less is more‘ trends storming the catwalk, it also tapped into the needs of the customer who simply wanted to be comfortable.
Men and women wanted to embody the relaxed trend right down to the perfume they wore. You have undoubtedly heard of and maybe even had a sneaky spritz of the famous ‘ck one’, or Issey Miyake’s ‘l’Eau d’Issey’ when perusing the perfume counter at Boots. There were more complex creations like Thierry Mugler’s ‘Angel’ encased in a futuristic star-shaped bottle which captured the essence of a period obsessed with modernization and the promise of the new millennium.
The term ‘supermodel’ has been in floating around since the early 1940s, coming into use more frequently throughout the sixties and seventies with the rise of Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and Gia Carangi to name a few. But the nineties was truly the decade of the supermodel, giving birth to the careers of what have now become household names. The Treaty of Versailles had the “Big Three” and, well, the fashion world had the “Big Six.” Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford could command the highest fees in the industry and were the most sought after, photographed and internationally recognized models of their time.
The mainstream success of the Seattle music scene led to the influx of grunge style which offered an alternative to the sober trends which were so in vogue. Men’s fashion embraced the Kurt Cobain-inspired flannel shirt as well as the Converse All Stars which have remained a firm favorite with women and men in the current period. The well-documented rise of heroin which was glamourised by its association with iconic musicians like Cobain coincided with the rise of ‘heroin chic’ ushered in by the waif like model, Kate Moss. The notorious Calvin Klein underwear ad campaign sparked controversy as Moss’ skinny frame was a shocking contrast to the previously healthy appearance of Christie Brinkley. As celebrity culture picked up pace the retail customer was increasingly influenced by the looks gracing the bodies of their favorite bands or the leading actors from prime time Friday night entertainment on television. Many shoppers wanted to be comfortable whilst looking good at the same time, and keeping an eye on what looked good in the media was the easiest way to be inspired to adopt different looks as worn by your favourite celebrity.
We might be shifting towards a palette of bright candy-pop colours in S/S 2011 but minimalism has already infiltrated the high street via the sports-luxe look and the neutral colors of the AW collections at the end of 2010 (camel anyone?). Is the popularity of lifestyle brands like Hollister and Jack Wills with their multitude of various tracksuit bottoms and hoodies the new-wave of sports-chic? If so, the student populace needs a well deserved pat on the back for persevering with a look so many have doubted would ever return! Get out those old Adidas sweatshirts you have lurking in the wardrobe and enjoy your nineties revival!