Nirvana in 1991instagram/1990sarchives

In 1992, a 29-year-old Marc Jacobs, vice president of women’s design at Perry Ellis, showcased his spring/summer 1993 collection for the American brand. He sent the likes of Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Christy Turlington down the catwalk wearing blazers, beanies and combat boots to the music of Nirvana, L7 and Sonic Youth. Colours, prints and materials proudly clashed. Critics were left aghast. Suzy Menkes famously had the slogan ‘Grunge is ghastly’ printed on badges. Cathy Horyn, writing for the Washington Post, gave a scathing critique: ‘One felt like a spectator at an office theme party, in which the participants -- ranging from the models to a handful of fashion editors in ski caps -- had all agreed to dress grungy for the day. Rarely has slovenliness looked so self-conscious, or commanded so high a price.’

Days later, Jacobs was fired from Perry Ellis. Now, that same collection is rather hailed as groundbreaking, revolutionary and era-defining. In 2015, Horyn penned an essay for The Cut entitled ‘Changing My Mind About Marc Jacobs’ Grunge Collection’, in which she retracted her initial comments and instead asked: ‘Why were those of us in attendance such a miserable chorus of condemners?’ Jacobs’ collection marked the emergence of a subculture into the mainstream, but also the marketisation of a trend that was decidedly anti-market and anti-trend - one that would have an enduring influence on fashion until the present day.

"Grunge dressing was thus the antithesis of high fashion, favouring functional, DIY dressing and thrifting over the decadence and artificiality of designer collections."

The 1993 Perry Ellis collection only reflected the zeitgeist, holding a mirror up to the nonconformism of the youth. In Seattle, the original punk-rock centre, the followers of homegrown bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were part of the emerging ‘grunge’ music scene, and adopted a manner of dressing that screamed apathy and indifference to the very idea of fashion. The style was utilitarian, taking a cue from lumberjack attire: cargo pants, beanies, Dr Martens, plaid shirts. Clothing that populated the streets of the American Northwest but were a world away from haute couture runways. Outfits were crafted from eclectic sources - garage sales, Goodwill, or Granny’s closet - with a heavy use of layering that was well-reflected in Jacobs’ collection. Crop tops and cardigans were paired with thermals, blazers and flannel shirts - if not worn, tied loosely around the waist.

Perry Ellis spring/summer 1993twitter/bleuarchives

Grunge dressing was thus the antithesis of high fashion, favouring functional, DIY dressing and thrifting over the decadence and artificiality of designer collections. It was a rejection not only of fashion as an industry, but of all the values it embodied: those of consumerism, materialism and capitalism. Marking a total departure from the hedonistic excess of the previous decade, it was a movement that was distinctly antifashion, anti-glamour, anti-aesthetic. Which is why many see the irony in its commodification on Jacobs’ Perry Ellis runway. The very purpose of grunge was to be everything that high fashion was not, least of all a passing luxury market trend. Though Cathy Horyn would later admit to having misjudged the appeal of the movement, she did pick up on this paradox in her 1992 review: the fact that dresses had been deliberately torn and coats purposefully crumpled to make them appear dishevelled and well-worn. ‘The kids in Seattle threatened to wash their hair in protest of having their look co-opted by a gang of gorgeous supermodels,’ she quipped in her piece for The Cut two decades later. Grunge’s utter disinterest in the face of fashion was so marked that some question the use of an ‘anti’ prefix at all. ‘To me the thing about grunge is it's not anti-fashion, it's un-fashion,’ explains James Truman, Editor-in-Chief of Details in the early ‘90s. ‘Punk was anti-fashion. It made a statement. Grunge is about not making a statement, which is why it's crazy for it to become a fashion statement.’

"With a sense of style strictly defined by its indifference, practicality and total authenticity, to now be hailed as a fashion icon is surely something Cobain never expected nor much desired."

Kurt Cubain involuntarily became grunge’s frontman, renowned for his dishevelled, androgynous thrifted looks. A king of layering, some of his most memorable outfits involve him pairing cardigans, ripped jeans and flannel shirts with his signature Chuck Taylors. He popularised band tees, oversized knitwear, and loose silhouettes for both men and women; he defied the typically masculine modes of dressing, on one occasion donning a floral dress to perform (no, Harry Styles was not the first). With a sense of style strictly defined by its indifference, practicality and total authenticity, to now be hailed as a fashion icon is surely something Cobain never expected nor much desired. His wife Courtney Love has been credited with birthing a female grunge aesthetic - think leather, lace, dark eyeliner, ripped fishnets - and had a wide repertoire of silk slips and babydoll dresses that wouldn’t be out of place on high-streets today.

Drew Barrymore at the 'Longtime Companion' premiere in 1990instagram/xclassy90s

Fellow poster girls for grunge included Winona Ryder and Drew Barrymore, with their dont-care dressing and penchant for leather and Levis, whether off-duty or on the red carpet - Barrymore famously showed up to the 1991 ‘Guilty by Suspicion’ premiere in a cropped cardigan, ripped boyfriend jeans and combat boots. A young Chloë Sevigny also rose to prominence as a grunge icon; she earned cool girl status whilst still in high school, starring in Sonic Youth’s ‘Sugar Kane’ video, which was shot in Marc Jacobs’ showroom and also featured several of his notorious 1992 designs. Sevigny would go on to star in Kids, a 1995 coming-of-age drama that, for its host of controversies, acts as a reliable document of the era’s sartorial revolution. The film is a startlingly realist portrait of one day in the life of a group of teens as they wander New York City. The costumes are ordinary, completely unremarkable attire. Oversized tees, baggy mom jeans, washed-out denim shorts and Adidas trainers: the effortless everyday wardrobe of a group of blasé young New Yorkers, but increasingly representative of the unpretentious and unfussy uniform of American youth. 

Kids, 1995twitter/modernnotoriety

Today, the sense of nostalgia for ‘90s fashion is overwhelming. And not just in the re-emergence of low-rise jeans, slip dresses or cropped cardigans on Depop. Twenty years after Marc Jacobs’ infamous Perry Ellis show, Hedi Slimane drew on the grunge movement as inspiration for his autumn/winter 2013 collection, which saw babydoll dresses, fishnets, biker boots and the odd plaid shirt return to the runway. But is ‘90s fashion making a comeback, or did it really just never leave? Through each new trend cycle, items like leather jackets, oversized white tees and mom jeans have endured as wardrobe staples. They feel like an antidote to the concept of ‘fashion’, regardless of whether Marc Jacobs once had them showcased on supermodels. And they’re here to stay. New York Magazine didn’t know just how wrong they were with their headline following Jacobs’ show: ‘Grunge: 1992-1993, RIP’. Grunge: long may it live.