9 June 2016

A '90s Revival

Helmut Lang
Spring/Summer 1998

I often think of fashion as a curious embodiment of mindfulness, in that it is a purely present-focused discipline. It is by definition creating something of the moment by building upon what went before (from the beginning of time until what came just before the immediate past, which is by now passé). The past is a repository for inspiration, with the designer often picking references from a diverse array of periods and locations to form a historical and cultural pastiche framed and presented for the current moment. Everything that came before is fair game to be inspired by, because all that matters is the here and now. The present moment is everything. The past is used as a vehicle to inspire the present, and by extension, the designer hopes to inspire the future as well. As such fashion has always had an odd relationship with time, seeking to exist in the moment, whilst framing itself against a past that exists purely as a memory to be reinterpreted for the present.

I find it interesting to see so many young designers now, who grew up in the '90s, now referencing that decade for their collections. Such is the flow of fashion, that as each generation comes of age, there is an inevitable revival of the decade of their formative years, albeit one thoroughly coloured by the tint of nostalgia and memory. History in general is thought of and written about in defined periods, with icons and iconography of design, or music, or literature, becoming shorthand for each period, whether or not they were actually all that widespread or not. Whether it be miniskirts, mods, flairs, flappers, Cubism or Constructivism, the words and images can conjure up ideas that have come to represent quite a specific time period in our collective memory. Think of any film you have seen set in the past, and they only really need a few select pieces to situate the audience. Fashion is obviously a great visual shorthand for this periodisation in film, because by now audiences have become accustomed to thinking about periods of the past as having been dressed in quite a recognisable, and usually very specific, manner.

And yet for the most parts, we usually get the period rather wrong, or inflate the influence of something we now think of as iconic far beyond anything that existed at the time. That is simply the way our memory works, both on an individual basis and a collective basis - we build icons and stereotypes and use them to convey the entirety of what was obviously a period just as complex as our own. Think back to our childhoods and we are met with a collection of memories that for the most parts ignore the mundane everyday activities that made up the most of that time. Not to mention the continual flux of minor trends in fashion or music or film. But we remember icons, we remember that favourite television show, we remember that favourite candy, we remember that holiday, we remember the smell of that perfume. There is a bricolage of sensory information that we can think back to in order to inspire us. The past existed, but we all experienced it in our own ways, and we all have different memories of it. They are all as true as each other, but there are usually connective threads where we are able to see trends and discern what was popular at the time. As such I always find it interesting to see how fashion treats the past, because it can often look towards a far more recent past than other art forms, and thus is able to find those icons and iconography that so strongly reference our nostalgia and memory.

I grew up in the '90s, but had no understanding of the fashion at that time (I knew Naomi Campbell was from around the corner, and remember her coming to my school once, but did not really know what a supermodel was then, so thought nothing of it). So I am always interested in looking back at '90s collections and comparing them to my memories of the decade. In much the same way I find it interesting to look at current collections that are labelled as '90s inspired, and then look at actual fashion shows from the period. Of course the two rarely align all that much, because current collections inspired by the '90s will be done so from the vantage point of nostalgia and memory, referencing the period at large rather than fashion shows at the time. Even so, I often find myself looking back at old collections and finding myself taken by just how relevant and present they still seem. Take for example the Helmut Lang collection above from Spring/Summer 1998. I have actually been on the hunt for one of the padded "bulletproof" vests from this collection for some time now, and could easily see myself wearing most of this collection right here and now for Spring/Summer 2016. I sometimes find myself wondering what collections from right now I will find myself looking back to in the years to come and feel the same way about. I guess time will tell.


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