1990 TO 1999
The last decade of the millennium is one of extremes. It starts with a sour recession and is approaching its last year on the heels of one of the longest bull markets in history. The Eighties hangover — after a mania for junk bonds, a spate of leveraged buyouts-gone-wild and the stock market crash of October 1987 — lays the groundwork for the end of conspicuous consumption. Almost symbolically, legendary editor Diana Vreeland dies just as the decade begins.
The fashion front sees rough going in the early part of the decade, thanks in part to the attempted mainstreaming of grunge and deconstruction. Next up: a great paring down and stripping away in the minimalist hands of Helmut Lang, Calvin Klein, Jil Sander and Ann Demeulemeester. Bernard Arnault, meanwhile, shakes things up in his own way by bringing young blood into his ever-growing LVMH stable.
In the workplace, dress codes are shattered: Comfort and cocooning dominate lifestyles and casual Friday brings a new relaxed wardrobe to the office.
Consolidation rears its head and the decade sees rampant bankruptcies and numerous mergers. Dramatic bankruptcies — Barneys, Federated, Macy’s — play against phoenix-like comebacks — Sears, Gucci, and, yes, a newly merged Federated and Macy’s. Fashion goes ga-ga for globalization and IPOs; shopping on TV and via the Internet grows to become a multibillion-dollar venture.
The economy livens up after Bill Clinton’s election. The stock market percolates, steaks and cigars come back into vogue and it’s OK to indulge in fashion again. Not necessarily in the glitzy, overdone styles of the Eighties, but with an attitude of buying well, buying expensive.
However, whether it’s international economic disaster or a long overdue correction, the stock market begins to go south. But lest anyone think that fashion doesn’t matter, certain presidential antics turn a navy blue Gap dress and a DKNY beret into front page news.
The Grunge Factor
The growing grunge movement culminates on the Perry Ellis runway for spring ’93 in a now-infamous collection designed by Marc Jacobs. It becomes one of the seminal fashion statements of the decade — in large part for the negative reaction it incites. Hand-in-hand with a renewed interest in Margiela-inspired deconstruction, grunge is embraced by mainstream designers but fails miserably at retail. Despite winning the CFDA Award, Jacobs is fired and Perry Ellis discontinues its women’s wear line. In 1997, Jacobs wins again, for his own collection.
In one of the most dramatic comebacks in years, Gucci is turned completely around. After the murder of Maurizio Gucci, the Gucci family is no longer at the helm of the company. CEO Domenico de Sole and designer Tom Ford bring back the cachet, with more exclusive distribution and lots of sex appeal. The company becomes a very hot ticket, goes public and its parent, Investcorp, nets a whopping $1.7 billion on the deal.
If the Nineties belong to anyone, it’s Miuccia Prada and Helmut Lang. These two emerge from obscurity of sorts — he, from the literal anonymity of Vienna; she, from the cozy cocoon of the family’s luxury leather business — to become the most influential designers of the decade.Lang’s audacious techno-hip style gives minimalism a new edge, while Prada is largely responsible for bringing Conservative Chic, Thrift Chic and New Length — hems stopping at or just below the knee — into prominence.
Perhaps the biggest fashion news of the Nineties has been the ascendancy of a generation of designers into the mainstream. Once considered avant-garde or fringe, Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Marc Jacobs, John Galliano, Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen all become influential.Gucci is the first storied house to hire an upstart — Tom Ford. But the greatest patron of underfinanced talent is Bernard Arnault. He scours the world for the best and the brightest — to man his LVMH empire. Arnault hires Galliano at Givenchy , switches him to Dior and installs McQueen; Jacobs at Louis Vuitton; Michael Kors at Celine; and Narciso Rodriguez at Loewe.Others follow Arnault’s lead. Hermes hires Martin Margiela, Stella McCartney takes over at Chloe, Hussein Chalayan at Tse, Cristina Ortiz at Lanvin and Nicholas Ghesquieri at Balenciaga, Peter Speliopoulus at Cerruti and Gilles Dufour for rtw at Balmain. And Yves Saint Laurent turns the reins of his Rive Gauche ready-to-wear collection to Alber Elbaz.
Minimal To The Max
Though not a Nineties invention, minimalism thrives after the excess of the Eighties and becomes the decade’s dominant mood. Calvin Klein, the original modern minimalist, treads a brilliant line between commercial pragmatism and editorial edge. Jil Sander, who builds her name on a chic severity, softens her look gradually, ultimately achieving a mood of chic serenity. Late in the decade, both tap into a new artistic mood.
Supermodels reach their pinnacle as the decade opens. Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington are the darlings of the runways, commanding up to $50,000 per show. Evangelista proclaims she doesn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000. Cindy Crawford and former Guess model Claudia Schiffer, the new Chanel girl, bring a new voluptuousness to the ranks. But as Eighties overstatement bites the dust, the waif generation moves in, led by Kate Moss and Amber Valletta — who, of course, soon attain super status themselves.
Not since the Twenties, when Coco Chanel liberated women with her elegant, nonchalant fashion, has a designer made an impact on the way women — and men — dress. Giorgio Armani has done it in spades.
“There was a time when a woman had to dress like a man to be taken seriously,” Armani told WWD in 1994, “and it was in this period — in the Seventies, when women were really struggling with these issues — that I started to dress them my way.”
His way is with fluid tailoring, luxuriously light fabrics, gentle neutrals and a self-assured style that made women look — and feel — chic and confident. By the Eighties, an Armani pantsuit is the uniform of the day, and he is the designer of choice for America’s first generation of top female executives. He expands his modern vision into evening, creating star-quality numbers that win over the Hollywood set.
Throughout his 24 years in business, Armani’s clean, classic style has survived all the forays into poufs, excess, over-the-top, edgy fashion and retro trappings.
Slips, bras and panties are worn in plain sight. Spring 1993 is the T&A season, with lingerie looks, saucy baby-doll dresses and skin-baring cropped tops everywhere. Initially written off as runway folly, the look proves to be one of the decade’s great success stories. The slipdress becomes a staple, and sheer a trend that just won’t die, as women learn to love layering.
Rei and Yohji
Perhaps a reaction to severe minimalism, an artsy mood based largely on the work of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto develops, culminating in overt homage late in the decade. It touches all levels of fashion, including couture: In July, 1998, Karl Lagerfeld takes his bow in a Yohji-made suit. Kawakubo and Yamamoto experience a renewed burst of attention, and Yamamoto astounds the fashion world with a series of blockbuster collections.
A New Fight
With the deaths in the late Eighties and early Nineties of such fashion greats as Perry Ellis, Patrick Kelly, Angel Estrada, Willi Smith and Halston, the industry wonders if fashion can recover. Fashion gets into cause-related marketing and fund-raising in a very high-profile way. AIDS and breast cancer top the list of charities. American makers launch their most ambitious collective fund-raiser, Seventh on Sale, a giant sample sale benefiting AIDS research and services.
Fashion loses two major figures in 1997. The industry — and the world — is horrified with the murder of Gianni Versace in South Beach, Miami, by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. And just six weeks later, the world mourns again when Diana, Princess of Wales, is killed in a high-speed auto crash in a Paris tunnel.
As bankruptcy becomes a business strategy for some companies in the Nineties, so does going public. Among the most successful in offerings in the fashion/retail world are Polo/Ralph Lauren (the move makes Ralph a billionaire), Tommy Hilfiger, Gucci, Bulgari and Estee Lauder. It’s been a tougher road, however, for Donna Karan, Guess, Mossimo and Saks Fifth Avenue, which is ultimately sold to Profitt’s.
The decade opens with an attention grabber: The merged Federated Department Stores/Allied Stores Corp. goes bankrupt. Rising as the power behind the rebirth of the company is Allen I. Questrom, who will lead it out of Chapter 11. He turns Federated into one of the U.S’s largest department store entities by buying Macy’s, itself in bankruptcy, due to over-expansion and too much debt.
The next century will bring with it tremendous change in the way business is done. Thanks to the Internet and the revolution in communications and information technology, the world is becoming exponentially smaller. The supply pipeline — sharing data between merchant and vendor and replenishing stock — is becoming more efficient, although putting the technology in place is costly and can lead to the demise of smaller houses unable to make the investment.
The Euro is on its way on Jan. 1, 1999. And shopping via home computer and TV will change the way a lot of apparel — and everything else — is sold, making it more convenient, if not as much fun, to shop.
Finally, fashion will ask the question, “Did New York finally upstage Europe?” The fall 1999 runway shows will be held first in New York, in February. For years, Europeans accused Americans of stealing their ideas, since Paris, Milan and London always showed collections first. But now it’s Seventh Avenue’s turn to bat leadoff. And it took a European to do it: Helmut Lang led the charge for the early dates in New York.
Accessory of the Moment: Athletic Shoes
Athletic shoes have progressed along with women’s athletic prowess, even though some shoes never touch a gym floor.
The Nineties will undoubtedly be remembered as the era of the Star Photographer. Names like Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Craig McDean, Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon and Peter Lindbergh often shine as brightly — and sometimes eclipse — those of the very designers they were hired to promote.
The gritty realism that emerged during this decade evolved out of the revolutionary naturalism that photographers used in the Seventies and Eighties. Weber, for example, changed the way men were photographed with his erotically charged portrayals in ads for Calvin Klein Underwear and developed lush, aspirational campaigns for Ralph Lauren that were all the more desirable because they appeared attainable. Avedon, meanwhile, created an intense, challenging campaign for Calvin Klein’s Obsession, a serene mood for Eternity and spirited, youthful ads for CK Be.
But the most distinctive trend in the Nineties is the fertile cross-pollination with fine-art and documentary photography. Realism, once approachable, has become brutally honest — even ugly — as photographers strip away the gloss and glamour of fashion, instead capturing a sense of the street.
Responding to images they see in everyday life, music, movies and TV, photographers like Jurgen Teller, David Sims and Ellen Von Unwerth let fashion appear in the context of social comment.
The goal is clearly to provoke an emotional response, rather than merely move merchandise.
The look is not always pleasant. One of the more notorious outgrowths of this documentary style is so-called heroin chic. Another example: the waif look, which some say encourages unhealthy eating habits among young girls. The outcry is against the image, not the fashion, proving that this style of photography has a powerful ability to disturb.
And that, in a sense, is exactly the point. As marketing becomes more sophisticated — a necessity born of the intensified competition between fashion houses and magazines to be distinctive — there is more risk-taking, for advertising as well as editorial. A photographer is often given a free hand, so that his or her touch is instantly recognizable, whether it’s Paolo Roversi’s sultry imagery, Philip-Lorca Dicorcia’s off-kilter set pieces, Steven Klein’s stark irony or Deborah Turbeville’s moody evocations.