Lately it seems like everywhere you look there are signs of a 1990s revival brewing in the cultural zeitgeist. Consider the evidence: Post-feminism is grabbing headlines again; Trainspotting is slated for a sequel; Surge, the citrus soda, is resurging; we’re in the midst of another digital boom; and it looks like the Clintons might be returning to the White House.
“The ’90s are still pretty fresh,” says Helen Molesworth, the curator of “Don’t Look Back: The 1990s,” an exhibition opening this month at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles that attempts to makes sense, in artistic terms, of that decade. The show examines notions of race, gender, sexuality, and identity that prevailed during those years, through works by Roni Horn, Sarah Sze, Paul McCarthy, and Renée Green, among others. “As a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, and the incredible explosion of the Internet, the world got reorganized, while the rise of the personal computer changed our relationship to information,” Molesworth says. “The art world became totally global.” The show’s title refers to lyrics from a Bob Dylan song and, more generally, to the way that artists tend to keep an eye on the future, even as they turn to the past for inspiration. “I think that’s also true in fashion,” Molesworth notes.
Indeed. Last year, fresh out of the gate, Gucci’s new creative director, Alessandro Michele, championed an aesthetic reminiscent of the late-’90s cartoon Daria, which he advanced this spring with haute-thrift beanies, prom skirts, and giant prescription eyeglasses. Meanwhile, a slew of designers including Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane, Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa, and Céline’s Phoebe Philo sent out variations on the slip dress, that quintessential waif-wear staple. At Chloé, Clare Waight Keller concocted rainbow-stripe pants that recalled beachside raves. And Vetements’s Demna Gvasalia, who was recently tapped to take the reins at Balenciaga, deconstructed and reconstructed garments in the vein of ’90s stalwart Martin Margiela.
Emerging designers seem especially besotted with the energy and freedom of Gen Xers. At Off-White, Virgil Abloh showed loads of skater-girl midriff and oversize denim—frayed, faded, and patchworked. Tim Coppens revisited the club-land of his youth with mushroom and amoeba-like prints. And Christelle Kocher, the artistic director of the French plumasserie Maison Lemarié, upgraded streetwear with couture-level embellishments in her own line, Koché. “The ’90s was the time when I opened my eyes to fashion,” Kocher says. “There were so many designers with strong identities: Margiela and the Antwerp scene, Martine Sitbon, Helmut Lang, John Galliano...The art aspect mattered—not only the business.”
Perhaps we should also thank musicians for the ’90s comeback. Grimes is known for her moody magpie style, and FKA Twigs, a former backup dancer, performs in getups reminiscent of the Fly Girls. Then there’s Mabel, the daughter of the rapper Neneh Cherry. The ’90s baby recently debuted her first single, “Know Me Better,” with cover art depicting her in a belly-baring crop top, bomber jacket, and low-slung jeans that flaunt her Calvin Klein underwear. It’s as if she were daring us to, well, face the music all over again.
Hair By Tamas Tuzes for Bumble and Bumble at L’Atelier NYC; Makeup by Junko Kioka for Chanel at Joe Management; Models: Lottie Hayes at Supreme Management, Sofia Tesmenitskaya at Wilhelmina Models; photography assistant: Brian Kanagaki; stylist assistant: Megan Soria.