fashion, 1990s

   The beginning of the 1990s was marked by the demise of the so-called yuppie and the concomitant hard, metropolitan chic and Thatcherite values embodied in power dressing. In its place came a new hegemony, a belief in a New Age and its associated spiritual values spurred on by the influential 1987 Mintel Report, The Green Consumer, which drew manufacturers’ attention to a public actively seeking a respite from the ‘I’m all right Jack’ aesthetic of the 1980s. Apparently, consumers were becoming more inner-directed, and wanted products which could contribute to saving the planet. The first stirrings of this new aesthetic to greet the decade were from Rifat Ozbek, whose White Collection graced the catwalks in 1990. This look, which generated its own clichés when instantly adopted by high street chains such as Top Shop and Miss Selfridge, exemplified a quest for the spiritual over the material and was not ironic, despite the fact that the fashion industry operates alongside the notion of novelty for novelty’s sake and would work against its own profit margins if advocating recycling. Accordingly, the fashion industry’s response to the green movement took two forms: an appropriation on the metaphorical level, and a more serious attempt to promote real change within its modes of production. An image of ‘greenness’ was evoked by some designers such as Ozbek using white cotton— ironically, a cash crop responsible for much Third World pollution—but some British firms did attempt green modes of production. All went well until the concept became unfashionable and the next take was in opposition: that of the cyberpunk, who believes in technology rather than nature, and attempts to save the planet using computer terminals and the Internet rather than eco-friendly goods. However, Ozbek’s look had not only acknowledged green consumerist tendencies (see green consumerism) but also nodded in the direction of the main influence on 1990s fashion. His separates based on sportswear items such as hooded sweatshirt tops and trainers exemplified the look which was to dominate the street. Crossovers appeared on fashion catwalks, and designers such as Nick Coleman and Michiko Koshino began to direct their creations at the clubber rather than the yuppie, acknowledging the tribalism of London nightlife.
   London also became acknowledged once again as a centre for avant-garde fashion. It seemed as if the mythical Swinging Sixties were again being rerun in 1995 and 1996 when magazines such as Time and Newsweek in the USA produced features on London as the centre of a new style, recognizing the relationship between fashion and music encapsulated in guitar-based music such as Britpop and the concomitant reworking of 1960s and 1970s styles of dress by Johnsons La Rocka and Tm Gilbey.
   The rise to power in Parisian couture houses of the designers John Galliano at Dior and Alexander McQueen at Givenchy showed that British fashion was being taking seriously by big business conglomerates such as LVMH, who effectively controlled Parisian couture. Galliano, known for his postmodernist plunderings of the history of style, a legacy of Westwood’s experiments in the 1980s and 1990s, was given the task of roping in a new generation of couture customers and lucrative licensing deals. In London, the New Generation of British designers garnered much publicity through the showcase of London Fashion Week, which became increasingly successful in the 1990s and introduced designers such as McQueen, Flyte and Ostell, Copperwheat Blundell, Pearce Fionda, Clements Ribeiro, Hussein Chalayan and Red or Dead to a bemused public.
   The 1990s were also marked by the referencing of past styles from Vivienne Westwood’s plundering of eighteenth and nineteenth century dress and 1950s couture, exemplified in collections such as the wellreceived Cafe Society Collection of 1994 which included long, sweeping skirts and softly tailored shirt-jackets emphasizing the bust, to Alexander McQueen’s subversion of the minimalist designs of the 1960s Parisian ye ye couturiers adding his own postmodern reworkings to the repertoire of tailored suits for women. Paul Smith continued to reinvent male fashion, particularly the look of the natural predecessor of the 1990s man— the mods—using staples of masculine dress such as V-necked jumpers and biker jackets.
   Attempts to demystify fashion were continued through the popularity of fashion-related programming on British television. The Clothes Show, with a mixture of the rag trade trained Jeff Banks and Caryn Franklin flying the flag for street chic, continued in popularity, followed by Style Challenge introducing the concept of the fashion makeover together with the role of the fashion stylist, who became an important figure within the magazine industry in the 1990s through photographic shoots in The Face and its younger counterparts Don’t Tell It, Dazed and Confused and so on. Another staple part of the industry was acknowledged, that of public relations, which was sent up in the highly successful situation comedy Absoloutely Fabulous, which continued the mythology of the fashion business as one of champagneguzzling harpies rather than being one of the biggest providers of revenue and employment in Britain. However, the old guard were still going strong and companies still traded on the notion of ‘Englishness’ for tourist and home consumption. Hardy Amies’ notion of ‘evolution rather than revolution’ was followed on in the production of companies like Hobbs and Mullberry who traded on an ineffable, timeless ‘Englishness’ of country houses, horses and herbaceous borders, and Laura Ashley whose pastiche of English heritage remained popular.
   The traditions of English tailoring were brought more fully into the 1990s with designers such as Bella Freud, assistant in Vivienne Westwood’s design studio for four years, shown in her signature tailored knitwear. She is typical of a new breed of young British designers emerging in the 1990s who have built up their businesses slowly, learning from the boom and bust which characterized many fashion firms in the 1980s.
   Further reading
    Martin, R. (ed.) (1995) Contemporary Fashion Designers, London, St James Press (a definitive overview of major fashion designers in the twentieth century).
   CAROLINE COX

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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