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Decadence and Excess in 1993

Fashion historian and author of Fashion: The Whole Story tells us the plot twists of 1993

In Fashion: The Whole Story, Marnie Fogg curates an epic narrative that begins with garb of the ancient civilisations and runs right through to the present day. Running chronologically and including examples from all over the globe, the book details eras, garments and people who have contirbuted to the way we dress. From the Mexican churro suit to the tulle dresses of Rodarte, Charles I to the rise of e-tailing, the ambitious objective is realised by cherry-picking key moments as well as explaining the wider picture. The format makes for a handy dip-in guide without losing out on the details. Fogg is fashion lecturer and has previously penned works on print, shopping and vintage knits. For our 1993 special, we asked for the lowdown on what was happening in fashion exactly twenty years ago.

Dazed Digital: What was the general mood in fashion in 1993?

Marnie Fogg: It was very diverse. We were coming up to the end of the century, which is always a time of confusion, it’s called fin de siècle which is always presumed to mean the end of an era, which is marked by anxiety about the future. In the 1990s, it resulted in the commodification of sex versus celebrity culture; sex was key to the Versace aesthetic, and the bondage collection in 1992 was part of the proliferation of the sexually explicit clothing, which appropriated obviously the leather straps and the aesthetics of the female dominatrix.

DD: Karl Lagerfeld sent strippers down the runway for Fendi in 1993, was that part of the same spirit?

Marnie Fogg: Yes, that was the commodification of sex by people like Versace, because before then, you had to go to a specialist shop for fetish-wear, now it became contextualized into everyday fashion. And that high point of bling, all the make up and short skirts, had a reaction into grunge in 1993. Fashion is always about reacting. Although Marc Jacobs did a collection for Perry Ellis in 1993, Grace Coddington styled a shoot shot by Steven Meisel in American Vogue in 1992, so by a few days, she pre-empted that. Obviously there was something in the air, which was a real reaction against that pay-and-display, 80s, blingtastic attitude. It was the complete opposite to these indulges in luxury epitomized by Versace and the favoured garb of what was known then as “Eurotrash”. It was androgynous, it was also anti-luxury, and of course, very un-commercial, which of course which is why it only lasted one season, because no one was able to make any money out of it.

DD: The book describes the beginning of red carpet dressing, what brought about this shift?

Marnie Fogg: We became ever more savvy about fashion; in the early 1990s, fashion was never on the front cover of a newspaper, it was never deemed as newsworthy, but with the proliferation of magazines and people becoming more aware of fashion, and MTV, people were very aware of the red carpet and this is when the stylist came to the fore. Designers realized that one of their dresses on the red carpet was worth an enormous amount of press coverage.

DD: What was different about the excess of the 1980s and the excess of the 1990s?

Marnie Fogg: I think it was the branding. The logo mania of the 1990s was consolidated by the rise of luxury conglomerates, and their drive for acquisitions, so you had Gucci and LVMH competing to get the cutting edge designers. I don’t think there was a huge difference, although Versace started in the 1980s obviously, but I think he didn’t really get to the high point of his visibility until the 1990s. Whereas before you had 1980s glamour, now you got 90s glamour and excess – the main protagonists were in place by the early 1990s and then it evolved.

The marginal always becomes mainstream, and that’s the interesting thing about fashion. 

DD: In 1993, Kate Moss appeared in Vogue shot by Corinne Day. What made this shoot so iconic?

Marnie Fogg: That was grunge, and what the American press, rather than the British press, called heroin chic. In that famous shot, she wore a pair of Hennes knickers, well that was not going to please people – there was always a fine balance between advertorial and editorial in fashion magazines, but you’re not going to have Armani buying lots of pages in Vogue if they’re going to lie next to a little waif-y model wearing a pair of Hennes knickers. It’s meant to be a business, so it’s not going to sell any product or any pages.

DD: Was this representative of a shift in beauty aesthetics?

Marnie Fogg: It was, you went from Kate Moss to Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista, and that all happened that year, you had the two sides of the same coin. One was a reaction to the other. They appeared the same year but they couldn’t be more different The look that Kate Moss epitomized was cut short because the buyers, the big movers in the fashion industry, didn’t want it. You’d go out and buy your own Doc Martens, you didn’t need to buy a designer pair. It was anti-fashion, which was why a fashion magazine like Vogue couldn’t run with it. At the time, Vogue was very much open to those sorts of looks, but it was magazines like Dazed and Confused that started it. The marginal always becomes mainstream, and that’s the interesting thing about fashion. 

I’m lucky because I have a good memory and a good visual memory, and it was a case of doing a lot of research and then putting together theories of what happened and why it happened when it did.

DD: Who were fashion’s key players in 1993?

Marnie Fogg: In 1993, you’re on the cusp of Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, all these Saint Martins graduates. John Galliano [showed] his Princess Lucrezia collection [in] 1993. This was a significant collection as he had become broke and Anna Wintour secured him a backer. This launched him onto the international stage. Two years later, he was invited by LVMH to head Givenchy, the first British designer to head a couture house. Iconoclastic designer Hussein Chalayan graduated from Central St Martins in 1993.

All these young iconoclastic designers left Saint Martins but they didn’t have the expertise to build a brand. John Gallinano was the first British designer to head a couture house, he went to Givenchy first; Alexander McQueen followed and went to Givenchy and then left and started his own label; but what’s interesting about the general story here, it’s when Gucci and LVMH started acquiring these labels, they acquired Stella McCartney and all these well-known names.

DD: How did you research for the book?

Marnie Fogg: I did a lot of research, but for a lot of it, I lived through it and I have been in fashion a long time. I’m lucky because I have a good memory and a good visual memory, and it was a case of doing a lot of research and then putting together theories of what happened and why it happened when it did. It’s just good investigative skills, and you draw your own conclusions. I didn’t do interviews with these designers although I have done interviews with them for some of my other books, this was much more an academic exercise. It’s good research skills, having a good memory, being there and being curious. Why has that happened? Grunge happened because people were sick of the eighties. Luxury happened because grunge wasn’t a commodity, wasn;t commercial; so it’s just using logical skills really, looking at why things happened and when.

Fashion: The Whole Story, ed. Marnie Fogg with a foreword by Valerie Steele, is released in September 2013 by Thames & Hudson.

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