X-Girl marks the spot: how the Godmother of Grunge’s clothing brand defined a generation of teenage girls
How does fashion shape adolescence? Every month, Claire Healy deconstructs the ways that style culture has contributed to the idea of the teenager in new series Extreme Adolescents.
A languid East Coast drawl narrates a strange but familiar montage; crop haired girls trying on neat A-Line shifts and tight-fitting t-shirts: white, red, black. “We'd often go look for clothes. We’d shiver as we walked up and down the aisles, staring numbly at the racks. But more often we'd be disappointed.” The voice belongs to a young Chloë Sevigny, and the clothes are all X-Girl: the cult brand founded by Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon and stylist Daisy von Furth in 1993. Starring in and narrating the Phil Morrison-directed film for the line’s second collection, Sevigny and her co-stars channel the somber outlooks of French New Wave heroines. They also echo the sentiments of a generation of American teenage girls who just wanted one thing from fashion: clothes that actually fit them properly.
Created as a complement to the boys-only streetwear brand X-Large, X-Girl started out in LA, with a New York outpost on Lafayette Street following soon after. The brand’s champions read like a who’s-who of downtown 90s New York – Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze, and Budapest-born artist Rita Ackermann were collaborators, artist Mike Mills designed the graphics, and Kathleen Hanna was a devotee. And the clothes? Dresses and ringer tees were fitted without being too tight – as von Furth exclaims in an MTV clip, “No Lycra!” – with subtle logos and a distinct 60s kick. As Sevigny later described the X-Girl style in an interview, “They were going almost for an androgynous kind of look, these very simple A-line dresses that were very Godard.” In other words, as von Furth adds: “The store was so Helvetica.”
Clouded with nostalgia, our own self-styled narrative of the nineties often refers to this vague notion of ‘simplicity’: Kate Moss for Calvin Klein and Courtney Love’s nightdresses. But Kim Gordon, the so-called ‘godmother of grunge’, actually rebelled against a grunge aesthetic that, in 1993, was swamping girls in swathes of ‘borrowed-from-the-boys’ layers. Instead, through X-Girl, Gordon and von Furth created a preppy look that feminised the skater girl/riot grrrl aesthetic while actually promising to flatter the manifold body types of adolescence and beyond: as the pair put it in one lookbook introduction, “X-Girls = women curves up and down.” Offspring lines from Miu Miu to Marc by Marc Jacobs (RIP), looking to appeal to a younger customer, have always tread the line between tomboy and girly girl in much the same way.
“X-Girl’s sidewalk guerilla fashion show was a success in that it came off at all,” – so says Kim Gordon in her new autobiography, talking about the brand’s legendary first runway outing. Taking place on the streets of Soho – just down the road from the Marc Jacobs show, as it happened – and starring Sevigny in a faux bridal dress, the whole thing was thankfully documented by MTV’s House of Style. It also took place just a few days after Kurt Cobain – who was close to Sonic Youth – committed suicide. There were never any grand narratives when it came to X-Girl, though. The show remained full of optimism, pep and a future-facing teen spirit.
Unfortunately for the girl power generation that never grew up, today one has to resort to serious Etsy-rummaging to have any chance of sporting that iconic X-Girl logo for oneself. Shutting shop and selling out to a Japanese company in 1998, X-Girl is the brand teens loved that only lasted as long as teendom itself. The same fate, weirdly, is met by a number of other labels of the 90s – including Sofia Coppola’s own t-shirt line, Milk Fed – that find a fulfilling afterlife in the land of the super-kawaii. Of course, it’s found its way back in various incarnations – most notably last year, in a Tavi Gevinson-fronted release sold through VFiles. But X-Girl’s lasting influence is about more than a brand name and (admittedly awesome) plastic barrettes. It’s the brand ethos – clothes that fit, for the girl cool enough to wear them – that was such a vital force in determining not only the girls who wore X-Girl, but the girls they grew up to be. As Gordon puts it in Girl in a Band, “In a way X-Girl gave me far more notoriety than Sonic Youth ever did.”
Watch Chloë Sevigny in the X-Girl movie below: