Written by Harriet Walker
Posted 15/07/2013
If a trend cycle usually follows the pattern of birth, death, rebirth and eats itself, then grunge has transcended that entirely.

After the debut look exited at the autumn 2013 Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane show, we had an inkling. By the time the second had appeared, it was certain: grunge had become one of those looks that truly defy zeitgeist and seasonality. Grunge had always been a movement – culturally at least – but now, like Sixties or minimalism, grunge has become an eternal reference for designers to plunder.
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Saint Lauren AW13

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Cara Delevingne in Saint Laurent

Although Slimane's homage was high-end, it was in fact precisely what the founders of grunge did with their wardrobes, and what the movement was all about: finding a twisted elegance in the mundane. It's how Kurt Cobain made a lumberjack shirt into an iconic piece, how Courtney Love's smudged mascara became a statement rather than an accident, how Eddie Vedder's T-shirts always seemed so much more than, well, just a T-shirt.
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Eddie Vedder 1990 

It's a little ironic, given the ideology behind grunge was only ever 'clothes' rather than 'fashion', comfort rather than style, and subcultural indifference rather than mainstream aspiration. That's precisely the draw, of course, and why it's so interesting that it should turn up on a Parisian catwalk. One of the main criticisms of Slimane's collection was, after all, that it was just clothes. But what's wrong with that when each piece is done to perfection?
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Kurt Cobain 1992

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Courtney Love 1990

As the Eighties turned into the Nineties, the once underground scene began to truly infiltrate the mainstream, becoming the de rigour look/sound for the majority of teenagers worth their salt. In fact, grunge was really first presented to that mainstream audience via MTV's famous live session with Nirvana – a seminal piece of music programming even if we do say so ourselves – and continued to forge forwards, creating an effortlessly cool surge across almost all forms of popular culture.
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Nirvana on MTV Unplugged

And yet, it wasn't always so covetable. In 1992, grunge made its first entrée into fashion proper, beyond the streets, where the deliberately sloppy uniform of hoodie, jeans, plaid, beanies and boots had already taken fierce hold, in a sartorial shoulder shrug from a dispossessed and disaffected youth. Marc Jacobs, then creative director for American sportswear label Perry Ellis, presented a collection inspired by the music of Seattle, the grunge scene's birthplace, including plaid, baggy shirtdresses and beanies. He subsequently lost his job. The Nineties, a jumbled contradiction of purism and logomania, was not the era for grunge to be taken seriously.

But there were high-end nods to the fashion faction pushing it. Grunge influenced aesthetics perhaps more than it did visceral trends, in the work of photographers Corinne Day, Juergen Teller, Mario Sorrenti and Steven Meisel (perhaps none more so than in his Grunge And Glory story for US Vogue in 1992) for whom the knowing drabness of the movement translated into a stark and studiedly bleak realism. 'Heroin chic', as it was known to the scandalised mainstream, was – if anything – grunge with a bit of art direction.

It took until the Noughties, when the designers who had loved the music in their teenage years, picked grunge up again as a reference and gave it credence. It became an adjective rather than a noun and took in far more than its initial incarnation. It wasn't prettified as such, but it was made glamorous. Oversized, sheer racerback vests were that way because they were intended to be; not because they were ancient, or borrowed from a man whose name you never found out. For the first time, grunge was deliberately sexy.
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Alexander Wang AW08 / Luella SS13

Alexander Wang's off-duty model aesthetic felt like the pinnacle for a rehabilitation of grunge, no little irony given that so many of its original protagonists had been through rehab themselves. They, like Alexander Wang's shirts and artfully ripped denim, had come out the other side more polished, less earthy, more fitted, a little tidier. Courtney Love wore them, and it felt like the circle had been squared.
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Ashish AW13

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Rodarte SS13
And so it swelled into a trend in its more formal definition: plaid was on the catwalks at Luella in 2008 in pretty girlish dresses, rendered as sequins at Ashish, put through the emotional wringer and made conceptual by Edward and Benjamin Meadham Kirchhoff, for whom Courtney Love remains a fascination. Karl Lagerfeld tried it at Chanel, ripped jeans, perhaps the most expensive ever produced, appeared at Bottega Veneta. For autumn 2013, Rodarte tried out tie-dye, not in a Woodstock way, but a Washington state vein.
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Meadham Kirchhoff SS12

If grunge was the first incarnation of fashion for the MTV generation, then it remains so for the current holders of that title: no longer lo-fi or DIY, but sleeker and more commercialised, knowing but also accessible. Grunge has gone from American garages to Parisian ateliers, no less authentic or nonchalant for that, but with a greater sense of identity than its founders could have ever intended.

Harriet Walker is news editor of Never Underdressed

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