There is a clip from Fashion Television, CTV’s long-running fashion show, that I think about often. It’s of Marc Jacobs’s FW 1997 runway, which featured all the expected names from the era: Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista. He showed lots of sheer shifts that season, models strutting along with their hair in what’s now described as the “messy bun,” plain-faced by today’s fashion standards. Jacobs described the collection as the fantasy “not of other designers,” who would send extraterrestrial garments down the runways in those days. His fantasy, or so he claimed, was an “ideal of beauty [..] that might be out of your reach because it’s high priced fashion, but not out of reach because you can’t understand why someone would wear that.”
Anyway, I found this video, and many others like it, on a particular Youtube channel called 90s Fashion. It’s a bit reductive by naming conventions, sure, and it does call to mind the sorts of nostalgic and unregulated Instagram pages that post, for example, Christy Turlington at Chanel SS 1992 while claiming it is actually Helena Christensen at Versace SS 1992. But the channel itself is a collection of archival fashion videos and documentaries, ranging from the ’90s to early aughts. “90s Fashion” is one of the few places left on the internet where you will find backstage videos of Martine Sitbon or a peek into the AIDS Project LA’s Todd Oldham Retrospective in 1996, where Elizabeth Hurley and Patricia Velasquez’s bouffants nearly swallowed Fashion TV host Jeanne Beker alive.
With cries for the fashion world to revolutionize itself as the pandemic tears the fashion industry apart, I’ve found myself returning to these videos. They’re a reminder of how things have changed, and how people and our relationship to fashion have changed. Beauty standards in the ’90s were, to some, more toxic than they are these days. (Though I’d disagree in certain instances, looking through the latest Instagram posts of hot and talked-about designers.) Models didn’t have much of a voice in those days; they still don’t, but at least outlets are more willing to listen to the faces who sell the ads that keep them afloat. Even the minutia of the fashion world has changed. Celebrities look more dead-eyed in the front row. Kate Moss no longer smokes cigarettes backstage with Marc Jacobs, and if she does, she smart enough to not get photographed doing it. Fashion itself isn’t something that even really warrants television spots, with most of our knowledge of it filtering through ever more obscure blogs and Instagram pages and niche Youtube videos.
Fashion is shifting, as it should be. The breakneck pace of the industry is unsustainable, as an increasing number of seasons get piled on the already bloated calendar of spring, then cruise, then pre-fall, than fall, then cruise again, then pre-spring, then a capsule collection, then a “streetwear” collaboration. (Before doing it all over again.) The fun of it has been lost, as has the excitement at presenting wearable fantasies to push our perceptions of self forward. Watching these videos back, I know ingenuity and glamour are not lost, and this industry will find its way back to them again. I hope, at least.