How ‘Remake Syndrome’ Permeated Fashion and Culture in 2018

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Perry Ellis S/S93

From Marc Jacobs’ infamous grunge collection for Perry Ellis seeing a redux to the newly reissued Dior saddle bag, fashion is pulling from the archives

Marc Jacobs’ infamous grunge collection for Perry Ellis incited a backlash when it was originally shown on November 3, 1992. Fashion critics left the show locked and loaded. Finding its weak points was like picking at an unhealed scab. The L7 Pretend Your Dead soundtrack. Tyra Banks wearing a plaid-checkered bra. The cartoon T-shirt dresses worn by Kristen and Kate – nothing was off limits for detractors of the show. And the hate could be measured in column inches: “Grunge is ghastly” (Suzy Menkes); “Grunge is anathema to fashion” (Cathy Horyn); “Grunge: 1992–1993, R.I.P.” (New York Magazine’s Rich Shupe).

Even the originators of grunge – those thrift-swamped, Sub Pop-signed bands who shirked capitalism – loathed it. I assume this was because a newscaster shoved a microphone in some garage bander’s face for a vox pop and instead got a cutting, ironic Trent Lane quote. Six months later, after only four years designing for Perry Ellis, Jacobs, then 29, was fired and the line was shut down.

There is truth to the platitude “time heals all wounds.” Any maligned piece of culture, no matter how egregious or banal, will experience some form of resurgence. People forget why they hated something, or view it differently through the spyglass of time. That’s why people love to revisit Jennifer’s Body or The Room. Was grunge really all that bad? Cathy Horyn re-evaluated her initial critique of Jacobs’ show and changed her view. “The only thing that I can find wrong, now, with his effort is its timing,” she later wrote.

It’s totally possible that the designer agreed. The passage of time has now deemed these previously unforgivable designs absolved of sin. Marketable. Iconic, even. Marc Jacobs is now 55, and the grunge collection is being resurrected. He is re-releasing his greatest hits stitch for stitch. It’s an interesting idea – when timing is the only drawback to success, just let it gestate a good 20 years. Then cash in, baby! At worst, people will forget it happened and it can be seen anew. At best, consumers will be foaming at the mouth to purchase a factory-fresh facsimile of history. Ex-boyfriends try it all the time.

Now, grunge is back! But… so is the Dior saddle bag. And the Versace S/S00 JLo dress that invented Google images. Oh, and the Gucci looks Elton John wore in previous tours are coming back too, released via capsule collection exclusive to Dover Street Market.

Perry Ellis “fused luxury fashion with everyday classics to create a fresh, unique direction in American sportswear; a concept that would be imitated but never duplicated,” a Perry Ellis press release states announcing the launch of the archive collection. “The unisex collection will revisit the fashion history Mr Ellis helped to create, by bringing 90s streetwear staples back for a limited time for enthusiasts around the world.”

Right now, luxury labels are trotting out their most treasured intellectual property. Fashion is cottoning on to the idea that old, beloved favourites are ripe for rebooting. Like other industries before it, most notably Hollywood, fashion has decided that new ideas are riskier in such a turbulent market than time-honoured hits. These brands are trying to win over customers with nostalgia, a ploy to have people purchase items they recognize rather than having to spend precious money on marketing new products. It’s proven to work.

Sequels and remakes have been flooding cinemas for years now. No childhood movie is safe from the hands of hungry Hollywood execs looking to cash in. Steven Spielberg has predicted an industry “implosion” owing to too many big-budget flops. They don’t even care if you hate the remake, as long as you’re curiosity lures you to spend the money to check it out. It’s the ultimate hoodwink, and one that will continue as long as there is an appetite for them.

Not all reboots are born out of market cynicism, however. Dior’s saddle bag, introduced under the stewardship of John Galliano, is reportedly being reintroduced to meet current demand for the iconic bag. “Models including Elsa Hosk and Bella Hadid have been toting the bags around for the last few months – and, in response, consumers have been snapping them up on sites like Vestiaire Collective,” writes Harper’s Bazaar.

The one remaining question this begs, should fashion devolve into open season for remakes, is what the archives of these once-innovative houses will look like down the line. If a new designer becomes creative director and their first assignment is to study the archives, will they be met with inspiration, or the rag trade equivalent of a Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation album?