Scarcely had fashion decreed bourgeois chic the order of the day when a backlash set in. That reaction, as timely as it is unruly, arrives in the unlikely guise of grunge. That much maligned Seattle-born style, popularized by rock legends like Nirvana, has reared its head once more in the shape of lumberjack shirts, jaunty kilts, beat-up sweat shirts, bleached-out jeans and all manner of leggings in worker-bee stripes.
Its arrival coincides with the advent of neo-grunge rockers, and in its earliest incarnations and it has already filtered into fashion's mainstream. Stores like Hot Topic and American Eagle Outfitters chase after teenagers' dollars with work shirts and jeans, meant to be piled on chaotically in the manner of Kurt Cobain, the iconic lead singer of Nirvana. But new interpretations of the style have surfaced in more rarefied quarters as well.
Grunge has been a recurrent theme in fashion since the early 1990s, when rockers like Cobain transformed kilts, moth-eaten sweaters and lumberjack plaids into the insignia of yuppie revolt. "Grunge returns whenever fashion is reacting against a more preppy or establishment look," said Andrew Bolton, associate curator of the Costume Institute at the Met. "It's very much an anti-fashion statement, one that breaks down the notions of what goes with what."
If Cobain thought nothing of pulling a tattered baby-doll dress over jeans, combining a Pendleton shirt with a kilt, or wrapping said shirt at his hips like a skirt, designers are taking a tidier route. Thus Marc Jacobs, who notoriously created a grunge collection for Perry Ellis a decade ago, reintroduced elements of the look in his secondary line. The collection, shown this month during Fashion Week, was built on an amalgam of rainbow-colored layers, a sprightly version of the style that was once embraced by disaffected high schoolers and the protagonists of Wayne's World.
Like Jacobs, Jean Touitou, the designer for APC, gave his grunge-inspired fall collection a playful air. Evocatively christened Smells like Seattle, it is full of lumberjack shirts in plaid polyester, beefy cardigans, striped leggings and kilts. Touitou's decision to resurrect the look was a reaction to "all that cheap glamor," he said, referring to the ubiquity of Manolo-shod editors and their gin-sipping dates posturing archly in the lobby of the Mercer Hotel in SoHo. "I think the world needs a blitzkrieg answer to all that," he said.
Touitou would likely find compatriots at Utilikilts, a Seattle store and Web site that sells kilts to men from all walks of life, including, lately, a new generation of Cobain wannabes. The look is no less alluring to the Manhattan adolescents now snapping up corduroy jackets with fake fur trim, or plaid flannel shirts, to be layered two at a time over bleached or weathered jeans, at Marsha D.D. on the Upper East Side. "You would think that grunge is an unconscious influence because these kids are too young to remember its source," said Marsha Drogin Dayan, the store's owner. "But now I'm not so sure."
It is doubtful, though, that the movement's latest subscribers have more than a nodding acquaintance with its counterculture roots. "Today the style is romanticized," Bolton said. "It's more about nostalgia than politics."
Anthony Dickey stared down his audience at the Hue-Man bookstore in Harlem last week, unfazed by a restive shuffling in the ranks. Dickey, a hairstylist known to clients simply as Dickey, is the author of "Hair Rules!" a book for, as he puts it, those with "hair that's anything but straight." Dickey is a proponent of a wholesome natural look, enhanced though it may be by a stylist's skills. Some listeners had failed to heed his advice.
One woman, the victim of overzealous processing, lamented, "I don't even know what my hair is anymore." Dickey responded with the breezy confidence of an author whose book, still in its first printing, is selling in the tens of thousands. "Pay no attention to the magazines," he told her, waving his volume in her direction. "Just show this to your hairdresser.
Taking in the message, Cassie Parker, a listener in her 40s, rolled her eyes. "When you get to a certain age, you don't have time for hairdressers," she snapped. "You don't want to relax your hair, but you can't go nappy either. Where is the medium?" She is still waiting for her reply.
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I didn’t expect to spend more than three minutes out of my car, yet the sun was so brutal I put on my hat before approaching the seawall. Beimen (北門) is the flattest and most sun-baked part of Tainan. It lacks trees and people. In wintertime, the weather is often delightful. It wasn’t yet mid-morning in the hot season, however, and I felt like a leaf shriveling in the desert. Atop the seawall but facing inland, I could see dozens of the rectangular ponds which account for a significant percentage of Beimen’s “land” area. Some, no doubt, were dug to produce