On a November night in 1992, a 29-year-old Marc Jacobs sent Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, Tyra Banks, and other top models down the runway wearing Doc Martens, Converse sneakers, plaid shirts, baggy khakis, silk slips, and luxe granny knits.
The collection was groundbreaking for a couple of reasons. First, it got the designer fired from Perry Ellis. Second, the designer’s grunge collection looked like the kind of stuff kids were wearing in Seattle coffee shops, but came with a hefty price tag. Many thought it didn’t reflect the Perry Ellis brand. Top fashion editors criticized the collection for challenging luxury. “These were clothes worked to a theme, a theme of dishevelment that requires no particular allegiance to runway fashion. In the end, that was the only bit of irony Jacobs had to offer,” Cathy Horyn wrote in the Washington Post (last year, the writer penned an essay for The Cut, retracting her original view). Fashion critic Suzy Menkes made badges that read “Grunge is Ghastly,” in response to the show.
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It was only Jacobs’s second year as head of womenswear at the company, and yet, the show ended up being a defining moment for him, propelling him into the spotlight as a designer known to be inspired by youth-centric subcultures. The show broke the conventional boundaries of fashion and beauty, and asked editors, retailers, buyers, and consumers to question whether conventionally good taste and high fashion were mutually exclusive.
Rebecca Searleman, who was tasked with selling the Perry Ellis collection at Barneys in 1993, said clients were wary, “either because they were too distinguished to wear anything associated with grunge, or if they were hip clients, they were turned off by Marc Jacobs’s co-opting grunge. The only way I could get anyone to try it was to mix it in with the assortment I selected for them,” she told Allure. “I would never have tried to dress a client in that Perry Ellis head-to-toe; but the knitwear in particular was really strong and versatile.”
Unsurprisingly, Jacobs told The Cut last year that this show was his personal favorite. “Because it was the most liberating. And I know this can sound really corny and falsely humble, but when I trust my own instincts and when I’m actually into something—it doesn’t mean people will like it or we’ll sell it—I will sleep better at night.” Just five years later, Bernard Arnault would hire Jacobs as the creative director of Louis Vuitton, where he remained until 2013.
Designer: Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis
Collection: spring/summer 1993
Venue: The Perry Ellis Showroom on Seventh Avenue in New York City
Music: Nirvana, L7’s “Pretend We’re Dead,” and Sonic Youth
Set: A stark white runway
Styling: Lots of layering, accessories like knitted beanies, and round sunglasses
Makeup: Flushed cheeks, nude lips, and arched brows
Marc Jacobs explains why he prizes style over fashion: