’90s Grunge Vs Modern Elegance: The Style Debate
For SS23, designers are embracing enduring classics by returning to the era-defining looks we love. Here, two of team NET-A-PORTER’s style experts make a case for the effortless cool of ’90s grunge and the timeless polish of modern elegance, while sharing their top styling tips
Harriet Haskell-Thomas, global head of styling
As a silhouette, ’90s grunge is one I’ve always loved – baggy on the bottom, fitted on top. I’ve really been leaning into that this season, with cargo pants and low-slung denim worn with long-sleeved T-shirts, or a shrunken cardigan unbuttoned just enough to achieve that ‘I just threw this on’ vibe. There’s a simplicity and ease to this look that suits my lifestyle, but I also love that there are elements of it that can be dressed up and elevated, too. As a pre-teen in the ’90s, I wasn’t aware of following trends; but, looking back, I can see the way grunge influenced the way I was dressing as I went into my teens. So, whoever said you shouldn’t wear a trend the second time around was wrong; I’m wholeheartedly embracing it. Albeit in a newer, more polished way.
As the collection that bore the trend, Marc Jacobs’ 1993 collection for Perry Ellis (that famously got him fired) will always be the purest reference for ’90s grunge, and one I frequently come back to. Winona Ryder and Courtney Love are the ultimate ’90s icons – but, for a modern take, Lara Worthington, Isamaya Ffrench and Anna Winck always serve up some good street-style references.
Because this trend is built on everyday items, it’s the finishing touches and styling details that will pull it all together”Harriet Haskell-Thomas
Kate Moss opening the SS23 Bottega Veneta show in baggy jeans (that were actually printed leather), a simple tank and a plaid shirt clearly marked a moment this season. With the naturally insouciant spirit Moss is known for, she defined that laid-back attitude – and I, for one, wanted in. Coperni’s collection was an ode to the ’90s, with low-rise cargo pants styled with neat pinstripe vests, metal ring-link tops and cropped flight jackets. At Tibi, silk cargo pants and low-slung maxi skirts worn with loose and cropped, or sheer, oversized tees showed that slouchy doesn’t have to mean scruffy. And exaggerated flight jackets and an oversized denim jacket at Khaite was the ultimate lesson in how to do grown-up grunge.
Because this trend is built on everyday items, it’s the finishing touches and styling details that will pull it all together. Switching out your gold jewelry for silver pieces is an easy update. I love Sophie Buhai’s chubby silver hoops, or Loewe’s anagram studs, and Eéra’s chain-link necklace will give an essence of grunge to any outfit. A skinny choker is so reminiscent of the ’90s, and this pearl one, also by Sophie Buhai, looks so good at the top of a stack. I love a long-sleeved T-shirt and have a whole drawer dedicated to them. Layering tees together is a nice nod to grunge, too – especially if they are semi-sheer or have different sleeve lengths. James Perse and Nili Lotan both have great options perfect for layering, and Proenza Schouler’s tie-dye versions will inject a bit of color and print.
Lydia Zacharis, buying manager
I love how effortless yet considered ‘modern elegance’ looks; that simple sophistication without ever feeling boring. It draws from the past, where designers – more than ever this season – have gone back to the archives and revisited house codes to showcase collections in more intimate, salon-like ways.
I tend to reference a lot of ’90s runway shows for my own style inspiration, as well as women of that era. Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, for example, was the ultimate muse – she made the simplest outfits look so effortlessly beautiful, and totally relevant.
For SS23, The Row delivered the best take on the relaxed-elegance trend, with neutral oversized blazers paired with crisp shirts and long skirts and dresses, beautiful duchesse satin strapless gowns and soft leather pouches. Saint Laurent’s dramatic interpretation of long, fluid dresses, in soft browns, beiges and taupes, worn with elegant heels, was also very polished. And I loved Khaite’s edgier approach to the trend – creative director Cate Holstein played with elongated midi outerwear and power skirts, along with strong shoulders, sumptuous soft leathers and lots of python print, which felt like an easy, chic way to add interest.
Dressed-up accessories play a big role in the modern-elegance look… a velvet headband, or oversized bow around a ponytail; a cashmere sweater tied over a white shirt…”Lydia Zacharis
Key pieces to nail the look this season include a midi or floor-length skirt, or dress, as the hero item, paired with a luxe neutral cashmere sweater or oversized blazer, and a timeless wrap coat by Max Mara or Toteme. On the accessories front, a structured leather bag is a must – look to The Row and Savette – along with point-toe, mid-heel pumps, such as Manolo Blahnik’s ‘Carolyne’ or ‘Maysale’ styles, or a chic ballet flat. For modern Mary Janes, Aeyde, Alaïa and The Row have great options. Smaller items, such as a minimal belt, can be found at Toteme and Khaite, while hair accessories by Jennifer Behr, leather gloves, and some demi-fine long earrings from By Pariah and Sophie Buhai will round off the look very nicely. In terms of color palettes, this season spans from browns and beiges to rich burgundies and grays, with black dominating.
Dressed-up accessories play a big role in the modern-elegance look: top-handle bags with silk scarves wrapped up around them; chic black sunglasses; opera-length gloves; hosiery; a velvet headband, or oversized bow around a ponytail; a cashmere sweater tied over a white shirt; a sleek midi skirt with kitten heels; a minimal leather belt over a long wool coat; and some vintage-looking jewelry, such as gold or pearl dangling earrings.
The models featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown