Noelle McCarthy: Reinvention of the 90s

By Noelle McCarthy

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Each week broadcaster and writer Noelle McCarthy will share her thoughts on style.

Designer and photographer Hedi Slimane captured 90s icon Courtney Love in the latest Saint Laurent campaign. Photo / YSL
Designer and photographer Hedi Slimane captured 90s icon Courtney Love in the latest Saint Laurent campaign. Photo / YSL

I am old. I know this, because Frances Bean Cobain is a muse of Hedi Slimane. It's over two years now since Cobain posed for one of those stark, confrontational, black-and-white portrait series for which Slimane, fashion's so-called "Prince of Darkness", is famous. The pictures are incredible, I don't know how I missed them.

Frances Bean is mesmerising, a pillow-lipped avenging angel, staring at the camera like it's bringing the apocalypse, no trace of fear in her uncanny eyes. This, you think, is a girl who's seen things. This is the girl Kristen Stewart is approximating when she tries punk-rock nonchalance on for size.

It makes sense for Slimane to have shot Frances Bean; he's been on a grungy spree at Saint Laurent womenswear since he got there, a 90s-redux that's seen him use Kim Gordon and Frances' mama, Courtney Love, in ad campaigns. This doesn't make the portraits of Frances any less disquieting. In my head, Frances Bean Cobain is not a model. She's a baby.

I came of age in the latter half of the 1990s, the very era Slimane is harking back to in his latest fall and resort collections. I knew Frances Bean back then, of course, but I knew her parents better. I spent a lot of time with her Dad and the rest of his band after school in my bedroom.

I knew Frances' mother, too. I remember when she wore torn-up slips and kissed Amanda de Cadenet. The last time I checked, little Frances Bean was a toddler with an anti-hero dad and a riot girl mommy. Now she's the muse for the reinvention of an aesthetic I lived through. Way to make me feel ancient, Hedi.

Not that I can hate him for it. The 90s' buzz is exciting the way Slimane does it. Saint Laurent fall 2013 was raw, abrasive and sexy, just like Nirvana sounded the first time you heard it. Fashion editors are said to have clutched their pearls at what Slimane sent down the runway. He stands accused of cheapening the hallowed name of Saint Laurent with his oversize duffel coats and shrunken dresses.

They don't get it. Slimane's influences may have been obvious, but the clothes themselves are gorgeous. Provocative, sure, but still covetable and wearable. But that doesn't mean I'm OK with this Saint Laurent direction. I can't be. The memories it stirs up are too painful.

I did not have myself together, style-wise, in the 90s. Not nearly. I had a black velvet swing coat. I had an oatmeal-coloured cardigan that was full length with side vents and wooden buttons. I had a pirate shirt. God help me, I wore it. I walked the streets dressed in White Musk perfume, painted up like Robert Smith in Rimmel "Black Cherry" lipstick.

I was a sight to behold back when Frances Bean was a baby. Ah well, whatever, nevermind. That was her Dad's line, wasn't it? Easy for him to say. Kurt never wore a pirate shirt in public.


* Follow Noelle on Twitter here.

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