We have Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dazed & Confused and Clueless to thank for the on-screen portrayal of the indolent renegade, which went mainstream during the 1990s. Save for Hunter S. Thompson’s alter-ego Raoul Duke or The Dude, the ‘slacker’ is typically the well-liked sidekick or a zeitgeisty plot device, rather than the protagonist. “Loadies [druggies] generally hang on the grassy knoll over there,” Cher Horowitz explains when schooling Tai Frasier in how avoid being a social outcast.
The psychotropic dresser who populated that same grassy knoll could be identified by their shorn-off baggy pants, dress-length T-shirts, jaunty headgear and abundant tie-dye—a uniform that the catwalk has largely ignored, until now. The ‘dropout’s’ colourfully wayward fashion tenets began to infiltrate Prada and Stella McCartney last year, with tie-dye now a mainstay of new generation labels Collina Strada, Eckhaus Latta and Ambush. But why, in our ‘like’-orientated culture which is ordinarily about cultivating the appearance of success, are we choosing to adopt a dropout dress code?
Our first question for Yoon Ahn—the creative polymath who is one half of Japanese label Ambush (and the mind behind Kim Jones’ Dior Homme jewellery line)—was how are the counterculture/stoner/surf roots of tie-dye relevant now? “They represented freedom and not abiding by social code,” she says. “We all want to feel free deep down inside. Perhaps a tie dye T-shirt can give us that feeling.” Her own tie-dye T-shirts are part of the aspirational wardrobe of a twenty-something global intelligentsia. Why does she feel that tie-dye has resonated with a new generation? “Nostalgia,” she suggests, and “a bit of liberation from controlled digital images”.
She has a point. The mass popularity of the modern tie-dyed ‘scumbro’ look, famously spearheaded by Justin Bieber (and channeled into his fashion line, Drew House) is part of the same cultural shift that’s brought the intentionally hazy aesthetic of fashion photographer and filmmaker Sharna Osborne into the luxury arena, where flawless digital imagery is no longer all that inspiring. If blurry photography is a backlash to Instagram’s airbrushed norms, sun-faded psychedelic tie-dye translates the anti-perfection stance into our wardrobes.
“It’s a hands-on process, so every piece feels personal to me. A tie-dye pattern feels like a fingerprint, an original,” Ahn says, likening the process to a photographer who shoots on film. Bieber’s own evolving look (as honed by stylist Karla Welch), which has been described by the New Yorker as “Seventies post-hippie burnout with Nineties Orange County skater”, draws on the popular appeal of returning (at least sartorially) to an analogue era. Tie-dye epitomises the beauty of accidents and inaccuracies in the design studio that arguably leave more room for artistry.
“I like to look at tie-dyeing in more of a painting form,” Hillary Taymour, the designer/founder of Collina Strada explains via email from New York. Like Ahn, who uses the traditional shibori technique, Taymour’s craft-heavy approach offers space for experimentation in that the results are pleasingly erratic. Her watercolour tie-dyes decorate everything from tights to sweaters, quilted jackets and sheer dresses in Collina Strada’s AW19 collection, a highlight from February’s slimmed-down New York Fashion Week. Alongside Ekhaus Latta’s irregularly bleached denim, Taymour’s artisanal pieces invert what we understand as luxury fashion, attributing status to the handmade mood that characterises her designs. The designer’s theory on the rise of elevated tie-dye is that it symbolises time spent offline, and a new-era of quality that is reconfiguring the print’s formerly grungy connotations. “It is really nostalgic to summer camp days it feels youthful and hands on.” And, as far as its report card is concerned, the slate is cleared.
“This new wave of tie-dye feels different. More chic and fun with way less slacker vibes,” Taymour says. But isn’t the opportunity to slack-off (especially in the social media perfection stakes) highly appealing?
A still from Clueless
Jovovich, Andrews, Dazed and Confused
Justin Bieber stops at the Buckingham Palace fountain to play a couple of songs with his guitar for Hailey Baldwin and fans
Justin Bieber shows off a ‘Drew’ shirt in New York City
Collina Strada, New York Fashion Week, Autumn/winter 2019 show
A model walks the runway at the ASAI Fall 2019 show
A model walks the runway during the Stella McCartney spring/summer 2019 show
A model walks the runway during the Y/Project show as part of the Paris Fashion Week spring/summer 2019
Paris Fashion Week spring/summer 2019
A model walks the runway at the MSGM show during Milan Fashion Week spring/summer 2019
A model walks the runway at the Proenza Schouler spring/summer 2019
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