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Skip on Hippie Fashions

This is a story published in the New York Sun, on July 25, 2002. I was interviewed by email and was featured in this fashion piece.

Here’s the entire story.

ARTS & FEATURES
What’s Next: MTA-Chic?
Nicole Graev Talks to the True Originators of Today’s Fashions

– In the world of fashion, it seems that just about every lifestyle and career path has become de rigueur as of late. Designers have given us “military-chic” and “biker-chic,” “bohemian-chic” and “cowboy-chic.” Gucci and Yves St. Laurent’s macabre Fall 2002 offerings are distinctly “Gothic-chic,” while the slick, high-collared trench coats recently unveiled by Calvin Klein and Versace are decidedly “secret agent-chic.” To be on the cutting edge these days, the only accessory you really need, it seems, is a hyphen.

At the same time, there’s been a lot of chatter about designers ripping off the work of their colleagues. Oscar de la Renta accused Marc Jacobs of copying a sequined trench coat, and everyone gasped. Balenciaga maestro Nicholas Ghesquiere was caught trying to pass off a 1973 vest by designer Kaisik Yoon as his own, and the fashion police got its knickers in a bunch. But when it comes to designers aping the outfits of us laypeople, it seems that anything goes. Which makes one wonder: Should we common folk have as much a claim to our outerwear schemes as the experts? Are the current lifestyle-inspired looks a form of flattery, or should we all be demanding royalties?

For the answers to these questions, I turned to the true originators of today’s fashions. Here’s what members of some of the more sartorially happening cultures have to say about haute-couture versions of their wardrobes.

Hippie-chic

The “hippie-chic” look, epitomized by the current urban uniform of leather sandals, macramé belts, and earthy jewelry, is perhaps the most pervasive and tenacious lifestyle-based trend to come along in recent seasons — a fact that has not eluded 47-year old flower child Skip Stone. More than 30 years after the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Mr. Stone still considers himself a “real” hippie and says he’s been one since the late 1960s. (To his credit, Mr. Stone, who lives in California, has all the requisite hippie credentials — participating in student protests, living on cooperatives in Oregon, trekking the hippie trail from Bali to India and Amsterdam.) As the genuine hippie article, he has some firm opinions about the hippie look’s recent high-fashion resurrection.

On an aesthetic level, Mr. Stone finds the latest haute-hippie creations — Louis Vuitton’s floral kaftans and Marc Jacob’s monochromatic men’s kurta shirts, for instance — downright uninspiring. “If you look at the designs from 30 years ago, you’ll see that today’s hippie fashions are far more subdued and less creative and vibrant than they were then,” he says. “Perhaps modern designers are lacking any new ideas or innovations.” Or maybe, he offers, “they’re not dropping enough LSD anymore.”

What perturbs Mr. Stone even more than their lack of imagination, however, is how little these creations reflect real hippie ideals.

“Hippie fashions originated from used clothes bins, army/navy stores, and handmade clothes from scraps. In other words, whatever was cheap and available. So to see the mighty fashion world copy this look is incredibly ironic,” he says. The hippie lifestyle, he points out, is a commitment to holistic, alternative values.

Personally, Mr. Stone says that he wears only comfortable, practical garments made out of natural materials — ones that you would be hard pressed to find on the racks at Saks or Bergdorf Goodman. Hemp, for instance, is very big these days among real hippies, he says: “It’s not just a fashion statement. It’s a political statement. Dig?”

Mr. Stone adds that, like any self-respecting hippie, he eschews clothing with labels or logos on it. This would, absent a seam-ripper, rule out any high-fashion hippie garb from his wardrobe — hemp or no hemp.

“The more radical among us would point out how fashion is a capitalist tool that exploits many to benefit a chosen few,” Mr. Stone says. “But I guess you wouldn’t print such real important stuff in a fashion article….That is, until protesting fashion comes back in fashion.”

All together, now: One, two, three, four. We don’t want your stinkin’ velour!

Gothic-chic

While not as inclined as hippies toward organized protest, some Goths similarly find it ironic that their subculture’s trademarks — crucifixes, black frocks, and Victorian bustles, for example — are being plucked from their sepulchral underground and paraded into the catwalk limelight.

“I think it’s kind of tragicomic that fashion designers are following subcultures these days rather than creating their own trends, which is something they’re supposedly renowned for,” says 25-year-old Marieke Bermon, web-mistress of Goth.net.

As Ms. Bermon explains, genuine Goth fashion, much like genuine hippie gear, is highly personal, emphasizing each wearer’s own creativity and individual style. In light of this, she sees the vampy, spear-toed stilettos and imposing floor-length black satin cloaks that Gucci is now peddling as a “funny contrast” to authentic Goth gear, much of which is homemade or bought in thrift stores.

“The fact that there are designers like Gucci copying the Gothic look and slapping a several hundred dollar (or more) price tag is kind of offensive to me,” Ms. Bermon says.

Since the Gothic subculture attracts mostly teenagers and young adults, most true Goths would never be able to afford these chi-chi “insta-Goth kits,” she points out. Not that they would want them if they could. While several designers’ gloomy, austere fall lines might be labeled as “Gothic,” Ms. Bermon says that many of the pieces “just aren’t things Goths would wear.” “For one I saw a lot of brown in there with the black,” she explains.

Ms. Bermon’s husband, Preston Elder, a fellow Goth as well as a practicing Wiccan, seconds his wife’s assessment. After reviewing Gucci’s upcoming Goth collection, he declares the haute-Elvira ensembles “overdone” and “too stylized.” “This is bad news for the subculture,” says Mr. Elder, whose own wardrobe consists mostly of black jeans, black T-shirts, and black dress shirts.

Still, Ms. Bermon and Mr. Elder doubt that the fad will pose any long-term threat to their lifestyle.

“As with all things, eventually the trend followers will move onto something else and it will all settle down again,” Ms. Bermon says.

“It will just mean more posers around,” says Mr. Elder. “We’ll ride it out.”

Cowgirl-chic

Nevada native Lee Raine has spent much of her life as a professional cowgirl, rounding up cattle on ranches throughout the West. In her standard duds — jeans, fringed chaps, tailored shirt, silver-buckled belt, and Western hat — she’s the real deal, a bona fide Buckaroo.

So what does Ms. Raine think of high-falootin’ designers like Ralph Lauren and Hogan — not to mention celebrities such as Madonna — copping her style? After all, there’s an old cowboy saying: “If you climb in the saddle, you better be ready for the ride.”

“I think it’s neat,” says Ms. Raine. “I’ve seen a lot of those thin leather, stylized cowboy boots around. They’re cute.”

In Ms. Raine’s opinion, her cowgirl authenticity doesn’t give her any particular claim to the style. Though her Western wear does serve a practical purpose, shielding her from the brush, bugs, and dust, Ms. Raine confesses that the look involves an element of dress-up, even for genuine cowpokes such as herself.

“It’s a kind of costume, like the kids going to school in baggy clothes with their caps backward,” she says.

And in many ways, Ms. Raine explains, cow-folk are as self-conscious and competitive about their clothes as high-school kids — or even the fringed bag-toting fashionistas outside of Bungalow 8, for that matter. “It’s always been a joke amongst us cow-people that you have to have a lot of money to get the good jobs,” she says. “You have to have the right gear: real leather, real silver, the silk scarf and the $300 hat. These things aren’t cheap.”

Tell us about it.

Ms. Raine says she isn’t at all bothered by the idea of Manhattan publicists — whose yogacized glutes have probably never touched a saddle — sporting fringed Ralph Lauren shawls or Anna Sui cowboy boots. In fact, she even sees an upside to the trend.

“If I walked into a New York City office wearing a cowboy hat, maybe I wouldn’t look so out of place now!” she says.

Military-chic

Title 18, Section 772 of the United States Code makes it illegal for civilians to wear the uniform — or any “distinctive part” of the uniform — of the U.S. armed forces. In recent months, however, this certainly hasn’t stopped trend-followers from snapping up Balenciaga’s coveted baggy cargo pants, or Celine’s Rambo-esque ammo belts. Nor has it stopped women from shelling out $1,185 for Christian Dior’s army-green, canvas “Columbus Avenue” bag, complete with snap-on utilitarian pouches.

Captain Joshua Eisenberg, an artillery officer in the Army National Guard, says he can’t help but feel flattered by the military-chic trend, even if those marching around in the clothes haven’t technically earned their stripes.

“At the end of the day, it’s a sign of respect,” says Captain Eisenberg. “If I saw a guy walking down the street in jeans and a BDU [Battle Dress Uniform] top, it wouldn’t annoy me, since it shows that we’re on his radar, at least.”

Still, Captain Eisenberg, who works as a lawyer in New York City when not on duty, is astounded by how much money some people are willing to pay to achieve the combat look. On a recent visit with his wife to the fashionable boutique Intermix, he spotted a green nylon bag much like the pilot’s helmet bag he uses to carry manuals in the field. “Mine cost me $35 at the army post-exchange. This one cost about seven times that,” he says.

Captain Eisenberg is generally more concerned that his clothes get him through insect-infested swamps than into the VIP room at Lot 61, so he can’t help but be struck by the impracticality of much of the current military-themed designer garb. The Christian Dior “Columbus Avenue” bag, for one, leaves him perplexed.

“I can’t imagine jumping out of helicopters or crawling across an objective with those pouches hanging off my web gear,” he says after examining the satchel. “You might be able to stuff a few M16 magazines and some grenades into that handbag, but what happens when it gets wet?”

Accustomed to clothing with “rip-stop” threading and near-infrared capabilities, Captain Eisenberg is equally skeptical of the durability of some of the military fashions we’ll be seeing this fall, such as Michael Kors’s camel “flying coat” for Celine and Prada’s fur-sleeved black nylon bomber jackets.

“I suppose all this stuff is more useful when bartering for intelligence with foreign nationals,” he concludes.

Perhaps, in the end, we should all aim for Captain Eisenberg’s sense of humor on the matter. Because one thing is certain: with no lifestyle or métier off-limits, you never know when you’ll be seeing your look in the windows at Barneys. Perhaps next spring we’ll have “computer programmer-chic” or “orthodontist chic.” Maybe Fall ’03 will bring “MTA worker-chic.” Personally, I’m holding out for “freelance writer-chic.” I’ve got the holey T-shirts. I’ve got the frayed pajama bottoms. I swear, any day now, I’ll be the hippest chick in town.

Ms. Graev writes regularly about fashion for The New York Sun.

Copyright 2002 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

BTW, this story is no longer on the Sun’s website, but I retrieved from Google’s cache.

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