On my eighteenth birthday, my friends ventured to dress me up in an outfit comprised of what was, in their estimation, all of my “worst pieces.” Admittedly, my fashion sense had been stymied by years spent in a uniformed Catholic school, strong ties to the San Fernando Valley, and a paltry juice bar salary that could nary afford the Abercrombie parachute pants my friends’ parents were shelling out for. The final product that day consisted of badly whiskered Joe’s jeans, a zebra-print Guess skirt with Navajo beading, a chainmail tank suited for a J Lo video, a vintage striped button-up the colors of a 1970s lavatory, and, last but not least, a pair of Rocket Dog platform sandals. Older and wiser now, these items – and the incriminating photo documenting it all – have been burned or buried, left to fade away in the annals of my wayward youth.
It had been nearly a decade since I thought about that photograph. But last week, trolling through images from Milan Fashion Week, I saw it: The possible, dangerous comeback of the sporty platform sandal. I stared at my screen. Are those? It can’t be. Are Marni’s shoes this season sort of totally like Rocket Dogs? They had all the makings of a Rocket Dog: the high-probability of ankle rolling, the athletic-like straps, the airy lightness of a foam sole. Upon side-by-side comparison, it was confirmed: Marni had unearthed a late-‘90s nightmare.
Granted, there is a big difference between a $30 Rocket Dog “Big Wedge” and what Marni was sending down the runway for SS14. Occasionally jewel-encrusted, each variant of the shoe was done in tasteful color combinations, perfect for the millionaire kindergarten teacher or quirky gallerist who eventually purchases the collection. They were Rocket Dogs, Marni-ized. And of course this is what fashion does. It pulls things off the street — like Oliver Twist, a mange-ridden dog, an abandoned armoire — smoothes out the rough edges, and sends it back into the world, looking like (and costing about) a million bucks.
That’s not to say I didn’t like the collection or the shoes. In fact, I one day aspire to be the aforementioned millionaire kindergarten teacher. And, unlike my mother, I do not possess the kneejerk abhorrence to anything resembling a questionable sartorial past. No, I understand the value of the shoe, the strategy of its proportions — how it makes the ankle look delicate and brittle, how it imbues the wearer with a forced grace, an inherent femininity. Yes, Rocket Dog, I get you.
My main concern though was this: For the last two years, designers have been raiding the early ‘90s grunge closets, that plaid-covered, crop-topped, heroin-addled era glorified by Kurt Cobain, Kate Moss circa CK1, and Jordan Catalano. But after Saint Laurent’s full-steam-ahead Fall 2013 collection last March, where did we have to go from there? With all the obtuse, abstract, thinly veiled influences used up, and the literal interpretation done pretty damn well, had we officially broken the grunge bank? And, if we did, what’s next?
If the answer to that question lies somewhere in Marni’s Rocket Dogs, my fear is that fashion is doomed to scrape the bottom of the ‘90s barrel. That leaves us with a time more treacherous than the ‘80s, one that brought us the early incarnations of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and that utterly unsmoteable Pink person. It was Clueless, with all its velvety blazers and sharp labels. It was boy bands like N’SYNC and all those girl bands from London. It was aimless, horrible, meandering. It was a Delia’s catalogue. It was my youth.
Obviously trying to stop the course of fashion is like attempting to lasso a runaway train. Willful though I am, I cannot prevent what might likely be a bad acid trip down memory lane. And so, designers, do what you will. Take my cut-off denim skirts, my choker necklaces, my Rocket Dogs. You can have my sunflower shorts and my blue eyeliner, too. But please, please do not bring back JNCOS.