I’ve always thought that being a high fashion designer must be the best job. You get paid millions to prank the gullible with your daft ideas – as long as you can maintain a straight face when telling celebrities they’ll look cool if they go to a fancy party with a birdcage on their head.
Defenders of fashion will maintain it represents subtle art and creativity, whilst this might be true of Jean-Paul Gaultier it doesn’t account for fashion’s willingness to accommodate Kanye West, a man with great talent for music but with all the artistic subtlety of a wounded rhinoceros. The best part of the job is when they don’t even come up with new ideas, but instead dare the fashionable to repeat embarrassing trends from the past, typically these days from the 80s or 90s. In recent times this has lead to Kanye turning up at events in high-vis workman’s overalls, channeling both M4 tarmac repairman and dancer from an early Prodigy video, whilst his wife attempts to resurrect boot-cut denim that many of us associate with Chardonnay from Footballers’ Wives. Like Jesus, true believers know that Kanye is always listening. In an effort to inspire him I’ve dug deep into my archive of Face magazines and video recordings of The Word to uncover some neglected trends from the 1990s. Dear Yeezy, let your imagination run free – although not to the extent that you tweet anything really appalling after the print deadline and the magazine has to print an apology for endorsing you.
90s look: martial arts guy
The contemporary popularity of MMA with thick-necked tattoo collectors has obscured the role of the real trailblazers in martial arts style – men who based their look on watching rented VHS tapes that are 80% roundhouse kicks and 20% large-breasted ladies with poufy hair. These pioneers went to the gym, took weekly classes in man-fighting, waxed their pecs, then returned to our house parties and barbecues to stand in the corner and speculate about whether it’s easier to break an opponent’s neck with nunchuks or via dropkick from a burning building. They’re just very cool guys (they are all guys).
Key pieces: cowboy boots, leather bracelets, acid-wash denim with crotch sock, ponytail, shades, double-breasted suit worn with a polo neck, sword rack in the living room, silk kimono, shoulder pads.
Style icon: it’s a tough choice, but for true consistency Kanye should look to all-round renaissance man and proud owner of two facial expressions, Steven Seagal. He’s an aikido master, international diplomat, accomplished musician and that’s definitely his real hair.
90s look: caucasian British hip-hop fan
Hip-hop street style continues to influence the world of fashion, but less attention is paid to the unique flair of men called Darren from the home counties who really love Mobb Deep and the first Nas album. They formed a Mexican wave of stationary, serious-looking nodders at Cypress Hill or Gang Starr shows, but also single-handedly kept TK Maxx in business through some lean years by purchasing factory second trousers in XXL sizes. Some were rumoured to be girls, but no photographic evidence exists.
Key pieces: massive tent-like trews, garish athletic hoodies, herringbone chain from Ratners, cap from a random American sports team, mediocre graffiti and breakdancing skills, male pattern baldness, a tattoo of ODB.
Style icon: despite a nod to the modern cast of People Just Do Nothing, it’s impossible not to make a bomb noise for the Big Dog himself, the Pimp Pensioner, your boy Tim Westwood. Almost 70 and the son of a bishop, baby. Already a close friend of Mr West, although perhaps not his Mrs.
90s look: I’ve been to Japan, and have some ideas
Japanese style is perennially cool, even if there’s something about the extroverted vibrancy of Tokyo street fashion that doesn’t fully translate to the grey streets of Birmingham or Glasgow. Every couple of years a big popstar successfully pulls/rips off the distinctive style of the Harajuku district, but this doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get a lot of weird looks if you walk into KFC wearing a neon kimono, blue pigtails and some anime cat ears.
Key pieces: a riot of bold colours, a fusion of modern and traditional clothing – just pick two or three characters from random incomprehensible cartoons and mix their wardrobe pieces together until you resemble an explosion in a fancy dress shop.
Style icon: as opposed to a J-Pop singer or virtual idol, I’m going to choose Gwen Stefani, patron saint of “borrowing” Japanese style and looking like a hen party on acid. Kanye could totally pull this off.
90s look: hardcore will never die
Many of these fashion moments are inspired by exciting foreign places, but there’s a style that we in Britain can call our own – the specific look of young people attending giant hardcore raves in the early 90s. The style was casual and comfortable, because you needed to dance, to impress someone to dance with; and perhaps to run away from men in uniform selfishly trying to shut down a three day party in an abandoned Sainsbury’s. It’s a tabloid myth that everybody was on drugs, but at one point everybody did purchase a T-shirt with a terrible pun on a consumer brand and drug culture. Mine said “PG Trips”, my mates had “Rush Puppies” and “Vicks RavaRub”.
Key pieces: big trousers, a deathly 5AM pallor, bucket hats, bandanas, purple John Lennon glasses, Helter Skelter or Fantazia bomber jackets, expensive trainers that ended up covered in beer or cowpat, gurning.
Style icon: celebrities generally looked too tanned and healthy to model this Essex-centric style, so I’ll suggest that Kanye simply Googles “Fantazia ravers 1993” and spends a sleepless weekend listening to mixes by Tango & Ratty.
90s look: the cybergoth
Although regular goths keep to themselves, lurking in crypts, ruined abbeys and bars with cider on tap, they still get dragged into the hated sunlight every decade as a source of fashion inspiration. This is less true for that rare Pokémon of the goth world: the cyber-goth. These multiply-pierced, neon-clad warriors of cyberspace always look like they’re on the way to a Matrix-themed club night, perhaps because it’s too much hassle to remove the thigh-high PVC boots and spiky gasmask to visit Iceland for your Findus crispy pancakes. Every time I see a group of cybergoths, I have to remind myself I’m not playing a 90s video game about hacking.
Key pieces: purple dreadlocks, gas masks, neon contact lenses, PVC, decorative straps and buckles, big spiky boots.
Style icon: a futuristic street gang from an episode of Doctor Who – before the reboot gave its producers a decent budget. Kanye already dresses like a post-apocalyptic ‘Who villain’, so this is just one more step on his pathway to become the world’s first rap Dalek.