Archival fashion has, over the past couple of years, found new currency on the red carpet. That is because, to wear a design that first debuted 20 years ago–perhaps under Gianni Versace, Tom Ford at Gucci or a pre-retirement Jean Paul Gaultier—is considered to be a real demonstration of someone’s fashion capital. Harder to source and often tricker to identify than current season pieces, the whole thing goes against fashion’s dogged obsession with newness, suggesting the famous person in question is engaged in a more personal–and perhaps noble–relationship with fashion.
To wear a pannier-hipped ball gown from Commes Des Garçons’s spring/summer 2015 collection–as Mugler archivist Laverne Cox did at last night’s Grammys–is to say “I am not interested in the status that collects around being the first person to wear a garment. How trite! I am a fashion historian and I can therefore see the talismanic potential in clothing: the people, places, attitudes, and memories that once stood within them.” See also: Olivia Rodrigo in a crystal-beaded dress from Versace’s spring/summer 1995 collection or Miley Cyrus in a fringed autumn/winter 2002 Bob Mackie dress. Both looks aligned these popstars with a moment in time when pop culture was at its peak. Even Ice Spice–who wore new season Baby Phat, Kimora Lee’s recently-relaunched brand–offered an education in Noughties aesthetics for those too young to have experienced the intense presence of the brand the first time around
Meanwhile, Billie Eilish, who performed as the 1965 Poodle Parade Barbie, seemed to suggest that she has always been here: a vintage doll only recently liberated from its packaging. The biggest coup of the night, however, came once again via Cyrus, who appeared on the Grammys red carpet in a Maison Margiela redux of John Galliano’s autumn/winter 1997 Cleopatra collection. (“iPhones?!,” she remarked to reporters, as if she had not yet become acquainted with 21st-century technologies.) And then there was Caroline Polachek in a slit-legged Olivier Theyskens dress from autumn/winter 1998, which had been embroidered with hearts and veins. That might just reintroduce a new generation of fashion fans to one of the most memorable and applauded collections of the ’90s.