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Prada Fall 2018 Womenswear. Photograph via Getty Images.

Craving Community and Neon, Fashion Designers Look to Rave

Anastasiia Fedorova

Anastasiia Fedorova

Prada and Raf Simons are channeling rave on the runway, but what are designers really tapping into when they reference the 90s movement?

Prada Fall 2018 Womenswear. Photograph via Getty Images.

When the rave movement started in the early 90s, the clothing was about dressing down: club goers swapped designer outfits for oversized T-shirts and sneakers that were suitable for sweating in a dark basement for eight hours straight. Acid house pioneers wore practical work garments like boiler suits, overalls, oversized pants with a lot of pockets and bucket hats, often combined with a smiley-face T-shirt and a whistle necklace (the smiley face was often printed on ecstasy pills, and whistling was a raver’s form of applause for a mix done well). By mid-90s, brands had begun to co-opt rave fashion, which in turn brought a broader streetwear influence to fashion: rave essentials extended to Adidas tracksuits, Stüssy T-shirts, tight spaghetti-strap tops and colored shades. Over the years, the rave look evolved with the scene itself, incorporating references from the 70s psychedelic movement as well as hip-hop and goth subcultures.

The altered state of mind and ecstasy-fueled euphoria produced a style that would not have existed otherwise: hair spiked with colored gel, visors, an abundance of face jewel stickers, kandi bracelets, pacifiers to alleviate teeth grinding (a side effect of drug use), and even giant furry-animal suits.

The past few seasons have brought a lot of high fashion throwbacks to rave’s early days. In Prada’s Fall 2018 menswear collection, there were three almost identical looks of classic club uniform: tight zip-up black top, black nylon cargo trousers, and a yellow bucket hat. The brand’s Fall 2018 womenswear collection was all about futuristic sci-fi, but there were also a few hints to beloved raver looks, such as turquoise and orange bucket hats with colored shades, and sports socks with sandals and rubber boots in acid colors. It was not the first time Miuccia Prada used rave as an inspiration: Miu Miu Resort 2017 looked entirely like a light-hearted (and very clean) pastiche of the movement’s dress code. And for Christopher Bailey’s final show as the creative director of Burberry, the designer revisited his memories of basement clubs in his native Halifax: models marched through dark space filled with rainbow-colored lasers parading Bailey’s high-end takes on sportswear and teen style tribe outfits from his youth.

The rave references also came through in a more subtle and cryptic ways. In his Fall 2018 collection, Raf Simons mused on the history of underground culture and its connections with mind-altering substances. Although the main inspirations were the 1981 cult film Christiane F and the 1980s play Drugs by Cookie Mueller and Glenn O’ Brien (a screenprint of the cover appears on yellow and orange sleeveless hoodies), the collection also featured the periodic table squares with such abbreviations as LSD, 2C-B, GHB and XTC.

“To me, Raf is touching the subject of recreational drugs without putting any criticism to it. He raises the subject in order to raise awareness,” says Stavros Karelis, founder and buying director of the London shop Machine-A. “I think the designer’s interest in rave culture goes back to his formative years, a culture strongly connected to his roots as a Belgian and his passion for youth culture…. At the Fall 2018 show, the guests of the show were in a warehouse full of laser lights and techno music, feeling connected like [you would] at a techno party.”

Why are other designers drawing on rave now? First, the movement’s 90s golden era is now distant enough to fetishize as something strange and unfamiliar—but the interest is also legitimized by cultural practitioners who are old enough to have real memories of it. “It was really me, aged 15,” Bailey told Vogue US about his final Burberry collection.

While some fashion houses use rave to co-opt youth culture of the past, certain emerging designers use it as a way to determine the future of their generation, tapping into the handful of places where rave retains its political significance.

During Paris Fashion Week, Ukrainian designer Anton Belinskiy showed his Fall 2018 collection in an abandoned sports complex in the 11th arrondissement. To the beats from a selection of Kiev underground producers, Belinskiy’s gang wore rave-ready essentials like tracksuits and puffers, plus separates pulled straight from rave such as a shirt with a lush purple cannabis flower, and a range of garments with a print made from a bunch of scanned LSD-stained supermarket receipts. In the recent years, the rise of Kiev’s rave scene (the notorious Cxema night in particular) has become synonymous with the new wave of Ukrainian youth culture.

At the Palais De Tokyo presentation by a Georgian brand Situationist, rave was in the air too. Situationist’s designer, Irakli Rusadze, is known for bold leather pieces which have been worn by Bella Hadid. In 2017, Rusadze chose to stage his show at Tbilisi’s most prominent techno club, Bassiani, located in a former swimming pool under a Soviet-built stadium. For Rusadze, the bourgeoning Georgian rave scene is about hope for better future for his country. “Bassiani is not just a club; it also stands for values of freedom and self-expression,” Rusadze says. “Bassiani is one of the most important battles in Georgian history. It is like Georgian Waterloo. One goes to Bassiani to have fun, to dance, but at the same time, it is also a battle, a form of social expression.” Attending a rave there, Rusadze explains, makes a political statement about supporting LGBTQIA+ rights in the country.

Rave is a source of visceral physical and emotional connection, but it seems that only in the work of emerging designers from the fringes of the industry has it retained its original values: self-expression, political disobedience, and making it up as you go along.