What was nineties style? Depends who you ask. For some women, the nineties were defined by Helmut Lang. Other gals will conjure the luxe and lean era of Tom Ford at Gucci; still others will tell you the nineties were all about grunge. All the aforementioned—Helmut, Tom, Kurt 'n' Courtney—have entered fashion's rehash cycle. But it's hard to think of a nineties-referencing collection that has felt more personal, and more specific, than the one shown for Resort '12 by Joseph.
For Joseph creative director Louise Trotter, the nineties were about what was happening mid-to-late-decade around London's Portobello Market. There was some grunge to the look—those unavoidable Washington State flannels—but it had been Anglicized, the lumberjack plaids traded in for Highland checks. And instead of baby-doll dresses, the thing on Portobello was vintage thirties-era slips or the bias-cut crepe dresses proffered around the corner at Ghost. Mix in a pair of cargo pants, a peacoat or parka one or two sizes too large, sundry knits, and a pair of trainers or combat boots, and voilà! You, my friend, were identifiably a member of the Big Beat-listening, Cheap Date-reading, Ladbroke Grove-loitering British Youth Culture. If that sounds ghastly, well, it often was.
The really remarkable thing about Joseph's Resort collection, though, is that it ticks all those boxes and yet doesn't look ghastly at all. Seeing these clothes is a bit like opening your high school yearbook to discover—very happily—that someone has gone to the trouble of retouching every photo of you. Well done! Rather than an ill-fitting kilt from Scotland's deadstock, Joseph offers a longish, knife-pleated skirt or better yet, a clingy check dress in stretch wool. In place of those vintage chemises—invariably missing a button somewhere and shredded at the seams—there are floor-length slipdresses in couture-quality silk and dainty floral tea dresses. Slouchy, nicely tapered cargo pants and tracksuit-style trousers fill in for those better-off-forgotten Maharishis. And so on.
The whole aesthetic has been given an upgrade, and the silhouettes feel modern. Atypically for Joseph, this is a print-driven collection—Trotter and her team have devised a number of winning florals, intended to be mixed with the checks. Very typically, some of the standout pieces are outerwear—notably, the jacket and coat in subdued check with exposed shearling lining, and the mid-weight anorak in slick, bonded viscose, with its oversize hood and pouf sleeves. Those pieces will last in your wardrobe well after the frenzy for the nineties has passed.