Champagne Supernovas: Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and the '90s Renegades Who Remade Fashion by Maureen Callahan
Published by Touchstone
Publication date: September 1, 2015
Genres: Non-fiction, Biography, fashion, Pop culture
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It’s been a serious week so let’s wrap up with some scrumptious nonfiction. My love of fashion and pop culture is no secret and this books hits right at the juncture of the two. Champagne Supernovas is by Maureen Callahan and is about the lives of Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, and Kate Moss—who although they were not personally acquainted were 3 of the superstars of the fashion world in 90s.
A quick bit of historical detail for those of you without a clothing obsession. Alexander McQueen was a British designer with no formal training from a working-class background. Both of these, plus an intense dislike of his personal appearance, contributed to a deep feeling of inferiority that manifested itself first in an effort mocking himself and later mocking the fashion industry.
Marc Jacobs came from a wealthier, but more dysfunctional background. He and his siblings were removed from their mother’s care, but his paternal grandmother only wanted to raise him and so his siblings were sent to foster care and he never saw them again. He followed a more traditional path by attending The Parsons School of Design in NYC. By 24 he was already being back by investors and designing his own line.
The youngster in this trifecta, Kate Moss, is also a Brit from a working-class background, but unlike McQueen, she leaned into her looks and background. All of which would make her the right girl at the right time and lead her to become a modeling icon.
Champagne Supernovas follows both McQueen and Jacobs as they pushed back against the prevailing fashion wisdom of the 1980s and early 90s—big hair, structured clothes, perfect make up. The power suit. McQueen went in the direction of fantasy and darkness with fashion shows that were largely art, not clothes that could be worn by the average human. He played with blood, rape, and murder in his runway shows. Jacobs went a different route by embracing the softness of grunge. He was tired of the performative nature of fashion and its restrictions. His first collection was less about sexy and more about soft and comfortable. Unfortunately, grunge clothes made out of cashmere and costing hundreds of dollars was seen as such a rip-off of the grunge ethos it cost him his job.
Into this world of rebels came a very young Kate Moss. She was first photographed by an avant-garde photographer who liked showing the truth behind the beauty, the false beauty, of modeling. Her photo shoots were in trashy locations with smeared or no make-up. Kate was too small, too thin, and had crooked legs, as well as the stereotypical bad British teeth. She was no beauty, especially in the era of the supermodels—Naomi, Christy, Cindy, Linda—the queens of big hair, editorial faces, haute couture. She quickly came to the attention of Calvin Klein and then Marc Jacobs, ushering in the era of “heroin chic”.
These three outsiders would storm the fashion castle, but at the cost of one of their lives and multiple trips to rehab for all. Jacobs and McQueen were insecure about their looks and their talent, using drugs, alcohol, smoking, plastic surgery, and dangerous sex to numb their self-loathing. Only Moss was psychologically sound enough to like herself, despite the corrosive nature of the modeling industry.
Champagne Supernovas is much like the fashion industry itself. There are the dark truths behind the designers and investors with all their personalities, problems, and drama, but Callahan serves it all up with style in a frothy concoction that’s easy on the eye.
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