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Style Points is a weekly column about how fashion intersects with the wider world.
“It feels like 2007 again,” Mark Hunter, the photographer known as The Cobrasnake, tells me. It’s the second time during our conversation that he’s uttered those exact words, but his enthusiasm is understandable. “Indie sleaze,” AKA the sweaty, Four Loko-assisted excess Hunter chronicled on his blog in the aughts, is not just back in style—it’s found its way into high fashion.
Hunter and I are speaking on the occasion of a Rizzoli monograph of his work coming out next month, The Cobrasnake: Y2K’s Archive. He combed through images dating back to 2004, finding gems like a young Kim Kardashian attending a Nickelodeon party at Marquee, toting her Sidekick and “dressed like she’s going to prom,” or Kanye West in his shutter shades era. “Everybody survived the 2000s, and I was there documenting them,” he says. Lately, Hunter has been working on projects for big brands like Chrome Hearts and Adidas that are drawn to his more relaxed vision of party photography. “Basically,” he says, “this is a Renaissance for me.”
Hunter isn’t the only one bringing indie sleaze up to a runway echelon. Two It-girls of the time, Sky Ferreira and Lily Allen, turned up at the Met Gala on Monday night. (Allen was in Chanel, while Ferreira wore a look from young designer Conner Ives.) Aughts staple Cory Kennedy appeared in the Collina Strada fall 2022 show along with current scenesters Tommy Dorfman and Rowan Blanchard. And the trend popped up during Fashion Month, from Francesco Risso’s bricolage at Marni (notably, a shredded satin top worn over plaid pants) to Gucci’s sheer tops paired with big belts.
To get to the crux of the craze, I spoke with the creator of the @indiesleaze Instagram account, who goes by Olivia V. She started the account in January of last year (after considering and rejecting names like “indie trash” and “landfill indie”) as a way of channeling her nostalgia for her time in the indie music scene. After losing her job early in the pandemic, she had a lot of time to reflect on that era. The following October, when TikTok fashion commentator Mandy Lee made a video about the return of indie sleaze, the account drew new followers and contributors. (Its designer followers include Ives and Gareth Wrighton).
Part of the appeal of indie sleaze style was the way it rejected perfection: deliberately mismatched clothes, holey tights, runny eyeliner, mussed hair, and complexion-annihilating flash photography were all part of the package deal. “This whole Instagram aesthetic that was taking over, the past six years, wasn’t for everybody,” Hunter says. “Not everyone wanted to look like a Kardashian, or a very manicured celebrity. There are things in the zeitgeist that are saying, ‘Oh, maybe looking perfect isn’t in fashion right now.’”
The looks of that time, even the ones worn by celebrities, felt less brand-driven than their current equivalents. A Chanel flap bag might be paired with dirty sneakers or a Hanes tank, a vision of personal style that feels transgressive now. Back then, Hunter adds, “You could dress how you wanted, there were no rules, and no one was judging you. I think that, now, people are attracted to that, thinking, ‘Oh wow, I can be myself. I can post whatever I want on my account.’ Hopefully, that’s going to be embraced. You started seeing it with the anti-beauty trends, and showing off your stretch marks, being proud of your body positivity, which is all great. This is an extra notch in that belt of self-expression, of living your truth, basically.”
Even the cool kids back then were less airbrushed. Says Olivia V. of Kennedy: “I remember she had this mark on her face from a burst blood vessel. I was like, ‘I have that same mark too. I’m exactly like her. Relatable.’”
Olivia V. says another part of the allure is affordability, which seems relevant in this era of inflation. “You could re-create a lot of these styles on the cheap,” she adds. “I could look good and not spend all that much, either thrifting or just putting something simple together, but making it edgier with jewelry or smudged eyeliner, or hair. You could have recession roots! It was allowed, and breaking the rules of fashion was encouraged, in a sense. A lot of people did have their income hit through the pandemic, and it might be a time when people embrace a cheaper way to accessorize and put things together.”
The way indie sleaze imagery depicts partying could also be at the heart of its resurgence during the socially starved days of the early pandemic. “Looking at those images, especially in lockdown, was almost a guilty pleasure for people,” Hunter says. “They were like, ‘Oh my God, people were sweating on each other. And hugging each other, and doing all the things that we’re not allowed to do right now.’ I think that, definitely, you could live vicariously through those images.” In an epoch of aggressive wellness, there’s a magnetism to the no-holds-barred, cigarette-toting glamazons who populate the @indiesleaze account.
The partying depicted in these images was sometimes hard. (For what it’s worth, for all the debauchery he’s documented, Hunter says he’s never done drugs or even smoked a cigarette.) Both indie sleaze and the “rockstar girlfriend” trend have drawn criticism for romanticizing drug use, and a recent Instagram post by Atlanta de Cadenet celebrated the era while noting its pitfalls. “I don’t want to glamorize it TOO MUCH because there was also a lot of darkness going on,” she wrote. “A lot of people shown in those photos are no longer with us, and a lot of creepy behavior went down. They don’t call it SLEAZE for nothing.”
The “sleaze” in “indie sleaze” certainly evokes some of the era’s later #MeToo-ed figures, like Terry Richardson (who’s pictured in Hunter’s book). Olivia V. notes, “It wouldn’t be fair to the great musicians and all the great people that worked in fashion to just throw the whole era out because there were some bad characters. Yes, there were sleazy characters…but that wasn’t something isolated or specific just to this era. That’s something that was common of the ‘90s, ‘80s, ‘70s, ‘60s. We live in a more aware world, which I love, but there are still shady characters out there that are using the language of social justice to still be predators, but be protected by the kind of language that they use. So I’m not sure that it’s something that’s just isolated to this era.” Though, she adds, “I don’t really post those people on my page, because I don’t support that.”
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