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The Rebirth of Mainstream Grunge Fashion With Underground England x Olli Hull

by Oana-Maria Moldovan 

Underground England, a trailblazer in subculture-inspired fashion for four decades, proudly announced its latest collaboration with London-based artist and designer Olli Hull. 

This partnership marries Underground’s iconic punk aesthetic with Olli Hull’s unique vision, resulting in a collection that pays homage to individuality and the spirit of rebellion - fitting as we enter 2024, the disputed rebirth of 2014 where grunge went mainstream.

The collaboration features reinterpretations of Underground’s classic Wulfrun Creeper and the 14 Eyelet Steel Cap Ranger Boot, infused with Hull’s distinctive artwork. 

Reflecting on the collaboration, Hull expressed, “While designing the artwork for these shoes, I thought about my own experiences growing up and how, as a Queer person, I’ve always felt somewhat 'Underground' or outside of the 'norm.' I wanted these shoes to celebrate The Underground as I know it – a space for self-expression, authenticity, and positive change.”

Each pair is meticulously crafted and customized with Olli’s artwork at his studio in London. The collaboration is available for pre-order on both the Underground and Olli Hull online stores.

Founded 40 years ago, Underground England has been at the forefront of subculture fashion, delivering a bold punk aesthetic to the thriving underground scene in Britain. Known for iconic styles like the All gender Creeper, Underground continues to champion authenticity and self-expression.

Olli Hull is a London-based artist and designer renowned for creating wearable art. His work reflects personal experiences and explores themes of individuality and the LGBTQ+ community. Olli’s collaboration with Underground England showcases his unique vision and commitment to celebrating diversity.

When we talk about a grunge-esque collaboration like Underground England X Olli Hull, created by a queer person we can not not also disscus the social and artistic ramifications of it.

The punk and grunge scenes in the UK have played significant roles in music and cultural history. While the grunge movement primarily emerged in the United States, the UK will forever represent the place of birth for the punk scene. 

The punk movement in the UK originated in the mid-70s as a response to the perceived excesses of mainstream rock music and a general dissatisfaction with the social and political climate.

It’s important here to understand that punk was never just about music or just about the way someone dressed, it was a way of living, a political way of thinking. Punk was always for the misfits, for the ones who did not conform to societal norms, and for the open-minded rebels.

Bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees became iconic figures in the punk movement. Punk was characterized by its DIY ethos, anti-establishment attitude, and a desire for individual expression.

Regarding LGBTQAI+ representation, the punk scene was known for its inclusivity and acceptance of diverse identities. Many LGBTQ+ individuals found a sense of community within punk circles, where self-expression and non-conformity were celebrated.

Bands like Pansy Division openly identified as queer, challenging societal norms and contributing to the visibility of LGBTQ+ individuals in the punk scene. This is not to say that certain groups of punks weren’t – and still are – homophobic (and racist).

The grunge movement emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, primarily in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, with bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden leading the way. Grunge music was characterized by its raw, unpolished sound and lyrics that often reflected a sense of disillusionment with mainstream culture; can you see the pattern?

While grunge itself did not originate in the UK, it had a significant impact on the British music scene. Many grunge bands gained popularity worldwide, influencing a new generation of musicians in the UK. This was also because grunge had a similar viewpoint and a similar message to punk.

The grunge aesthetic, with its emphasis on authenticity and a rejection of glamour, resonated with alternative and countercultural movements.

What you really need to know here, to understand better why these two subcultures seemed intertwined is that both of them were started by middle and lower-class younger people (as young as teenagers) who wanted to rebel against either patriarchy, imperialism, corporatism, or all of them. It’s also primordial to note, that some – almost all – of the pioneers from both music genres were abused at home while growing up.

Both punk and grunge scenes provided spaces where individuals who did not conform to mainstream societal norms, including many from the LGBTQ+ community, could find acceptance.

These subcultures often challenged – and still do – traditional gender roles and norms, fostering an environment where people felt free to express their identities.

As much as it sounds like I’m repeating myself, punk and grunge were never only about the music or the clothes. It was always a statement, a form of art that went beyond performative activism.

We have seen in the last years some forms of throw backs to more alternative styles – and even new interpretations.

However with the ongoing resurgence of punk and grunge aesthetics on the runways, it raises intriguing questions about the motivations behind this trend. Is it a genuine return to the rebellious roots of these subcultures, or is it a commodification of counterculture for mass consumption?

One cannot overlook the socio-political climate that often sparks the revival of such movements. In the mid-70s, punk emerged as a visceral response to the societal discontent prevalent in the UK.

Today, as we grapple with new challenges, there seems to be a parallel desire for expressions of resistance and non-conformity.

The collaboration between Underground England and Olli Hull takes on added significance in this context. It not only pays homage to the rebellious spirit of punk and grunge but also aligns with the contemporary ethos of celebrating diversity and individuality.

Olli Hull’s focus on LGBTQ+ experiences and self-expression reinforces the roots of these subcultures as spaces of inclusivity and acceptance. Roots that – if I may add – seem to have been forgotten.

Nontheless, the fashion industry is not immune to criticism, and the potential for cultural appropriation or dilution of subversive messages must be considered.

As punk and grunge make a comeback on the runways, there’s a delicate balance between preserving the authenticity of these movements and preventing their co-optation into mainstream, sanitized trends. A thing that Olli Hull accomplished perfectly.

The DIY ethos of punk, where individuals created their own fashion statements, clashed with the consumerist nature of the fashion industry. In this collaboration, the challenge lies in maintaining the raw, authentic essence of punk and grunge while navigating the commercial demands of a fashion collection.

And so, the historical connection between these subcultures and marginalized communities, especially the LGBTQ+ community, must be acknowledged and respected.

The collaboration provides an opportunity to amplify diverse voices and narratives, but it also requires a commitment to addressing the systemic issues that these subcultures initially rebelled against.

The Underground England X Olli Hull collaboration signals not just a resurgence of punk and grunge aesthetics but a nuanced exploration of their cultural and social implications.

As the fashion industry embraces these countercultural influences, it is essential to remain vigilant, ensuring that the rebellious spirit of punk and grunge is not diluted into mere trends but continues to serve as a platform for authentic self-expression and societal critique.

Edited by Emily Duff

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