How the Indie Bastard Trend Became High Fashion

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Style Points is a weekly column on how fashion intersects with the wider world.

“It was like 2007 again,” Mark Hunter, the photographer known as The Cobrasnake, told me. This was the second time during our conversation he had said the right words, but his enthusiasm was understandable. “Indie sleaze,” aka the sweaty Hunter, with the help of Four Loko who writes on his blog on aughts, is not only back in style—it’s also finding its way into high fashion.

Hunter and I spoke on the occasion of Rizzoli’s monograph about his work due for release next month, Cobras: Y2K Archive. He combing through images dating back to 2004, finding gems like a young Kim Kardashian attending a Nickelodeon party at the Marquee, taking her Sidekick and “dressing like she’s going to prom,” or Kanye West in his shadow shutter era. “Everyone survived the 2000s, and I was there to document it,” he said. Lately, Hunter has been working on projects for big brands like Chrome Hearts and Adidas who are interested in his more laid-back vision of party photography. “Basically,” he said, “it was the Renaissance for me.”

Cobras: Y2ks Archives

Hunter isn’t the only one bringing indie bastards to the runway echelons. Two It-girls at the time, Sky Ferreira and Lily Allen, appeared at the Met Gala on Monday night. (Allen was at Chanel, while Ferreira wore a look from young designer Conner Ives.) Aughts staple Cory Kennedy appeared at the Collina Strada show fall 2022 alongside current scenesters Tommy Dorfman and Rowan Blanchard. And trends pop up during Fashion Month, from Francesco Risso di Marni’s bricolage (especially, a ripped satin top worn over plaid pants) to sheer Gucci tops paired with a big belt.

To get to the heart of the madness, I spoke to the creator of the Instagram account @indiesleaze, whose name is Olivia V. She started the account in January last year (after considering and rejecting names like “indie trash” and “indie dump”) as false. one way to channel his nostalgia when he was in the indie music scene. After losing his job at the start of the pandemic, he has had plenty of time to reflect on that time. The following October, when TikTok fashion commentator Mandy Lee made a video about the return of indie rot, the account attracted new followers and contributors. (His designer followers include Ives and Gareth Wrighton).

a white woman with blonde hair wearing a long white dress on the red carpet

Sky Ferreira wearing Conner Ives at the 2022 Met Gala.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Part of the allure of the indie asshole style is the way it resists perfection: purposefully mismatched outfits, perforated tights, watery eyeliner, disheveled hair, and skin-tone flash photography are all part of the package deal. “The whole Instagram aesthetic that’s taken over, the last six years, isn’t for everyone,” Hunter said. “Not everyone wants to look like a Kardashian, or a super groomed celebrity. There are things on the zeitgeist that say, ‘Oh, maybe looking perfect isn’t in fashion right now.’”

The looks of the time, even those worn by celebrities, felt less brand-driven than their current counterparts. Chanel flap bags can be paired with slouchy sneakers or Hanes tanks, a vision of personal style that now feels transgressive. Back then, Hunter added, “You can dress however you like, there are no rules, and no one is judging you. I think, now, people are interested in that, thinking, ‘Oh wow, I can be myself. I can post whatever I want on my account.’ Hopefully, it will be embraced. You start seeing it with the anti-beauty trend, and showing off your stretch marks, proud of your body positivity, which is all great. It’s an extra level in that self-expression belt, from living your truth, basically. ”

a south asian woman wearing a black t-shirt and standing next to recording equipment

MIA images from the upcoming book Hunter.

© Mark Hunter

Even cool kids back then lacked an airbrush. Olivia V. from Kennedy said: “I remember she had these marks on her face because of a ruptured blood vessel. I was like, ‘I have the same sign too. I’m exactly like him. Related.'”

Olivia V. says another part of the allure is affordability, which seems relevant in this era of inflation. “You can recreate a lot of these styles for a low price,” he adds. “I can look good and not spend a lot of money, either skimping or just mixing something simple, but making it more edgy with smudged jewelry or eyeliner, or hair. You could have recession roots! It’s allowed, and breaking the rules of fashion is encouraged, in a sense. A lot of people’s incomes have been impacted by the pandemic, and this may be a time when people are embracing cheaper ways to access and bring things together.”

The way the indie bastard image depicts the party could also be at the core of its revival during the days of social starvation at the start of the pandemic. “Seeing those pictures, especially in lockdown, is almost a guilty pleasure for people,” Hunter said. “They were like, ‘Oh my God, people are sweating each other. And hug each other, and do all the things we shouldn’t do right now.’ I think, for sure, you can live vicariously through those images. In an era of aggressive health, there is a special attraction for smoke-free glamazons who fill up @indiesleaze accounts.

a white woman with brown hair wearing a blue hoodie and carrying a shiny blue bag

Charlie Engman/Courtesy of Collina Strada

The party depicted in these images is sometimes difficult. (For what it’s worth, for all the debauchery he’s documented, Hunter says he’s never used drugs or even smoked.) Both the indie asshole and the “rockstar girlfriend” trend have drawn criticism for romanticizing drug use, and a recent Instagram post by Atlanta de Cadenet celebrates the era while noting its pitfalls. “I don’t want to glorify it too much because there’s a lot of darkness going on,” he wrote. “A lot of the people featured in those photos are no longer with us, and a lot of the creepy behavior is down. They don’t call him STUPID for no reason.”

The word ‘bastard’ in ‘indie sleaze’ certainly evoked some of the #MeToo-ed figures of the era, such as Terry Richardson (depicted in the book Hunter). Olivia V. notes, “It’s not fair for the great musicians and all the great people who work in the fashion world to throw out an entire era because there are some bad characters. Yes, there are rotten characters…but it’s not something isolated or specific just to this era. It was something that was common in the 90’s, 80’s, 70’s, 60’s. We live in a more conscious world, which I love, but there are still shady characters out there who use the language of social justice to remain predators, but are protected by the kind of language they use. So I’m not sure it’s something that’s just isolated in this era.” Though, he added, “I don’t actually post those people on my page, because I don’t endorse that.”

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