Grunge Was a Thing
You know, way back in the ’90’s. Nirvana, Marc Jacobs, flannel, old boots. Well, it became a thing, but I’m old enough to tell you it was there long before Vogue mag declared it a fashion thing. I think by that time, I’d been shopping for clothes primarily in thrift stores for 2-3 decades, favoring girly dresses with combat boots for awhile. And I wasn’t the only one before this was co-opted by the media machine.
The preference for things worn, used, tattered and torn–objects with a previous life, a history, with distress, destruction, and survival felt natural to me as a form of escape from mall-ified suburban America. So, what does it mean when we MAKE things that are new appear very old (above)? Thrifstores–once filled with glamorous 40’s gowns and beaded cashmere sweaters–are palaces of polyester these days. There are crusty jewelry parts coming out of Russia and Afghanistan these days, rather than Value Village… the cost is a bit prohibitive on most of it.
This is shiny new brass. Un-grunged. It’s soaking in dish soap to remove oils so that the chemical agents can do their job. This does not always work, but it’s a good place to start. I can’t imagine using it in its glittering raw state for much of anything. But transforming these pieces is a metal adventure.
Above are bits and pieces in the process of destruction. It’s messy and sometimes stinks like rotten eggs. It’s incredibly unpredictable, which is both a frustration and a huge part of the allure. Without knowing the exact composition of the metal you are trying to distress (copper? brass? nickel? steel?)… it’s impossible to predict which chemical might have an effect, and just what that effect will be. There is a lot of scrubbing and soaking, wiping/sanding and re-soaking to achieve a great patina (the professional term for grunged out metal).
I use chemicals made by a company called Jax. They are hazmat so I order up a few bottles have them all shipped at once. It’s hard not to think of the chemicals as precious, so when I start patina-ing, I run around my studio throwing everything in sight into the soup. Jax makes many different solutions for many different metals… I stock about 4-5 of these and use them interchangeably, sloppily, and without any prescription or recipe.
I’m really loving the verdigris patina lately. After a long while of this not seeming to work, I’ve got it DOWN, getting awesome results. Again, not predictable, with verything from pale blues to deep turquoise, to weird shades of green appearing randomly.
Brass bits are cheaply procured, but I think most of these pieces use very old dies. Using patina brings out the original workmanship, missing entirely from a glaring gold surface. Just look at those tiny swags… SO CUTE! But they just look crappy in gold.
Not to be contradictory about the gold, I sometimes throw gold leaf into these designs, furthering the look of a decayed gilded age. These Belle Epoch earrings also have RAW ruby dangles… raw stones are grunge, tumbled are not! So yes, I’m removing gold, then adding it back in. Seems insane, but is really just so much fun.
So, back to grunge. Since the 80’s, I’ve never stopped loving tartan; this is a dress I made last summer from the softest flannel and a daisy chain of feedsack fabric yo-yo’s (30’s-40’s).
And I’ll admit, I loved the Jacobs collection in the 90’s; I didn’t resent the elevation of streetwear to high fashion. It’s what always happens and sometimes the results are truly great. Above is another dress I made this summer… the delicate very sheer plaid voile fabric is by Marc Jacobs, a self-referential nod, don’t you think? Plaid looks great with florals and lace.
The September earrings would look so good with that dress! Should I keep them? The bead caps on these things are RIDICULOUS. Very medieval or something. And yep, they were super shiny gold, now covered with crusty soot. The beads are palest blue lace agate and Picasso-finished Czech glass beads.
This bangle stack was made for a client this summer, a gift to someone special. I do these mostly by commission, so email me if you’re interested. They feature tarnished bangles from India, reclaimed sari silk, and lots of other beads and elements. Grungy, bohemian cool.
Here’s a recent photo I’m very taken with. Bratty children can be extremely grunge. Their hands sticky, their hair chopped. Their ragged mismatched clothing. The colors above are my palette of teal, rose, gold. You can find images like this over on my Pinterest boards.
I’ll be rocking my grungy jewelry in massive layers this fall. I’ll wear too many necklaces (including this one that features a destroyed Cadillac hood ornament! The other is an old Afghani treasure that was falling apart and I sort of patched it back together), WITH earrings AND bracelets. Yeah, grunge was a thing. I’m glad it still is.