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Why Madewell Teamed Up With '90s Cult Brand Daryl K

We got nostalgic with Daryl Kerrigan, whose first-ever mass collaboration coincides with a small refresh of her own brand.
Coco Gordon Moore and Kim Gordon in Madewell x Daryl K. Photo: Madewell

Coco Gordon Moore and Kim Gordon in Madewell x Daryl K. Photo: Madewell

Fashion’s nostalgia for the '90s has been going strong for years now, and somehow it shows no signs of going away. Lately, though, it seems that retailers are looking to get in on the trend in ways that feel more authentic. See Nasty Gal’s collaboration with '90s icon Courtney Love, and, most recently, Madewell's partnership with Daryl Kerrigan of the brand Daryl K, whose East Village shop was a cult hit pre- and post-millennium. (Perhaps these '90s paragons are looking to cash in on the aesthetics they pioneered.) The latter's campaign stars rock goddess Kim Gordon, alongside her 21-year-old daughter Coco and model Erin Wasson, who together represent multiple generations of the effortless, cool vibe that the '90s were all about. The 18-piece capsule collection hits Madewell stores Wednesday, and on Tuesday the J.Crew-owned chain will host a pre-New York Fashion Week party/rock show in a hip venue on Avenue A to celebrate.

Longtime Daryl K fan Jenna Lyons got the ball rolling on a possible collaboration years ago, but the timing wasn't quite right. "So much more happened in fashion after that, the flare really came back in," said Kerrigan over breakfast at the Noho restaurant Lafayette, which, she recalled, was a place called Time Cafe back when her store sat just blocks away. ("It was more beautiful then.") But back to the pants: she was referring to that '70s-tinged, cropped, slightly flared pant silhouette that originally put Daryl K on the map and that is again becoming increasingly ubiquitous among fashion girls.

Another reason the timing has now worked out: Kerrigan is preparing a "refresh" of her own brand, which has disappeared and reemerged a few times over the years. She no longer has that store on Bond Street, but will sell a selection of her best-selling pieces updated with new fits, new fabrics and new prices (like $295 for a satin-cotton pant) through her own e-commerce site later this week. 

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"In the '90s there really weren't a lot of options, especially when I began my shop," she said of the New York retail scene back then. "But now you can really get everything with Zara and Topshop and Madewell. There's so much out there that really I think it's important to consolidate your ideas and not try to do everything."

Erin Wasson in Madewell x Daryl K. Photo: Madewell

Erin Wasson in Madewell x Daryl K. Photo: Madewell

While Madewell may have the accessibility of a Zara or Topshop, it tries to react against the trend-driven, disposable ethos of those brands, which is why Madewell's Head of Design Joyce Lee said Kerrigan was a good fit. "[We like] brands that have staying power and brands that are really about creating a wardrobe that isn't just going to fade away the next season," she said. "Zara and Topshop are so fast, and I don't think trying to compete with them is what we want to do."

To that end, much of our conversation centered around denim, a category on which Madewell prides itself and that it markets more heavily than anything else. Kerrigan, for whom this type of collaboration was a first, was genuinely excited to work with a company that had the expertise and infrastructure to do any and all things denim. "When you're not a real denim company, you can't do it justice," she said. She was especially enthusiastic about the way Madewell incorporates stretch into its jeans: "You can't tell it's a stretch denim; you used to know when denim was stretch and it looked so phony."

While many of us look so fondly upon the '90s (and the past in general), reminiscing about how everything from the downtown fashion scene to restaurant decor used to be "better," there's no denying that there are some pretty great things available to us now — this capsule collection included. Luckily, we're told it may not be the last of its kind. See every piece in the gallery below.