September 16th, 2012

Where does a former rrriot girl go?

Does she quietly disappear as soon as dirty diapers trump darkened music dens, right around the time when black rings appear naturally around her eyes without any help from a smudgy kohl pencil?

I ask because, like many mothers, I slowly evolved out of an edgier sense of style. Honestly, it just feels jarring to channel Chrissie Hynde on the playground. So things get toned down a bit. Sometimes they even get erased for good. In fact, by the time my second kid arrived I could be mistaken for any other Gap-loving lemming at the park.

I’m OK with this. Most days, anyway. (I’m usually too tired to put up a fuss.) But every once in awhile I’m reminded of how the word “fierce” was once my mantra…

It happened recently; a version of my former fashion-self suddenly surprised me. I was walking on the Santa Monica Pier, holding hands with my five-year old daughter. It was her birthday; we’d just done the bumper cars for a special treat. My husband and our older daughter strolled ahead, blithe as the cool breezes blowing off the ocean.

And that’s when I heard them. And saw them. Their sound and look couldn’t help but render in me a wistful style-induced nostalgia…

I refer to the sister act Haim, an alternative rock trio from LA, who was rehearsing a set up on a raised stage, getting ready to play that night as part of a summer series. I stopped, arrested. My five-year-old followed suit. We stood staring, rapt. Together we swayed to the sounds of their single, “Forever,” a growling, breathy, bouncy up-tempo anthem so infectious I wanted to start bouncing right there on the pier, too. At some point my husband and elder daughter realized we were no longer following them; they retraced their steps and eventually found us, bobbing our heads to the base beat. They joined in.

But back to the bold and beautiful band mates, wielding guitars. All in their early or mid- twenties, each effortlessly exuded a rebellious panache. All three have thick long hair, ranging in shades of dishwater blonde to rich chestnut, middle-parted and flowing in sun-dried waves that suggest a no-fuss, easy glamour. Theirs is a late-70s vibe with a bit of Fleetwood Mac grooviness thrown in; Stevie herself would have hung with these girls. (Incidentally, Haim just released their take on FM’s 1982 hit, “Hold Me.”) But despite the mix of sweet materials—the chiffon vests, the groovy patterned blouses, and all that glorious, unkempt hair—the band’s style emits a masculine edge.

Haim images

Lead vocalist Danielle Haim is known to don worn dark-denim jeans, a retro baseball jacket and, yes, reams of black eyeliner. I swear I almost swooned the first time I watched the band’s official “Forever” video. She’s a Patti Smith reincarnate streaming notes of Chrissy Hynde-meets-Wilson Phillips vocals, with the snarling over-enunciation of a pissed-off lip-reader. I haven’t had this big of a girl crush in years. Big sis Este works both her rhythm guitar and her punchy matte lipstick against her pale skin like a Bohemian answer to the women of Veruca Salt, while young Alana hangs tough in sleeveless tees, high-waisted jean shorts and Converse sneakers, as unabashedly cool as Ponyboy from The Outsiders. If Ponyboy were a chick with a high-powered amp, that is.

Of course the ultimate accessory is talent, and collectively they’re dripping in that, too. Maybe their look is so effortless because they know they’re just that good.

Twenty (OK, maybe more) years ago I, too, evoked a similar ethos of thrift-store chic. The freedom that such ensembles signal—that anything is possible, that life is meant to be lived creatively, that youth is an edgy adventure with its own soundtrack, and that girls can be hard and soft at the same time (a message Haim sings with perfect harmony)—is what I miss most about dressing not to impress, but to inspire. Now, I’m more likely to go to Barneys than to score something fabulous and second-hand. The irony, of course, is that I was probably at my stylish height when I had virtually no budget to speak of to spend on clothes.

I don’t often think of the alterna-girl I once was, the one who hung out till the small hours in cramped indie rock clubs nursing both a Marlboro Light and her third bottle of beer, mingling with the bands. I never sang on a stage; I can’t even carry a tune. But for years I was drawn to the energy of that scene, and the street-style of the people who populated it. I was one of them, even if those days seem as distant as the clouds of smoke that clung to my suede buckskin jacket, an amazing piece I misplaced a decade (or more) ago. I imagine most indie club kids remain totally au courant, just smoke-free.

In the few months since I first happened upon Haim, I’ve watched them blow-up: first a New York Times plug, next a “band of the week” post on the Vogue.com blog. Now I hear they’re touring with Mumford & Sons, followed by a stint with Florence + the Machine. So word is out, and clearly I’m not the only fan grrrl, or should I say, fan mothrrr, who appreciates what these young women bring to the music party. And, yes, to the fashion landscape.

And while I may be too long in the tooth now to convincingly pull off the young rebel look with proper panache, you know what they say about fashion. It comes and goes, but a fierce attitude (one that I hope never to lose) is “Forever.” Fierce, it seems, is always in style.

Watch Haim’s “Forever” here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEwM6ERq0gc

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