X-Girl: For Irreverent Cool Girls of the 90s (and Today)
I don’t think it’s unfair to call Kim Gordon one of the most influential women in modern New York City culture. As the bassist and co-vocalist of Sonic Youth, Gordon pioneered a propulsive, urgent sound that fundamentally shaped contemporary music. The band’s members moved to NYC in the late ’70s, when the short-lived no wave scene (an experimental convergence between avant-garde music, filmmaking, art, poetry and performance) hit its creative peak downtown. Sonic Youth adapted no wave’s ethos for a new generation, emerging at the forefront of ‘90s alternative rock.
Beyond the band, Gordon made a profound, if unexpected, impact on fashion with her downtown label, X-Girl. The musician and visual artist co-founded the line with stylist Daisy von Furth in 1993. Though this original duo helmed the brand for only five years, their intelligent, irreverent approach to creating cool, affordable clothing is still keenly felt today.
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Von Furth cut her teeth interning at female-focused magazines like Mirabella and Sassy. She first became friendly with Gordon through her sister, NYC noise icon Julie Cafritz. The pair soon found themselves shopping together at places like the Army-Navy shops near Thurston Moore’s mom’s place in Massachusetts. “Or if there was a weird store on 14th St. going out of business and had like a million football T-shirts from the ‘70s, we'd buy them,” said von Furth told Paper.
In the early ‘90s, von Furth worked at the X-Large shop on Avenue A in addition to styling small projects. Skatewear brand X-Large was established in Los Angeles in 1991 by Eli Bonerz and Adam Silverman. Mike D of the Beastie Boys was one of the company’s original partners. “You had all these people, like Futura 2000, or Lyor Cohen who was the Bonerz's babysitter, and Harmony Korine and Chloë Sevigny all coming in [to the shop],” she said. X-Girl originated as an extension of X-Large, but was guided entirely by Gordon and von Furth’s tastes and interests.
These instincts helped unite a killer team of creative people across all pockets of downtown culture. Celebrated filmmaker Mike Mills was X-Girl’s first graphic designer; he created its high-contrast logo based on a Joseph Szabo image. Another leading filmmaker—future Oscar winner Sofia Coppola—designed X-Girl’s catalogues and produced its fashion shows. Multi-disciplinary artist and designer Susan Cianciolo helped Gordon and von Furth sketch their designs, while Built by Wendy founder Wendy Mullin pitched in as X-Girl’s patternmaker. While each of these artists have since built dynamic careers in the intervening decades, there is something special about their convergence in X-Girl’s downtown DIY ecosystem.
The most well-known X-Girl affiliate is Chloë Sevigny, then a Connecticut high schooler who had yet to make her debut in Larry Clark’s Kids. Like von Furth, Sevigny also began as a Sassy intern. When Sonic Youth needed a leading lady for its “Sugar Kane” video, Sassy editor Andrea Linett recommended Sevigny for the job. Gordon and von Furth liked her enough to offer her babysitting gigs, and eventually the role of X-Girl’s first fit model.
Clothing-wise, the duo’s sensibility boldly broke from the era’s dominant aesthetic: super-baggy skatewear. “There's this whole tendency with skater looks that everything needs to be over-sized, but we wanted to do stuff that was more fitted for girls,” Gordon said. “Stuff that was a little modish, more like '60s meets preppy; A-line skirts and A-line dresses, which was what we thought would flatter the most body types.”
While the rest of the world went grunge (tattered slips, beat-up flannel), X-Girl went Godard, or playfully subversive prep. The label drew inspiration from everywhere: Harvard, Burger King, Fila and agnès b. During that moment, a line of well-made, affordable, interesting clothing for women was unheard of. “At the time, 'Girl Power' was coming out and this idea of 'anything boys can do, girls can do better,’” Mullin explained. “X-Large was happening and it was sort of like, 'Well, but what about us girls?' I think it was really part of that early '90s feminist thing happening.”
Mills designed X-Girl’s Lafayette Street shop in 1994, the same year the brand staged its first guerilla fashion show. The brainchild of Coppola and Spike Jonze, the show took place on the SoHo streets just after Marc Jacobs wrapped his own runway presentation. Sevigny closed the impromptu show in a little white bridal gown—an X-Girl twist on a runway tradition. The following season, in 1995, X-Girl skipped a show to make a fashion film with director Phil Morrison, which featured Sevigny inside Jacobs’s show, pretending to be spy.
Yet perhaps the most important X-Girl show was staged not in New York, but Japan. The brand became immensely popular abroad after a fashion show-cum-concert with the Beastie Boys. “I remember you'd go down to Harajuku and you'd see like five or 10 girls in X-Girl shirts at once walking down the street,” Mills recalled.
In 1998, X-Girl was sold to Japanese development company B’s International. (B’s also acquired X-Large ten years later). Gordon and von Furth were both raising families, and didn’t find the project as enjoyable as they once did.
Today, you’ll meet people who speak about X-Girl’s clothing as reverently as they do Sonic Youth’s music. Erin Magee is one of them. Since 2004, Magee has worked as Director of Production and Development at streetwear brand Supreme.. And for the past 10 years, she has also helmed her own brand, MadeMe. Growing up in Toronto in the ‘90s, Magee was captivated by X-Girl’s powerful, female-first ethos and the cross-pollination of NYC culture that it represented.
“It was the first clothing company I remember that was for girls, by girls and directed towards women in a sexless kind of way,
Magee told i-D.They weren't selling sexy-cute clothes, they were selling interests, ideas, culture, and perspective of some really rad chicks!” Like Gordon and von Furth, Magee saw that something smart, accessible and unique was missing for women in the contemporary streetwear landscape. So she took it upon herself to resurrect the label’s distinctly downtown energy for a new generation.
At first a spiritual torchbearer, MadeMe has recently created two collaborative collections with X-Girl. The first was blessed by Gordon and its campaign was fronted by her artist daughter, Coco Gordon-Moore. The most recent collab stars another iconic NYC musician’s daughter: Lola Leon. It’s an authentic homage to the original X-Girl’s vibe and energy, lead by rebellious and independent women of today.