the stories behind your favorite 90s music videos, from nirvana to no doubt
From Gwen Stefani’s polka-dot dress in “Don’t Speak” to Nirvana’s suits in “In Bloom”, we get the scoop on how costume designer Nancy Steiner designed a generation.
After three decades as a costume designer, indie darling Nancy Steiner has amassed quite the body of work. The visionary behind such cinematic triumphs as Abigail Breslin's Little Miss Sunshine pageant bodysuit, The Virgin Suicides's ethereal Lisbon sister frocks, and that indelible pink wig in Lost in Translation, Steiner cut her teeth during the golden age of music videos, working with nearly every artist whose poster was once plastered throughout our bedrooms. From Sheryl Crow to Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana to No Doubt, Steiner defined the aesthetics of a generation — bringing us too many iconic looks to count. We caught up with the indie queen of costuming at her home and studio in Silverlake to take a behind the scenes tour of some of her most memorable music videos.
"This is one of my all-time favorite videos. It was a period piece, a Victorian based on Méliès, the filmmaker from the teens and 20s. I also got to work with my dear friends Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the directors who did Little Miss Sunshine. I met John and Val when I was seventeen, before we worked in this business, then I started doing videos with them in '89. We've worked this whole lifetime together doing videos and commercials and films, they're like family to me. I was in London when I got the call to do the video, "Are you coming back in time to do this?" I was like, 'Yes! I'm coming back, because this is so amazing.' It was super fun to interpret the band in that way, and painting those moon men costumes was super creative and fun."
No Doubt, "Don't Speak" (1995)
"That was how I dressed back then. Gwen loved it, but she didn't wear dresses back then, she wore her low slung jeans and crop tops. Sophie Muller, the director and a really good friend of Gwen's who went on to do several videos with them, and I agreed that for the song and the lyrics we wanted it to have a softer and more feminine vibe. So we talked her into wearing that and she did and people loved it. I've said, that dress might have come out of my closet, and I'm really not sure because I had several polka dot dresses back then."
Nirvana, "In Bloom" (1992)
"I was so lucky to find the matching striped suits for three men in the band who are totally different sizes! Chris being tall, Kurt being tiny, Dave in-between. I got those at Western Costume, which is a fucking fascinating place in North Hollywood. I work out of there all the time depending on the project."
Smashing Pumpkins, 33 (1995)
This was directed by Billy Corgan and his girlfriend at the time Yelena Yemchuk, a really great photographer. For every line of the song there was a different scenario, a different little vignette. So I remember it was about 25 lines and everything was a different scene. Some of the vignettes were based on the lines of the song, for instance, "Graceful swans….." for the woman with the wings. Everything else was just based on images that we liked or made up. That was amazing, so theatrical and fun.
Bjork, Bachelorette (1997)
"It was so amazing to work with Bjork and Michel Gondry. He's so amazingly talented and someone whose head you could never get into, even though I worked with him for years and I love him very much. I did his first film too, Human Nature. There were a few options for what Bjork wore and her look was picked because of the color mostly, so she would stand out in all the scenes."
Text Jane Helpern
Polaroids courtesy and copyright Nancy Steiner