Tweenage Memories: Growing Up Goth with Fashion Journalist, Michelle Kwan

1992_Michelle Braces off Day.JPG

Photography by vintage collector and

fashion journalist, Michelle Kwan.


Interview: Isis Nicole

On being a tween / teen in the 90s: 

Michelle Kwan: There were no cell phones and the Internet didn't exist, yet. If you wanted to check out a cool store on Haight Street, or go to a concert, you would call your friends on the landline and go to that place not knowing much about it beforehand. Everything was basically still word-of-mouth back then. I think it left more wonder to be had in the world. 

On the most magical 90s moment:

MK: It was the summer of 1992, right before my freshman year in high school. I was 13-years-old [at] the first night club I had ever been to called the Twilight Zone. It was housed in the foyer of a then, defunct art-deco movie theater in my hometown, Alameda, CA. It was an all-ages goth club, so they didn't serve alcohol, but you'd find kids in the parking lot, or on the roof, getting lit before they went in. If it was your first time there, they would take you to this little booth on the side of the club and issue you a pink membership card. [Laughs] I think I gave them my middle school ID card. I still remember how nervous I was. The music was loud and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I was wearing black and white striped tights with Doc Martens boots, and a red velvet scrunchie in my blue black hair. 

Smoke filled the air as you walked in thanks to a fog machine creating a thick haze indistinguishable from all the cigarette smoke. You could still smoke inside public places back then, and everyone smoked in 1992. Goth kids, punk kids, kids from different cities, poor kids, rich kids, gay kids, straight kids, kids in studs, boys in skirts, skaters—all the freaks essentially—were all just hanging out having a good time. 

If you weren't dancing, and for girls and boys alike, you were in the women's lounge people watching or making friends. If you wanted to canoodle, they had these incredible balconies overlooking the dance floor. The balconies are still there in what is now the beautifully restored Alameda multiplex theater, but I doubt any canoodling is going on up there now. It all felt very glamorous—and—deviant. It was great fun.

On favorite pastimes growing up: 

MK: I was obsessed with collaging. I'd collage my school binders, birthday cards for friends, and entire walls in my bedroom with images I found in magazines that I thought were interesting. I was especially fond of the nude Calvin Klein ads shot by Bruce Weber in the late 80s early 90s, and was always thrilled to find any edit on Thierry Mugler. Back then, I really wasn't clear on who the designers or the photographers were, but I certainly had a dark aesthetic, which interestingly enough, really hasn't changed that much. 

It seemed every "alternative" girl in the 90s had a subscription to Jane Pratt's Sassy magazine, through which I became aware of "street style". I had an older cousin who used to give me her copies of Details magazine (before it became a men's title), which is how I became interested in the New York club scene. Issues of Vogue, Elle, and Cosmopolitan could always be found in the house, too. 

On favorite fragrances during youth:

MK: Oooooooh, for me it was Christian Dior's Poison, Calvin Klein's Escape, Elizabeth Arden's Sunflowers, and Gap's Grass. Looking back however, I think men's scents may have had an even stronger impact on my adolescent psyche. Dior's Fahrenheit, Guy Laroche's Drakkar Noir, and Calvin Klein's Eternity for Men are all trips down memory lane—some good, some bad, but all bright as day.  

On parents support of creative expression:

MK: [Laughs] I don't think my parents had a choice! As far back as I can remember, my mom, who worked full-time, always made costumes and prom dresses for me and my little sister (who was a raver). She would take us to the fabric store to find a pattern that would work for our ideas, and then help us pick out fabrics. I loved the process so much that it inspired me to study fashion design in college, where I learned to drape, sew, and make patterns. 

My Auntie Dianne was also a strong fashion influence as she would take me on weekly thrifting excursions with her, which is where my love of vintage comes from. Some of my favorite pieces came from these shopping trips with her to the Salvation Army or Goodwill back in the mid-1990s. Good vintage was in abundance back then, and most things were under $5.00!  

On daydreaming: 

MK: I always wanted to be involved with fashion or magazines in some capacity. I do work for several major national magazines on the advertising side. Being part of M.I.S.S. in the mid-2000s was great fun and provided valuable exposure and experience in regards to the blogosphere. I'm currently the editor-in-chief of, an art and culture blog. For the past few months I've been working on a new business venture, which is TBA.

On principles from youth that stick today as an adult: 

MK: Question authority. It's sounds so cliché, however I think it's especially relevant to our world's predicament right now, seeing that our president is a racist and sexist meglomaniac, who is essentially only looking out for his own business interests. I think this applies on a smaller scale as well—that we need to question the authorities that rule our everyday lives, as there is a good possibility that what's best for your employer, mayor, principal, lover, etc. may not be what's best for you—so it is your own responsibility to manage your life in way that reflects your true ideals (I'm a people pleaser, so this is one of my biggest challenges), which will ultimately determine your happiness. 

On change: 

MK: I'll be the first to admit that adapting to change is not strongest suit, but just like death and taxes, it's inevitable. I suppose for myself, I think it's important to be knowledgeable and adept with the latest technologies, i.e., learn relevant software for your industry, make sure you're proficient with the latest apps and devices —all of which will help streamline your life. However, I feel that once you've made these types of concessions, you should do something kind for the world to show your gratitude for the conveniences technology has afforded you, as karma and change are one.


Originally published in IN #6, Fall 2017