What a decade the 1990s was: The U.S. climbed from recession to budget surplus, unemployment was low, and there were music videos on TV. Our economy may be stuck in the '80s, but the pop culture of the '90s is back—and folks are cashing in.
1 What's back?
Roses, the band's first album in more than a decade, drops on February 14.
New episodes featuring America's favorite delinquents started airing on MTV in October.
The grunge staple recently appeared on the runways of Isabel Marant and J.Crew.
Childhood favorites Kenan & Kel, Doug, and All That have happily returned to TV via TeenNick.
The man who ruled the Oscars stage in the '90s will host the Academy Awards for the ninth time on February 26.
Nostalgia runs on a 20-year cycle, says Simon Reynolds, author of Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past: "The people who lived it are now at the age where they want to relive it." And the angst-ridden music of the early '90s speaks well to unemployed millennials. "It was a time when people felt disaffected, underemployed. The generation coming up now is in the same boat. They can't relate to Britney Spears," says Jeff Gordinier, author of X Saves the World.
3 How to capitalize
Bring back the look
Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, founders of the cool-kid clothing haven Opening Ceremony, have perfected the art of reviving the '90s. They've collaborated with brands from their youth (Pendleton, Keds, NaNa shoes) and look to the mall for inspiration. "As uncool as it may sound, the mall had values," says Leon, who got his career start at Gap. "Every brand had an identity that was very personal."
Fuse the past and the
Native Union's of-the-moment Pop Phone is inspired by moments past. Its bright neon handset—complete with a coiled cord—plugs into modern mobile devices and has attracted a cult following that relishes the phone's landline aesthetic. "People are nostalgic for a time when cell phones weren't yet a primary communication source," says John Brunner, managing director.
Recapture the attitude
The CW's 90210 brings the locale—and fashion—of Beverly Hills, 90210 into the 2010s. "The velvets, prints, and menswear are quintessential '90s staples," says executive producer Patti Carr. Fashion aside, the show—currently in its fourth season—has found its own Luke Perry-free identity. Says executive producer Lara Olsen: "We may be in the same zip code, but our drama is all new."
A version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.