When it comes to musicians who have left an indelible mark on the world, Kurt Cobain stands tall among the greatest. As the frontman of the Nirvana, he not only revolutionized the music industry but also left an undeniable impact on the world of fashion. Cobain's grunge style, characterized by its effortless and rebellious appeal, continues to inspire generations of fashion enthusiasts even decades after his untimely passing.
In the early 1990s, what would become grunge music emerged from the Pacific Northwest, with the center of the movement stemming from Seattle. Kurt Cobain, with his raw and emotional performances, was catapulted far beyond his desires to be an underground rock band and instead became a poster boy for a new cultural movement. However, it wasn't just his music that caught the attention of the masses, his unique sense of style that captivated the world just as much.
Grunge fashion was a stark departure from the flashy and glamorous trends of the 1980s. Instead, it embraced a more nonchalant and laid-back aesthetic that resonated with the disillusioned youth of the era. The key components of the grunge look included oversized flannel shirts, ripped jeans, vintage band t-shirts, and worn-out combat boots. It was a style that seemed effortlessly cool, anti-establishment, and authentic, mirroring Cobain's personality and attitude. Like a lot of authentic subcultural uniforms, the clothing was equally worn out of necessity and ease of access as it was for style. On one side, the lumberjack style flannels were cheaply and readily available at most thrift stores at the time. On the other side, combat boots and Doc Martens were likely taken from the punk culture that also influenced the music.
Kurt Cobain's influence on fashion was profound because he was not trying to be a fashion icon. His style reflected his personality as well as his insecurities. Cobain did not want to wear clothing showcasing his body, and instead wore lots of layers and flowy clothing. He pulled items from both the women's and men's sections of stores and embraced an androgynous style, redefining the archetypical look for a counter culturist. There was no blueprint for Cobain, instead he dressed in a slouchy, disheveled way that mirrored his music. His clothing also as a rebellion against the norms of the music and fashion industries. Despite this, his signature looks began to grace the covers of magazines, and he quickly became a fashion icon.
In 1992 Marc Jacobs brought Grunge to the runway while working for Perry Ellis. Inspired by Kurt Cobain, Jacobs reimagined his flannels into plaid printed silks, translated his cheap thermals into high-end cashmere, and turned his famous grandma dress into floaty chiffon. The notorious collection took an anti-fashion movement and turned it into high fashion, a move that many were adamantly against, including Kurt Cobain and his wife Courtney Love. Love recalled when Jacobs sent samples of the collection to her and Cobain saying, “Do you know what we did with it? We burned it. We were punkers – we didn’t like that kind of thing.”
The collection became infamous for commercializing the movement that was very much antifashion. In the New York Times the collection was reviewed harshly saying “A typical outfit looks as if it were put together with the eyes closed in a very dark room.”. “Grunge is anathema to fashion” said Cathy Horyn, “and for a major Seventh Avenue fashion house to put out that kind of statement at that kind of price point is ridiculous”. “Grunge is about not making a statement, which is why it’s crazy for it to become a fashion statement". The collection received so much backlash that it never went into production, nevertheless, the damage was done and the grunge aesthetic was making it's way into mainstream fashion.
Even after Kurt Cobain's tragic death in 1994, his influence on fashion continued to reverberate through runways. Takahiro Miyashita was so infatuated with Cobain that he has created several pieces directly referencing several of his looks over the years for Number (N)ine.
In 2003, he copied Cobain’s red and black striped sweater and put it on the runway in his S/S and A/W show titled "Touch me I'm Sick". The sweater is nearly identical to one that Cobain wore for a performance in 1990. He also has produced countless shag cardigans, which were first made to reference the one Cobain wore during his MTV unplugged performance in 1993. If those were not obvious enough nods, Miyashita also put out a t-shirt with the text “Listen to Kurt Cobain” on it.
Hedi Slimane has paid tribute to Cobain on several occasions in Saint Laurent shows. Styling her models in flannels, and the popular round plastic sunglasses Cobain was photographed wearing several times, Slimane made her references to the late musician obvious. She even went so far to use Cobain lookalikes in a show. Slimane also made plenty use of baby doll dresses similar to ones Courtney Love would wear, fully embracing the grunge aesthetic.
Kurt Cobain's influence on fashion is a testament to the power of individuality and the impact of authentic self-expression. His grunge style, characterized by its effortless and rebellious appeal, revolutionized the fashion industry, and continues to inspire countless individuals to this day. Cobain's legacy serves as a reminder that true fashion icons are not created by the industry but emerge from a place of genuine creativity and authenticity.