Kurt Cobain, a fashion icon in spite of himself

14 April 2019 | Posted by Zackary

“I’d rather be dead than cool,” said Kurt Cobain. He will eventually combine both…

In 2015, director Brett Morgen dedicates a documentary to him: Montage of Heck. Supported by Courtney Love and the former members of his band, who even let themselves be interviewed for the occasion, he offers a striking portrait of the deceased artist. Just a few months after its release, “grunge” officially becomes the most reblogged fashion topic of the year on Tumblr, while the cardigan worn by Cobain in the MTV Unplugged show sells for about $140,000 — not bad for an acrylic knit.

Meanwhile, streetwear designer Takahiro Miyashita creates a replica of another of his sweaters, where every detail, right down to the cigarette holes, is faithfully reproduced. Last month, Marc Jacobs diverts the group’s logo — and receives a court order by the way. Even Olivier Rousteing, a paragon of opulent and luxurious fashion, if not ostentatious, chooses to close the Balmain FW17 show on Smells Like Teen Spirit.

From Katherine Hepburn to Catherine Deneuve, there are countless muses inspiring designers over and over again… but how many of them are men? Nirvana’s leader is one of the few figures to establish himself so regularly on mood boards, capable of inspiring both male and female fashion. Twenty-five years after his death, to what does he then owe such an aura?

(Saint Laurent — SS 16 ; © Gianni Pucci for GoRunway)

When the Nevermind album is released, MTV broadcasts the band’s clips several times a day for weeks at a time. The album meets an unexpected success, with sales exceeding thirty million copies worldwide. Overnight, Kurt Cobain and his style are at the heart of all attention.

Aware of his slender morphology, he opts for layering outfits to accentuate his build. His sloppy looks, often composed of second-hand pieces, then become the uniform of a whole youth. A little like with Madonna before, the audience — mixed, in this case — copies the singer’s appearance exactly. A real bomb in the fashion world, which is more divided than ever. Codes are disrupted… If hip-hop, another subculture emerging around the same time, is openly interested in luxury, grunge remains totally impassive. Between frustration, disdain and desire, catwalk enthusiasts no longer know what to choose. Yet, Cobain is featured in magazines, seen with Courtney Love: the world is holding its new John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He represents a new form of transgression, seductive, precisely because it does not seek to be.

His name is inseparable from grunge, and vice versa. A feat of arms that would allow anyone to enter posterity by joining for good the pantheon of fashion. However, he embodies much more than just a style…

(© The Face — #60)

In September 1993, he graces the cover of The Face. For the occasion, the grunge godfather is not dressed by any designer. He is also not wearing a flannel shirt or a cardigan. The singer poses in a flowered dress, twenty years before Jaden Smith and Young Thug lead to extensive press coverage for the same reason. When asked why, he simply answers that there is nothing more comfortable.

Like Iggy Pop, Kurt Cobain defies the rock star’s virile standards. Far from the virgin vacuum, he advocates tolerance and feminism that are unusual in the music industry of his time. He hangs out with RuPaul, decomplexes the androgynous wardrobe. Behind the cover of In Utero (Nirvana’s latest album, editor’s note), it also prints:

If you’re a sexist, racist, homophobe, or basically an asshole, don’t buy this CD. I don’t care if you like me, I hate you.

Values that echo those promoted by the millennials, a demanding generation in perpetual quest for meaning, and sound like precursors to the questioning of fashion around the notion of masculinity.

Irreverent, the essence of Kurt Cobain’s style is almost like couldn’t-give-a-damn. While it may be shocking, it is not intended to be provocative. What matters is not what you wear, but how you wear it. Pushing casualness to its peak, with progressive ideas as a bonus, his nonchalance crystallizes everything that fashion secretly dreams of becoming.

A kind of James Dean of the 90s generation, he not only made marginality acceptable. He made it desirable… •

Hugh Hefner's and Donatella Versace's love child, I am the visible half of the duo behind ZACKARIUM. Addicted to fashion and to Lucky Strike, my mission is to guide you smoothly through the jungle of brands and catwalks.

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