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Singer Kurt Cobain is the definition of an unexpected fashion icon. Not only did the singer help define a music genre, he unexpectedly influenced fashion today.
Cobain’s long, greased blonde hair, layered plaid shirts, and torn jeans took a late 1980s, early 1990s Pacific Northwest music genre from an independent bar scene to the pages of Vogue. After the release of Nirvana’s famed 1991 song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Cobain’s lanky frame in over-sized clothing became en vogue with young people everywhere. Teens and young adults devoured images of Cobain, because not only was his image rebellious, it was also easily attainable. This may also have been a response to the expensive and flashy styles of the 1980s, where mall culture reigned supreme.
Aside from defining Grunge, Cobain’s style was more than just a plaid button-up. The lead singer embraced a more feminine edge when it came to dressing, and was photographed numerous times wearing women’s clothing. He would also dye his hair in Manic Panic colors while sporting skinny scarves and oval-shaped sunglasses by Christian Francis Roth.
As his fame grew, Cobain strayed away from plaid and embraced a new print, stripes. At the time striped boat-neck shirts were reserved for preppy American females or hardcore Francophiles, but on Cobain, it was another variation of thrift-store chic. Another iconic piece was his fuzzy green cardigan at Nirvana’s “Unplugged” session that forever put grandpa sweaters on the fashion map.
As mentioned before, Cobain’s style was and still is recognized by the fashion elite. In 1992, runway shows for Christian Francis Roth, Anna Sui, and famously Perry Ellis featured what we know now as the first Grunge-inspired collections. Although Fifth Avenue socialites didn’t sweep it all up, Vogue did feature a grunge-inspired editorial in a December 1992 issue.
Since the mid-2000s, Grunge has had a reprisal on the fashion scene. Countless designers have used Cobain as their muse for their collections on the runway and in advertisements. For his Fall 2013 collection, former Saint Laurent designer Hedi Slimane was shamed in the fashion press a la Marc Jacobs for his plaid flannel button ups placed over mini dresses, skinny scarves and black combat boots. He would later recreate Kurt Cobain’s iconic look during his Spring 2016 menswear show. More recently, the fashion line No. 21 featured updated grunge elements on top of colorful feminine pieces.
Over twenty something years ago, no one on at the pages of Vogue would have thought that a scrawny kid from Seattle would be the hottest look in town. However, as Yves Saint Laurent once said, “fashions fades, style is forever.”