It’s not often a musician, actor, or person in general is so intertwined with a certain kind of style or subculture that both become synonymous with each other. With Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana while alive and figurehead of the Grunge movement way beyond his death exactly 23 years ago, on the 5th of April 1994, such a rarity quickly turned into pop-culture reality. Cobain and Nirvana are said to have set the cornerstone for Grunge as part of mainstream music and fashion with their second album “Nevermind” in 1991, the term being introduced by Nirvana’s then record label Sub Pop at the end of the 80s. Hailing from the US-town of Seattle, the birthplace of the Grunge movement, Cobain quickly took the world by storm – with both his music and his style. Slouchy pullovers, flannel shirts, uncombed hair and that iconic pair of oval white sunglasses established themselves as our collective idea of the Grunge look. And while the singer introduced it almost 25 years ago, it seems his “couldn’t care less”-attitude is as relevant today – but does the Grunge legacy still smell like true teen spirit?
One of the most famous examples of his ongoing stylistic influence probably is Cobain’s daughter herself, Frances Bean Cobain, who still very much lives up to the aesthetic and mindset established by her father. After being introduced as the campaign face of Marc Jacobs’ Spring / Summer collection, the artist got granted creative freedom over the final images and took to the streets of L.A. to tag her own billboard with the saying “Witch witch she’s a witch”. Apart from Frances Bean Cobain though, Grunge seems to have lost its sense of newness and got adapted for mass marketing and high-street commercialism. What had Marc Jacobs fired from Perry Ellis in 1992 – he showed a collection heavily inspired by Grunge with models wearing Dr. Martens and flannel shirts which his employers found repelling – now is a staple in mainstream fashion, turning the movements origin right on its head.
Because for Cobain and his peers at the brink of the early 90s, Grunge wasn’t a fashion statement, it was pure necessity. With almost no money in their pockets but a variety of thrift shops down the street cheap sweaters and flannel shirts just seemed the most sufficient. Or how James Truman, editor in chief of style magazine Details, put it in a New York Times article on Grunge from 1992: “To me the thing about Grunge is it’s not anti-fashion, it’s un fashion. Punk was anti-fashion. It made a statement. Grunge is about not making a statement, which is why it’s crazy for it to become a fashion statement.” After all, the word itself translates to dirt, now projected onto shimmery materials and glossy magazine pages that are supposed to be anything but slouchy.
Though often idealised and idolised in hindsight, Kurt Cobain and the Grunge movement didn’t encapsulate the romanticised life of a slightly rattled but creatively genius rockstar so many associate him with. His world didn’t consist of a vintage filter and Tumblr feed but severe psychological problems and drug abuse which ultimately led to his suicide in his Seattle home at the age of 27. In the midst of nostalgia and reminiscing, those dark parts and unglamorous roots are what we should also highlight and think about when putting him and Grunge into the spotlight, giving a movement that was born out of authenticity back a bit of its origin and entitlement in today’s pop-culture world. Because its core characteristics – a sense of identity, of authenticity, of belonging – actually couldn’t be more relevant.
Header Image via Kurt Cobain’s official Instagram