Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2014: How Nirvana Made Grunge Fashion Good
Fuzzy grandpa sweaters, ripped jeans and plaid were staples of Kurt Cobain's closet. Now -- as his band gets ready to join the music institution's newest class -- the late singer's style is stronger than ever.
Nirvana’s brief, bombastic musical legacy will be formally honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this April -- the list of inductees, which also includes KISS, Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Linda Ronstadt and Cat Stevens, was announced on Monday.
But though Nirvana inspired a slew of garage bands steeped in fuzzy feedback and distortion, the band’s influence on fashion and style -- as the official poster boys for the '90s grunge movement -- might be even more enduring than its sonic output.
Singer Kurt Cobain’s holey grandpa cardigans (in mustard and olive hues, naturally), ripped jeans, striped '70s T-shirts and bleached ravaged locks -- along with drag-lite mainstays such as Jackie O-style sunglasses, feather boas and cheetah-print coats -- were appropriated by every disaffected youth in existence in the early 1990s.
SOLID GOLD: Similar coats seen on Cobain, left, during a 1993 performance, and on the runway at Saint Laurent's fall 2013 show.
WARM AND FUZZY: A cardigan look from Saint Laurent's fall 2013 Paris Fashion Week show, which mimics the ones once worn by Kurt Cobain.
That he was hitched to Courtney Love, who ushered seminal grunge-girl looks such as baby-doll dresses, ripped tights, plastic tiaras and morning-after makeup into the mainstream, extended the band’s tentacles in style spheres.
Grunge eventually shimmied up the fashion food chain, landing on the runway in all-but-undiluted form, courtesy of Marc Jacobs’ infamous grunge collection for Perry Ellis in 1992.
Eventually, the movement’s thrift-shop aesthetics flamed out, and teed up a pendulum swing to another extreme -- designer logo-mania -- in the early 2000s.
But, lest you have any doubts, grunge, in all its thermal-y glory, has worked its way back into the forefront of style in recent seasons.
Millennials, in particular, love romanticizing the scene and its style signatures. Witness the regular and varied slideshows celebrating grunge glamour (e.g. Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp, the cast of The Craft) on influential beauty website IntoTheGloss.com.
And you pretty much can’t walk into a fast-fashion store without wanting to belt out “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Urban Outfitters, H&M, TopShop and Asos are all pushing the look -- hawking baby-doll and vintage-esque floral dresses, grandpa cardigans and lug-soled boots and sandals.
Celebs are also on board with grunge. Rihanna loves a good, grungy stocking cap, and Kate Moss has been tossing a cheetah coat over her jeans-and-top ensembles, thrift-shop style.
But it was Saint Laurent designer Hedi Slimane’s big wet kiss to grunge for Saint Laurent’s fall 2013 collection (and Courtney Love’s languid presence in the ad campaign that ensued) that signaled the full-on resurgence of the ’90s-era music and fashion movement.
The designer sent models down the runway in Doc Martens-esque boots, fishnet stockings and baby-doll dresses peeking out from under oversized plaid shirts and faux-fur coats.
But the beauty of grunge style has always been that it never belonged to high fashion. Hatched in dank Seattle rock clubs and suburban Salvation Army stores, it was a sartorial rejection of the big-money ethics of the ’80s, and a streak-free reflection of youthful disenchantment.
Like Nirvana, it was the real deal.