The Impact of Kurt Cobain—Reluctant Style Icon—25 Years Later

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Kurt Cobain, Nirvana frontman and the center of the grunge movement that marked the cultural shifts of the 1990s—it’s a decade still constantly recycled and paid homage to today on our clothing racks and in our music. Cobain reinvented a sort of genderless masculinity in fashion, pulling from men’s and women’s styles to create his own androgynous look.

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Image via The Fac

Maybe it was the floral dresses or the leopard coat, the ripped denim or the Jackie O sunglasses. It was also more than just a style statement—he was an avowed feminist and LGBTQ rights advocate at a time when men often didn’t speak out about those issues, especially in rock music. On In Utero, the last album Nirvana ever released, Cobain wrote on the inside of the sleeve, “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.”

Twenty-five years later, Cobain’s androgynous fashion can be seen in how we dress today—and in many runway collections. The irony is, he probably would have loathed his muse status. In 1992, Marc Jacobs’ legendary grunge collection, the one that lead Cathy Horyn to write “Rarely has slovenliness looked so self-conscious, or commanded so high a price,” was gifted by Jacobs to Cobain and Courtney Love, who promptly lit it on fire.
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Image via Getty

“We burned it. We were punkers—we didn’t like that kind of thing,” Love told WWD. And though the collection might have been the antithesis to what grunge stood for, Jacobs’ infamous show and campaign helped establish the career of an up-and-coming Kate Moss. 

Raf Simons has also been frequently inspired by Cobain, with his Spring 2013 menswear collection of floral prints inspired by the dresses the rock star would wear to his FW16 collection with oversized, ripped sweaters and too-big coats that slipped off the models.
The Impact of Kurt Cobain, Reluctant Style Icon

Image via Getty

The amalgamation of Cobain’s style drew from hippie and punk influences. There was his fuzzy, green cardigan, famously worn during his 1993 “MTV Unplugged” performance, his always-ripped jeans, his flannel shirts, his red hair, his torn, moth-eaten jumpers. And perhaps in a perfect blending of soft and hard, romance and punk, his cover for The Face, with Cobain in a floral dress, chipped red nail polish and eyeliner, cigarette in hand.


While Cobain might have burnt Jacobs’ collection, he did wear a Dries Van Noten sweater from the label’s women’s collection in a magazine shoot for Mademoiselle. Van Noten’s Spring 2013 collection captured that masculine/feminine dynamic, paying tribute to Cobain with plaid reworked in unexpected materials like taffeta and lamé, skirts embroidered with flowers, and a Cobain-lookalike model wearing those white Jackie O sunglasses.


Whether it’s on today’s runways or in our celebrities—Lorde is a fitting anti-pop, feminist follow-up to Cobain’s legacy—his mark is indelible 25 years later. “I think an age where even Instagram photos are Photoshopped, there’s something very appealing about that sense of being comfortable in one’s skin and embracing a less-than-perfect ideal,” culture writer Julianne Escobedo Shepherd told Vogue. “Not only did he make it okay to be a freak, he made it desirable.”

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