THE $6,000 COBAIN TRENCH COAT
Style & Fashion
Of all the aspects of Kurt Cobain’s legacy, Kurt himself would be most surprised by his impact on fashion. We know that to be true because by 1992, two years before his death, Kurt was already a fashion icon, and he expressed amazement to friends that a style of dress he had adopted out of practicality had become the stuff of runway shows. It surprised Kurt, but then everything the year after Nevermind was head-shaking. Many rock stars have an impact on fashion, but Kurt’s influence has truly been a bizarre outgrowth of his fame, and one that will last (even if his music will undoubtedly be his greatest legacy). Kurt very much planned his musical career, writing out imaginary interviews with magazines in his journals long before he became famous. But he never considered that if he became a star, his ripped-up jeans and flannel shirts might one day end up on the runways of New York fashion shows.
Kurt became a fashion icon essentially by accident, but in the fall of 1991 so much of what he did and said had a larger effect on the consumer marketplace than he could have imagined. That irony and power of accidental marketing was never greater than in the case of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Kurt wrote the song after seeing graffiti written on his bedroom wall by a friend who was taunting Kurt, implying that he had another girl’s scent on him. He had no idea when he crafted his lyrics that Teen Spirit was the name brand of a deodorant marketed to teenage girls. It was only after the song was recorded, and on its way to being a monster hit, that he found this out. He was astounded that he’d written a song—one that would go on to become Nirvana’s anthem, his own signature piece—without knowing that the title referred to a product. When the song became a hit, sales of Teen Spirit deodorant skyrocketed. The brand, produced by Mennen, added new fragrances to capitalize on the attention. The year after Nevermind was released, Colgate-Palmolive bought Mennen for $670 million.
When we address Grunge’s impact on the larger fashion industry, we are actually talking about more than just Kurt, because he wasn’t the only style influencer. Instead, fashion’s interest in Grunge also was an outgrowth of the impact of the handful of bands and musicians associated with that genre who became, at least for a time, household names.