The Fashion Industry’s Appropriation Of Nirvana’s Iconic Symbolism

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The fashion world is infamous for it’s insensitive blunders; from ‘taking inspiration’ from designs created by other artists and racist campaigns (recently Dolce & Gabbana, Prada & Gucci have all been in the spotlight due to this) highlighting the complete lack of insight from these famous fashion houses. The issue of lack of insight causes blindness when it comes to empathy, and unfortunately it shows. Capitalizing on the style, personality and ideologies of musicians who have passed away isn’t anything new in the fashion industry, and the conversation surrounding these exploitative actions seems to just go around in circles – considering this issue still has not been dealt with.

The commercialisation of sub-cultures such as punk, grunge and goth is more prevalent now than ever; hitting the mainstream as trends, disposable and devoid of the sub-cultures original ideologies. Unfortunately, turning an ideology that spoke out against ‘the system’ into a washed out, mass-produced husk – is a sad, yet not surprising. In order to sell products, the current ‘trending’ ideologies of a target group is snatched up and marketed – manipulative, as advertising goes, yet obviously it makes sense. The wave of ideologies and movements that have been sought after to sell products is a disappointing juxtaposition. Anti-capitalist T-shirts being sold at H&M, mass-produced using unethical methods.

One of the most insidious forms of this behaviour is capitalizing on iconic artists who have passed away, playing not only on a specific movement and style, but the mass production of the artist’s ideology; playing on people’s respect for the iconic figure. A good example of this would be merchandise, brandishing Frida Kahlo’s art and portraiture for public consumption. Kahlo was a vehement anti-capitalist and rejected imposing ideas of western beauty standards. It pains me to consider how she would feel, face to face with this merchandise. In a more recent example, it’s important to address the recent surge in fashion houses strutting grunge legend Kurt Cobain’s iconic looks down the runway. With a slight change to the design, for whatever reason, the designers assume this be acceptable.

The first instance of this lies in the hands of fashion designer Marc Jacobs, who recently used the iconic smiley face that we have all come to associate with Nirvana’s legacy. Changing the symbol only slightly, Jacobs still received well-deserved backlash from essentially stealing the design – to promote as high fashion, and sell products based on trends; as relieving the grunge style of the early 90’s has become rather mainstream. Despite the garments with the smiley face being discontinued, for whatever reason, such as with racist campaigns; fashion houses have a hard time learning from very obvious mistakes.

Just recently, Courtney Love spoke out against the premiere of yet another design associated with her late husband. Fashion designer Demna Gvasalia unveiled a new Autumn-Winter collection, with one of the models brandishing a t-shirt with the phrase “Corporate magazines still suck, A LOT”. This is a clear rip-off of a t-shirt Cobain wore on the cover of Rolling Stone in the 90’s, which reads the same – minus the “A LOT”.

In a response to a photograph of the t-shirt on the catwalk, Love responded:

You guys WHAT the FUCK? I hate being put in this position. You should know better!

Aside from being horribly insensitive toward the late musician, his family is a constant witness to the bastardization of his style; which reflect his values, ideologies – his personality. It’s, in essence, using the late musician to sell a product – aside from which, a complete juxtaposition on the grunge movement as a whole; with rich people paying ridiculous amounts of money for high fashion; piggybacking off of the anti-consumerist, cheap do-it-yourself fashion of the grunge 90’s. Not only are statements like these stolen culture for the elite to enjoy, but the perfect personification of an iconic musician – a human being – proverbially turned into a commodity.

Written by Jenna Dreisenstock