The Genteel
March 7, 2021


Even when you're dead, you're not really gone. Some celebrities - namely artists, writers and musicians - never truly vanish. Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain are two such people, each with a relatively small body of documented works, but who continue to exist in our collective conscience simply because their brilliance can't, or won't, be forgotten. The oeuvre of each artist will undoubtedly sustain their legacy and people will continue to turn to it for creative inspiration. But beyond their oeuvres, do their iconic looks play a part in their legacies?    

When Amy Winehouse died on July 23, 2011 from an alleged detox seizure, she had two albums under her belt. Her Back to Black album was her biggest commercial success. It won five Grammys and sold seven million copies in Europe alone. In an age where the record is considered a dying beast, thanks to the 99c iTunes single, it was Amy's golden goose. She was a god amongst contemporary musicians and a source of great inspiration to many young women whose musical aspirations didn't include shaking their ass for gold records but rather pouring their heart and soul into sound.

But, as we all know, Amy's career stalled out due to alcohol and drug addiction, catastrophic hounding by the press, a bad marriage and, ultimately, her own body's defeat.


Before that, though, things looked like they were on the up-and-up. Family and friends believed that Amy was finally beginning to wrestle her addictions under control. She had recorded a song with Tony Bennett for his new release Duets II earlier this year. Amy was also preparing to release a collaboration with the design label Fred Perry based on her signature look. While you'd have to supply the kinked-out beehive and thick black eyeliner yourself, for CAD$30-$250 you could supplement it with houndstooth and monochrome clothing and accessories from the AW11 Amy Winehouse for Fred Perry Collection that Amy designed with Fred Perry, a label she often wore herself. 

Amy's collaboration with Fred Perry almost didn't happen, until her family gave consent to the label to release the line. The proceeds from the collection will go to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, created by Mitch Winehouse, Amy's father, to "raise money to support projects and charities that need help for specific causes," according to the foundation's website.

While the Fred Perry line, of which there will be a Spring/Summer collection as well, was designed by Amy, what will happen to her own iconic look as the years progress? Will it devolve into already-tired-looking Halloween costumes or will it spark inspiration for designers in the years to come? Perhaps it's too soon to tell, but for now at least there seems to be a desire to keep Amy's look alive. A source told PEOPLE that the Marc Jacobs RTW Spring 2012 show in New York was inspired partly by Amy's passing. Prior to that, in 2007, Karl Lagerfeld drew his inspiration for the 2007 Chanel Paris-Londres Maison d'Art show from Amy. He proclaimed "She's a style icon. She's not only a muse; she's a genius. She's one of the greatest voices today."

Could we ever forget a woman like Amy Winehouse? Given the massive success of her final album, it might seem obvious that her music is enough to remind the world that she truly was a flame that us moths can gravitate towards for inspiration. But it's hard to say whether the same can be said for her style. Sure, not just anyone can pull off a beehive the size of a midsize sedan, but the silhouette of Amy Winehouse is not an original one. After all, the fifties and sixties happened well before she was born. Perhaps in her case, fashion will use Amy as a source for further inspiration, but not as an icon of a style. Time will tell.

From a style-maker with a clear eye on her own look, we turn to a musician with a decidedly indifferent opinion of fashion. Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994 at the age of 27 - the same age that Amy passed - having only released three albums with Nirvana, but still managing to define the raspy, angry, disillusioned tone of an entire generation. What solidified Cobain into the global consciousness was his music and something that he probably didn't ever consider as a part of his creative self - his personal style. These both became known as a genre and style called grunge.

In Icons of Fashion: The 20th Century, published in 1999, author Gerda Buxbaum wrote that grunge "stands for fear of the future as well as ecological awareness, a feeling of helplessness, and the desperate search for new values," complimentary emotions pulled from the music Cobain and his fellow grunge musicians were playing. While grunge began as a clothing statement for teenagers in garage bands, through the 90s it gained legitimacy as a form of fashion when Jacobs designed a line for Perry Ellis inspired by youth culture and street fashion (and maybe even more legitimacy after Jacobs was fired as a result). Other designers such as Anna Sui, Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix followed suit with their own inspirations from grunge.

In the 2009 essay, "How Grunge Changed Fashion", writer Sharon Feiereisen writes that grunge's "yearning for liberation" is still a sentiment that exists in fashion to this day. While the loose, unstructured and be-flanneled look is difficult to pull off, making it less appealing for high fashion, it still nevertheless resonates with young people for whom fashion is closely tied to their sense of freedom. Tattoos and piercings rose in popularity throughout the nineties and the oughts as the next generation who grew up listening to Nirvana got older and began experimenting with their personal styles to the point where it's now perfectly normal to see an average barista with a full tattoo sleeve slinging coffee in a midwestern Starbucks.

Frances Bean Cobain

And grunge as a fashion statement itself is far from dead, even though the progenitor of the look has long since shuffled off this earthly soil. Labels like Rag & Bone, Thakoon and Isabel Marant have all sent grunge-inspired designs down the runways in recent shows.

Perhaps it is better to burn out rather than to fade away, but Cobain's wick has proven to be much longer than perhaps even he expected. The resonance of his life still carries to this day, carried by fans who have continued to draw inspiration from Nirvana and Cobain long after his death, as well as the vision behind Cobain's personal style - something he probably never consciously considered as a part of his creative output. Perhaps the most telling indication that grunge isn't dead is the 2011 Hedi Slimane photo shoot of 18 year old Frances Bean Cobain, daughter of Cobain and Courtney Love and heir apparent to the throne of grunge.

Death is a funny thing. It's scary and mysterious. It takes the best and brightest before we're ready to say goodbye. It also encapsulates and burns into our collective conscience the legacy and the look of an artist. Sometimes, like in the case of Amy and Kurt, there is a relatively small body of work to grasp onto, but an iconic look that inspires designers and lovers of fashion - in life and in death. 

Image source: and Hedi Slimane.



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