The story of Marc Jacobs’ controversial 90s grunge collection

Where Sonic Youth filmed a music video with Chloë Sevigny backstage and Kurt and Courtney burned the samples

Taken from the August 2013 issue of Dazed & Confused

Marc Jacobs’ spring/summer 1993 show for Perry Ellis is the stuff of fashion legend. After being hired as creative director for the sportswear brand in 1988, Jacobs politely did a few seasons of easy American elegance before paying homage to Seattle’s grunge scene with the landmark collection, which was sent out on November 3, 1992. Two-dollar second-hand flannel shirts were translated into plaid-printed silks, lumberjack thermals were re-imagined in cashmere and Kurt Cobain’s floral granny dress was turned into floaty chiffon, worn with untied DMs or duchesse-satin Converse. Backstage, Sonic Youth were shooting their video for “Sugar Kane”, starring a very young Chloë Sevigny.

It was a seminal moment, from Christy Turlington opening the show as L7’s “Pretend We’re Dead” blasted out behind her to Kristen McMenamy and Kate Moss closing in matching beanies and layers of pastel knits and plaid. “That’s the way beautiful girls look today,” Jacobs told the New York Times in February 1993. “They look a little bit unconcerned about fashion.” Women’s Wear Daily hailed Jacobs as the “guru of grunge” but the suits at Perry Ellis didn’t really get the finer points of bare midriffs and shirts tied haphazardly around the waist. Shortly after picking up the CFDA Designer of the Year award in January 1993, Jacobs was dropped by Perry Ellis and production on the collection was killed. 

As a gesture of tribute, Jacobs sent the samples to Cobain and Courtney Love. “Do you know what we did with it?” Love said in 2010, horrified at the memory. “We burned it. We were punkers – we didn’t like that kind of thing.” To Seattle’s DIY scene, the transformation of their Salvation Army anti-statement into high fashion was surreal. They had adopted the fleece and fuzzy wools of the fishermen and lumberjacks of the Pacific Northwest out of financial necessity, inadvertently spawning an awkward, scruffy look that symbolised a recession-ridden generation disillusioned by 80s greed. 

Journalists were flooding into Seattle to investigate grunge and its oddly long sleeves. Megan Jasper of Sub Pop notoriously spoofed the New York Times into publishing a “grunge speak” lexicon she fabricated on the spot. Many were not amused by grunge at all. Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, staged an anti-grunge campaign during Milan Fashion Week in March 1993, handing out “Grunge is Ghastly” pins to fellow editors.

But today, Steven Meisel’s “Grunge & Glory” shoot from the December 1992 issue of US Vogue – styled by Grace Coddington and starring McMenamy, Naomi Campbell and Nadja Auermann in warm Perry Ellis plaid and Nirvana t-shirts – feels every bit as fresh and relevant as back then. There was so much more to it than making plaid shirts and flowing silk dresses,” Jacobs said in 2011. “It wasn’t about that. It was about a sensibility and also about a dismissal of everything that one was told was beautiful, correct, glamorous, sexy. I loved that it represented a newness. I think that’s how people dress now. I think that moment hasn’t passed. It’s morphed into different things but it really hasn’t passed.”