Art and Film: Hell and high fashion

By Guest Contributor Jonathan Stevenson / Kurt Cobain, the prince of grunge who took his own life in 1994 at age 27, would have disdained haute couture, and newly anointed Christian Dior creative director Raf Simons would have disparaged Cobain’s thrift-shop dress sense. Yet for all the corrosive chaos of Cobain’s artistic life and the perfumed orderliness of Simons’s, each recognized the indispensability of both spontaneity and deliberation. Measured against preconceptions about their respective artistic environments, Cobain’s process was unexpectedly organized and Simons’s surprisingly shambolic.

As depicted in Brett Morgen’s searing and seamless documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the Nirvana frontman painted, drew, and kept a detailed journal in the service of articulating his raw vision in song. Simons, showcased in Frédéric Tcheng’s hiply elegant Dior and I, prowled art galleries for ideas about Dior’s 2012 fall-winter women’s line, settling on painter Sterling Ruby (the so-called guerrilla Gerhard Richter) as a major inspiration, and effectively story-boarded the collection, which was not ready until hours before its triumphant debut show.

Both men also appreciated the importance of cultural history to making new art, acknowledging and laboring under the considerable weight of hallowed tradition. The punk generation spoke atavistically to Cobain, and mix-tapes of cadged late-seventies tunes helped him find the voice that would croak the grievances of broken suburban youth in the 1990s – “I wore them out, played them every day,” he said – and make him a great rock musician. Simons admitted consternation over carrying forward Dior’s rich DNA but had the wit and courage to co-opt the house’s signature 1950s A-line, H-line, and bar jacket for his new designs. In the film, he says that the creative juxtaposition of the original and the innovative – “from that time with this time” – is “modernity itself.” Christian Dior probably would have agreed and, perhaps after providing a profane and self-deprecating translation, so would Kurt Cobain.

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Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. For permission to use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.

Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.

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