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Why Kurt Cobain’s ‘90s Cardigan Is Trending as WFH Style

ON NOV. 18, 1993, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain ambled onto a stage at New York’s Sony Music Studios to perform on “MTV Unplugged.” Perched on a chair in a mohair, acrylic and Lycra cardigan the mossy color of a 1970s bathroom suite, he unwittingly created one of music’s most emblematic fashion references.

“It’s funny that the most important rock star of a generation would have his most memorable moment on film dressed like Ward Cleaver from ‘Leave it to Beaver,’” said Charles R. Cross, author of “Heavier Than Heaven,” a Cobain biography. “And it’s most likely he bought that cardigan from a thrift store in Olympia [Wash.] for a few dollars. That’s how he bought almost all of his clothes.” Mr. Cobain’s saggy sweater embodied the style of Seattle’s grunge scene and now, as work-from-home culture increasingly defines our times, that familiar knit is enjoying a revival.

As comfortable as your favorite hoodie but eminently cooler, roomy, mohair-blend cardigans emit WFH appeal. And you’ll have no problem finding one—even if you don’t frequent Pacific Northwest thrift stores. Myriad menswear brands featured Cobain-esque cardigans this season. An earthy ochre-brown take from French label Lemaire closely mimics the subdued original, for example, while Gucci accentuates its maximalist “geek chic” argyle design with chunky leather buttons. High-fashion iterations like those can range from the high three to low four figures, which, though far less than the $334,000 Mr. Cobain’s cardigan fetched at auction in 2019, will strain grunge budgets. Somewhat thriftier types can find suitably slouchy, sub-$400 knits from such labels as Pringle of Scotland and Beams Plus.

Mohair wasn’t always associated with the counterculture. In the 1960s, the material, which comes from Angora goats, surged in the men’s clothing market. Blended with wool, it added a slight sheen to suits, and later lent a whisper of plushness to highly textural knits. These “Mad Men”-era mohair sweaters tended to adhere to conservative motifs like argyle in quiet hues such as pistachio green and aubergine. Mr. Cobain’s sweater style—nonchalant, almost sloppy—subverted the mohair cardigan’s buttoned-up reputation.

“Mixing mohair with polyamides or acrylic, like Cobain’s cardigan, makes it even softer, and the Lycra in the mix means it retains its shape,” said Emma McClelland, co-director of Knitster LDN, a London atelier specializing in luxury knitwear production. “Those long fibers can be brushed for extra fluffiness. And, crucially, it also holds color really well.”

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