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Iconic Sweater Worn by Kurt Cobain Breaks Auction Record

Steve Palace
Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged wearing the sweater that was just auctioned. Getty Images
Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged wearing the sweater that was just auctioned. Getty Images

A sweater worn by Kurt Cobain is officially the most expensive sweater ever sold at auction. How come? Because it used to belong to Kurt Cobain. The singer/songwriter and Nirvana frontman might have left us in 1994, but his name is legendary a quarter of a century on.

Julien’s Auctions in California played host when the hammer came down on the item, which sold for $334,000. The sellers may have thought the minimum bid price of $200,000 was serious enough, but the tally sailed past that easily. What’s more it exceeded it before the auction had even begun.

Auction house President Darren Julien is quoted by BBC News, calling the sweater (or cardigan) the “holy grail” of Cobain’s wardrobe. The star himself probably saw it as a mere item of clothing. The BBC also writes, “It has not been cleaned since he last wore it.”

Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain with the sweater auctioned during the taping of MTV Unplugged at Sony Studios in New York City, 11/18/93. Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Rolling Stone draws attention to the guide’s almost elegant description of the sweater’s “blend of acrylic, mohair and Lycra with five-button closure (one button absent)”. Also mentioned is the “burn hole and discoloration near left pocket and discoloration on right pocket”.

The Independent takes a a less rosy view. “Aside from an iffy brown stain on the left pocket which, according to its current owner, smells of ‘chocolate or vomit’, it is perfectly unremarkable” the article states.

Kurt Cobain
Cobain in 1991. Photo by Julie Kramer CC by 4.0

Not only did it used to belong to a grunge icon, but it also got an airing during one of Nirvana’s defining performances – 1993’s MTV: Unplugged. The sweater is accompanied by an authenticating letter from family friend Jackie Farry. It was passed onto her by Cobain’s widow Courtney Love and was previously auctioned in 2015, where it fetched a price of $137, 500 – up on an initial ask of sixty grand.

The music channel pioneer welcomed the mainstream-averse trio of Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic and future Foo Fighter and drummer Dave Grohl into the studio to give an intimate performance of their catalogue to date. An album of the concert turns 25 this year.

Kurt Cobain
Cobain playing drums at an assembly at Montesano High School in 1981

Speaking to American Way magazine in 2015, Grohl lifted the lid on Unplugged. As might be expected of this left field act, the experience was a chaotic one.

“We hadn’t rehearsed. We weren’t used to playing acoustic,” he revealed. “We did a few rehearsals and they were terrible. Everyone thought it was horrible. Even the people from MTV thought it was horrible. Then we sat down and the cameras started rolling and something clicked.”

The set is notable for the band’s rendition of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World”, together with a spine-tingling version of Where Did You Sleep Last Night? Also known as In The Pines/My Girl, this traditional folk song goes back so far that no-one knows who wrote it. One thing’s for sure – a Google search displays Nirvana as the top result.

Also in the auction was Cobain’s Fender Mustang guitar. Custom-made and played during the band’s In Utero arena tour of ‘93 – ‘94, it sold for $340,000. In Utero was the title of the group’s final studio album. According to reports the production didn’t run smoothly but it was generally well-received.

Nirvana was formed by Cobain in 1987 and went on to have a smash hit with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 1991. Novoselic – now a member of Giants In The Trees – and Grohl played a surprise mini concert late last year.

Related Article: Alternative Ink: What did Kurt Cobain’s Single Tattoo Mean?

Speculation is rife that Nirvana will reform. An internet campaign to make up a new threesome was in the news, with Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger touted as a successor to Cobain. If it was to happen, it would set the world of rock on its axis. But if it didn’t, then in the words of Nirvana’s most famous hit: “Oh well, whatever, never mind.”