Forever 21, purveyor of cheap and cheerful fashion, has sparked outrage amongst Nirvana fans and fast-fashion critics alike by copying the Flipper T-shirt that Kurt Cobain designed in 1992. The singer’s own version, simply a T-shirt with the band’s name and Kurt’s art scrawled in Sharpie pen, became a notable signpost of grunge style after the singer wore it during Nirvana’s 1992 Saturday Night Live performance. Forever 21’s shirt, originally priced at $16.90 and now removed from their site, offered no credit or context to its origins, and was simply labeled as a “crew neck tee with sketched ‘Flipper’ graphic at front.” Unsurprisingly, no one was convinced. The brand declined comment for this story.
Purloining designs is nothing new for Forever 21, though this is arguably the first time that an iconic DIY item has been mimicked. Despite its popularity with mall-prone adolescents, Forever 21 is widely hated in the fashion industry for its spate of designer copyright scandals and off-color branding decisions. Their quick and easy rip-off methods have earned them the legal wrath of everyone from major designers (Anna Sui, Diane Von Furstenberg) to much smaller labels and special-interest groups, the latter of whom find items such as the infamous “Oriental Girl” necklace in poor taste.
See Kurt Cobain in his “Flipper” tee on SNL, 1992:
In this case, it’s unclear who owns the rights to the “Flipper” tee, since its most crucial design element came from a designer who is dead, not to mention the band members of Flipper themselves. Generally, when taken to court, Forever 21 simply settles and persists. But since the company was selling the tee in question for less than the price of an average concert ticket, perhaps this particular battle wasn’t worth it to the retailer – that, and perhaps they feared Courtney Love’s potential wrath.
Additional reporting by Matthew Perpetua