Style Icon: Courtney Love

Style Icon: Courtney Love

Courtney Harrison was born in San Francisco in 1964. Her parents divorced in 1970 and Courtney relocated to Oregon with her mother. Upon her mother’s third marriage, she moved to New Zealand but was expelled from her school there. She was sent back to live with her former stepfather in Oregon. She was arrested for shoplifting and placed in a number of foster homes. She was legally emancipated in 1980 and moved to Japan for two months where she worked as a topless dancer before being deported. Back in Oregon, she changed her name to Love to conceal her identity. She studied philosophy and English in Portland. 

In 1981, she received a small trust fund from her grandparents and moved to Dublin, Ireland, where her father was living and enrolled at Trinity College to study theology. She met a musician there who allowed her to move into his home in Liverpool. 

She returned to San Francisco in 1982 and became a vocalist for Faith No More before getting fired. 

She began dancing again, this time in Taiwan and Hong Kong. 

At 19 in 1983, she took a job cleaning damaged vintage costumes at Paramount Studios. This began her love for vintage fashion. Too-far-gone antique pieces that were destined for disposal were saved by Love for her own wardrobe. 

After this, she formed the bands Sugar Babydoll and Pagan Babies, who she was in with future Babes in Toyland vocalist Kat Bjelland. The kinderwhore look that Courtney went on to champion began in these bands. 

She then turned her attention to acting and got a supporting role in Sid and Nancy (1986) and a leading role in Straight to Hell (1987).

She appeared in an episode of Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes and a Ramones music video. She was unhappy with the type of fame she attained and returned to stripping. 

She started Hole in 1988.

She got married in ’89 and had the marriage annulled. Hole released their first record in 1991 and Love started dating Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain shortly after. They were married in 1992 in Hawaii. She wore a vintage satin and lace dress allegedly once owned by actress Frances Farmer. Cobain wore pyjamas.

In 1993, Frances Bean Cobain was born. By this time, both Love and Cobain were heroin addicts and a Vanity Fair cover story painted them in an unflattering light, resulting in custody of their child being taken away.

Cobain’s mental health rapidly deteriorated after this. He was found dead in his home in April 1994, with Hole’s second album dropping days later while Love was in rehab. Hole member Kristen Pfaff died of a heroin overdose in June but the band still played Reading festival that August and the album was certified platinum. Courtney received huge publicity during this time period. Her onstage behaviour was erratic and she was arrested for assault twice, with one incident involving Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna. 

The kinderwhore look championed by Courtney Love utilized a combination of cute/youthful styles like babydoll and Peter Pan collar dresses and Mary Jane shoes with more adult elements like smudged dark red lipstick, ripped tights and lingerie. Vintage was also an important element of the look which was partly due to affordability. 

Love commented in 1994 that she “would like to think—in my heart of hearts—that I'm changing some psychosexual aspects of rock music”.

She credited other artists with influencing the look rather than herself. She named KatieJane Garside of Daisy Chainsaw (and later Queenadreena) and Christine Amphlett of Divinyls as the true progenitors. 

The Guardian specifically cited the 1994 music video for Hole's song “Miss World” as when "The look went viral."

She returned to acting in 1996, landing a starring role in The People vs. Larry Flynt, earning her a Golden Globe nomination.

At the Oscars in 1997, she wore a stunning white Versace gown after befriending Gianni. This was the beginning of her Hollywood glam era with her penchant for ultra feminine liquid satin bias cut gowns (she currently collects Galliano bias cut gowns). 

It was Karl Lagerfeld who convinced her to give up the antique and vintage clothing she often wore in favour of couture pieces after he told her that she wasn’t getting laid in a tutu!

She was featured in a Vogue Italia spread in 1997 and won a VH1 award that year for her sense of style.

She appeared in campaigns for Versace in 1998. 

Hole released Celebrity skin in 1998 which received critical acclaim and garnered a number 1 single. 

She appeared in a number of film roles in in the late 90s and early 2000s including Man on the Moon (1999). 

Hole broke up in 2002. She released a solo album in 2004 which wasn’t received well. She had tumultous personal and legal problems all throughout the 2000s. A new Hole album was released in 2010 with a new lineup. 

There was a resurgence in grunge fashion in the 2010s with many designers taking inspiration from Courtney’s style including Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent and Meadham Kirchhoff. 

She launched the fashion line ’Never the Bride’ in 2012 made up of one of a kind reworked vintage pieces. 

She appeared in Yves Saint Laurent ads in 2013 and had a number of TV roles in 2014 and 2016. 

She released a clothing collection with Nasty Gal in 2016 featuring 18 pieces.

In 2018, Love took to resale site Heroine to sell some of the designer pieces from her wardrobe for charity. She names some of her favourite labels as Chloe, Victoria Beckham, Roksanda, Monse, Oscar de la Renta, Narciso Rodriguez, Mia Mia, Marc Jacobs and Gucci.

In 2020, NME named her one of the most influential singers in alternative culture of the last 30 years and presented her with the icon award.

She will appear in the upcoming film about the assassination of JFK alongside Viggo Mortensen. 

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