‘They’re The Cheapest Wedding Dresses We Could Find’: How Courtney Love Turned Tattered Lingerie Into Fashion

Courtney Love performing with Hole at Lollapalooza 1995. / KEVIN.MAZUR (WIREIMAGE)
The Hole singer set the standard by breaking the rules when it came to what was considered good fashion in those days. With her little girl dresses, her love life, her grandmother cardigans, her Mary Janes and socks, she was unclassifiable. Her behavior was also the antithesis of what was expected from a young lady: she sprawled on her back while pounding her guitar onstage, and showed her panties, climbing on top of tables, screaming.
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They didn’t appreciate her enough in the ‘90s. Now, a new generation of artists is even inspired by the way she dresses.

In the 1990s, if you loved grunge and you were a woman, you knew who Courtney Love was. Let’s not forget her long list of antics in 1995: the punch she threw at Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna at Lollapalooza or the makeup compact she lobbed at Madonna during an MTV interview. Of course, her husband Kurt Cobain had committed suicide the year before, and, as they had with other women in the music industry (call it the Yoko Ono effect), the majority of the general public blamed Love for the tragedy.

Courtney Love performing at the 1994 Reading Festival. / BRIAN RASIC (GETTY IMAGES)

Despite the fact that the system wound up not only accepting her style, but commodifying it, she was initially rejected as a fashion icon by the establishment. CBSThe New York Times and other media outlets not only disavowed Love’s look, but repeatedly included her on their worst-dressed lists. It seemed like there wasn’t a single show or magazine that didn’t mock her aesthetic choices.

Melissa Van Der Auf and Courtney Love at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards Show. / JEFF KRAVITZ (FILMMAGIC, INC)

It’s ironic, then, that the style of singer Olivia Rodrigo (Murrieta, California, 2003), which is strongly influenced by Love’s, has not only become wildly popular, but is applauded by the mainstream media. The Californian’s latest album is up for six Grammys, and she has been voted best-dressed by several media outlets. The New York Times has named her one of 2023′s most stylish people. And the former Disney actress’ outfits have a distinct touch of Love. That dominant ‘90s trend, the lingerie micro-dress, occasionally with a bra peeking out, is one of Rodrigo’s most common motifs. She pairs them with Mary Janes, strappy heels or boots and socks. Rodrigo’s style is not only shown respect, it gets awards from traditional media outlets. In contrast, Love’s look was vilified in the ‘90s. Since no brand wanted to dress her for the Oscars in 1995, the year the movie she acted in, Forrest Gump, won Best Picture, Love showed up at Mortons, site of the Vanity Fair post-gala party, wearing a $20 dress, a tiara and her friend Amanda de Cadenet, in the same outfit, on her arm. Love had unevenly powdered her face, painted her lips and topped the ensemble off with fake eyelashes.

A close resemblance between the cover of a Hole album, and another by Olivia Rodrigo.

When the journalist who picked them up at the hotel Chateau Marmont at Love’s request asked if they were really going to go to the party in underwear, the singer answered by saying they were the cheapest wedding gowns that they’d been able to find and that they were beautiful lesbians in $20 dresses. Later, she posed for the paparazzi kissing de Cadenet, who was at the time the wife of Duran Duran’s bass player.

Of course, traditional media outlets didn’t like the champagne-colored silk gown and vibe, and once again punished Love with a spot on the worst-dressed lists. Needless to say, her flamboyance has been endlessly revindicated. Recently, Refinery29 included her in a feature on iconic red carpet looks that were misunderstood at the time. Love’s witty, stylish boutades have always been a few steps ahead.

Courtney Love and Amanda De Cadenet at the 1995 Oscars after party. / TERRY MCGINNIS (WIREIMAGE)

The feminist trash photoshoot for her second album Live Through This, serves as a good example. It was a raw release, with strong guitars and direct, honest lyrics sung by a voice that swung between sweetness and violence. Some of its songs’ unforgettable themes were feminism, postpartum depression, motherhood, self-esteem issues. Nothing to it.

The idea behind that cover photo, shot by the great Ellen von Unwerth and featuring model Leilani Bishop, was also Love’s, a reinterpretation of the movie Carrie (1976), featuring a prom queen with mascara running down her cheeks and a big bouquet of flowers. In 2021, Love accused Rodrigo of plagiarizing that cover for Rodrigo’s tour announcement, without asking permission and without credit. Controversy aside, the similarities are undeniable. The truth is that it stands to reason that those who were under-recognized in their day would later demand that recognition. Especially when they paved the way for the rest of us.

We would be doing a disservice to the history of fashion to speak of Love’s style as it were static: the actress’ look has certainly evolved. One of the substantial ways in which she differs from Rodrigo lies in their interactions with brands. At the start of her career, the Hole singer was, like other grunge stars, a flea market faithful. The fashion industry eventually brought her vision to the catwalk: John Galliano, Marc Jacobs, Hedi Slimane … in 1997, two years after the Vanity Fair party performance, Love scored her first sartorial triumph that was widely recognized as such: she attended the Oscars in a long white Versace dress, a look that was given high marks. Shortly thereafter, she was hired by the brand to be the face of its advertising campaign. And in 2000, she braved the Golden Globes in Galliano’s controversial collection for Dior, inspired by Parisian clochards and grunge. Frayed clothes and unstructured patterns. “I remember thinking, ‘OK, it’s crazy-looking, but I’ll make it work,” Love told Vanity Fair a few years ago. Slimane and Jacobs (who also hired Love’s daughter Frances Bean Cobain to model) crowned her as their muse. Then came her first foray as a designer, with a capsule collection for Nasty Gal (2006).

Frances Bean Cobain, Courtney Love and Marc Jacobs at the 2017 Met Gala in New York. / KEVIN MAZUR (WIREIMAGE)

More highlights: in the ‘90s, Love mixed Lolita and punk, expanding the vocabulary of commentators with the term kinder-whore. “I would like to think — in my heart of hearts — that I’m changing some psychosexual aspects of rock music. Not that I’m so desirable. I didn’t do the kinder-whore thing because I thought I was so hot. When I see the look used to make one more appealing, it pisses me off. When I started, it was a What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? thing. My angle was irony.”

When did Courtney Love begin to emerge as a mainstream media icon? If we trace her online footprint, as late as 2001, Mr. Blackwell was calling her “tackier and wackier” on CBS, so perhaps it wasn’t until the second half of the aughts that they left her in peace, during a moment that coincided with the rise of other empowered, “trashy” women like Cory Kennedy.

Courtney Love performing with Hole at Glastonbury Festival 1999. / FRED DUVAL (FILMMAGIC)

She was also an early MeToo front-runner. Love warned us about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse back in 2005. And guess what? No one paid attention to her about that either. Her accusation was perceived as a temper tantrum, but 12 years later, she was proven more than right. And today, young stars like Troye Sivan (in a suit reminiscent of Galliano’s 2000 Dior collection) and Bella Hadid (who sports baggy jeans with Dr. Martens) are bringing back grunge.

“It’s important to keep actors alive so that they keep making movies, but in rock ‘n’ roll, when you get to the top, in an almost unconscious way, if you die, you’re more valuable,” Love reflected in George V Magazine when she turned 50. We hope that she has a lot of time left on this planet.

Courtney Love and Frances Bean Cobain at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles. / JEFF KRAVITZ (FILMMAGIC, INC)
Courtney Love during a Hole concert. / KEVIN.MAZUR (WIREIMAGE)
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