It’s with abject horror that Courtney Love looks back on what she did to pieces from Marc Jacobs’ infamous grunge collection for Perry Ellis in 1992. “Marc sent me and Kurt [Cobain] his Perry Ellis grunge collection. Do you know what we did with it?” she asks, enunciating what came next. “We burned it. We were punkers — we didn’t like that kind of thing.”
But remnants still exist. Love recently stumbled on a lone bonnet and a pair of electric blue shoes that managed to escape the torching. “I was so relieved. These pieces were part of me and Kurt living in a trench and surviving the war. We just didn’t deal with life.”
This story first appeared in the July 21, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Sartorially speaking, Love has evolved from her days of setting designer clothing ablaze and now defines her fashion evolution in terms of “pre-Birkin” and “post-Birkin,” referring to the iconic Hermès Birkin bag she received as a gift six months ago. (“There’s no way you’re getting that information,” she says when probed about the identity of the generous benefactor.)
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And it’s because of her fashions that Love’s found herself in the news as of late. “It’s not just me,” she says of the Web Site Whatcourtneyworetoday.com, which launched July 13. “I’m participating in it.” Her role is as follows: Love sends daily pictures of her outfits and wardrobe changes (she’s currently on tour) to her co-bloggers, who go by the initials T, L and X.
The catch: Love has no idea who X is, although T and L do. “X is supposed to be male, and I keep picturing Stephen Gan in my mind, but he doesn’t have the time for this. He’s the one who writes in italics. It’s a social experiment.” The three are responsible for updating the blog by way of posting photos and including captions and the obligatory snarky commentary, and they also have full access to the arsenal of photographs that Love’s uploaded onto her computer for their use.
The concept behind Whatcourtneyworetoday.com stemmed from the selection of unflattering photos she stumbled upon while Google Imaging herself. “With the Internet, I think the crap rises to the top,” Love says, peeved that while searching for a picture of herself “with some good hair she had done at Bergdorf’s” that most of what she found was just really bad. “There were, like, nine pages on Google that were f—–g me at my worst, and it took me until page 12 — well, page nine had an Avedon one — to find a decent one.”
According to her, the first picture was one of the biggest fashion faux pas she’d ever made. Love’s wearing really low slung jeans with a nice blouse, which is all well and good in the singer’s book, but it was the Marilyn Manson contact lenses, coupled with her lips being chapped after going out during a cold night in London that did her in. “It’s not even, like, my actual Google search is that bad. It’s the pictures like this. It looked like I had a herpes breakout or something,” she continues. “And the second picture is half Britney Spears’ face and half my face. The third picture is from when I was unwell.”
Love is candid about the times she’s battled drugs — which was twice — but says she was “really, really unwell for about a year,” which is, ironically, when most of the photographic evidence on the Internet is from. On a crusade to change the misconception the public had about her, Love took action. She called a bunch of companies, but upon finding out it would cost nearly $50,000 to edit each Google Image page, she had a plan B: Whatcourtneyworetoday.com
“I’ve always been fashion obsessed — and I don’t always get it right,” Love readily admits, explaining that her knowledge of actual clothing and costuming was from three years of intensive work as a wardrobe assistant on films (she had a stint at Paramount) and television shows with actresses such as Rita Moreno, Faye Dunaway, Kirstie Alley and Farrah Fawcett in the mid-Eighties.
A proud owner of three Cristobal Balenciaga gowns, Victorian and Edwardian pieces that date back to the mid-19th century, Chloé dresses from the early Seventies when Karl Lagerfeld was at the helm of the label and so much Rick Owens it could make one’s head spin (she was one of the designer’s first clients in the mid-Nineties when he was based in Los Angeles), Love is a longtime clothing collector. Calvin Klein was the first person to give her free clothes, but it wasn’t until 1997 that she owned her first piece of couture, a floral, Empire-waist creation given to her by John Galliano.
“I went to whack it with scissors because it would be more useful that way,” Love recalls. “And this is 1997 couture crepe Galliano. Somebody said to me, ‘You aren’t whacking s–t and this is why,’ and explained to me what couture was, because I had no clue what couture was, or resort, and I didn’t know what A/W meant. I didn’t know any of that stuff in the Nineties, but I knew what a peplum was and the difference between silk crepe between the 1940s and today.”
She does reference the time in 2007 when she made the colossal fashion misstep of donning a faux-Chanel-couture dress to Paris Hilton’s birthday party — but she’s since been forgiven by the fashion house and Lagerfeld himself. Apparently, Love plucked the offending dress from her closet (it was gifted to her), but she had no idea the black-and-white creation was an imposter until she arrived at the party. “It was a scandal, the Chanel police were after me,” Love recounts. “But want to know what Karl did? He flew me to Paris, basically forgave me, had me pose for Harper’s [Bazaar] naked and covered in pearls and said to them, ‘The poor thing doesn’t know what couture is.’ This is L.A., I didn’t know!” The designer wound up giving the rock star the real dress and let her run through the store.
Since then, Love has become a dedicated member of the fashion fold and credits her Birkin bag as one of the reasons she’s eschewed the “kook” — the wacky, eccentric way of dressing for which she was once synonymous — for a palette heavy on neutral creams, taupes, ivories, black and navy. “I got my first Birkin at age 45. It’s kind of tragic when you think about it. Next Birkin I’ll go to Paris and order it myself,” she says. “It’s sort of like diamonds, though. Do you buy it yourself or do you let someone buy it for you?”
She insists that in the six months since she’s started toting the luxe bag that it’s caused her to conduct herself with the utmost decorum. “Having a Birkin even makes you read every part of the Emily Post etiquette book.”
Another reason she gave up the kook is Lady Amanda Harlech, muse to Lagerfeld and one of Love’s “favorite people on the planet,” who she “worships because she jogs in sweats,” who saw — and judged, with reason — the singer in one of her “kook” ensembles last year, a tutu and a Twenties flapper dress. According to Love, the conversation went as follows: “She said, ‘What are you doing in a tutu?’ and I was like, ‘Um, I have a record coming out.’ And I got this talking-to from the Kaiser and Amanda, and they were like, ‘You’re 45, what are you doing?’ And they were right. So I went and had Sally Hershberger cut all my extensions out.”
Love said that one can’t wear a tutu and a Birkin, and she’s probably right.
Love’s stylist and friend Panos Yiapanis is another factor that facilitated her fashion renaissance. She calls their friendship a “major, major love story” and said that meeting Yiapanis in 2006 changed her life. “I’m really loyal. We’re married on Facebook,” Love says, apparently the measure of a good friendship these days.
She laments the time she went to Paris in 2006 (pre-Yiapanis) and was only invited to two fashion shows, Stella McCartney and Yves Saint Laurent. “There was even a fracas about me sitting in the front row at Stella,” she recalls. But all that changed when she met Yiapanis, and within a season she was getting invited to everything.
“What he did for me is unbelievable, that he went out on a limb for me. Riccardo [Tisci] had just come to Givenchy, and he was the first Italian to run a house, and Panos convinced him to meet me, and I met Riccardo. He’s so warm.” Love went to Givenchy’s couture show the following year, dressed from head to toe in the designer.
Regarding the first row, Love is quick to inject sex into the equation, eager to share some new information she’s learned. “Someone from Lagerfeld’s camp told me that some of the front-row ladies wearing all the kooky stuff don’t get laid. She said that if you want to get laid once in a while, then you better stop wearing the kook. I realized she was right,” Love says, because there is no way she is going to give that up. “The whole time I had hair extensions, I was dry as a bone. It [sex] is like a good meal and fine wine. It has to be done.”
Love made an exception to her new fashion rules this past February, though, when she admits she was “all kooked out” while attending Roberto Cavalli’s fall 2010 show with friend Daphne Guinness.
Continuing on the kooky theme and never one to hold back (“It just doesn’t always come out like Princess Grace and I’m sorry”), Love feigns her distaste at the overwhelming selection of Marni in stock at Jeffrey in New York City, because, in her view, it works against having sex. “I am against Marni, and I’m sure the lady who designs it is very nice, but I’m not a Marni wearer,” she says. Another label you won’t see Love sporting any time soon is Armani Privé. “I’m not really a Privé girl, and it got back to [Giorgio] Armani that I said that, and now he thinks I hate him.”
Then there is her growing knowledge of the nuances of New York City’s zip-code system. “Whether we’re hanging out in Malibu or Milan, I now get the difference between 10012 and 10021,” she says of Guinness teaching her the distinction between the downtown neighborhood of SoHo and the Upper East Side. Love blames her naïveté about the zip codes on being a West Coast native, but the self-inflicted chick-lit bender she’s been on has also helped her distinguish between the two. (Going off on a tangent, she deems chick-lit as “anything that drops a lot of names and takes place in New York, Los Angeles or London and is thinly veiled. I ran into a thinly veiled me the other day. And there’s lots of Patrick McMullan in these books, too.” Her most recent literary conquests are “Four Blondes,” “Arm Candy,” “Bergdorf Blondes” and “Daddy’s Girls.”)
As the rock star continues to discuss Guinness and her love of all things couture, she mentions the well-documented friendship between the heiress and Alexander McQueen, and says she was devastated by the designer’s shocking death. Love met McQueen only once and sat with Miuccia Prada at his funeral.
“We were at a dinner party, and it was a discussion at the table about the best rehabs in America. We talked about Promises. If you want to know which rehab to go to, ask me,” Love says of her encounter with McQueen. “I’m the Condé Nast Traveler guide to rehabs.”
Love has been sober since 2005 and has rededicated herself to her music and band. She just wrapped up a U.S. tour promoting the album “Nobody’s Daughter,” which came out in April, and she plans to head to Japan in August. Most of the contents on her blog thus far are comprised of her tour wardrobe, which is naturally full of Rick Owens, Givenchy tuxedo jackets, thigh-high boots from Ann Demeulemeester (“They’re incredibly utilitarian for what I’m doing”), Alexander Wang, Manolo Blahnik tap shoes, Azzedine Alaïa and lots of Wolford tights (“Do you remember the Nineties, when I would wear stockings with runs? Now when it has a run, it goes. If I ran Wolford it would be a more exciting world.”)
Then Love, who “likes the adventure of finding my own style,” goes on to detail her latest retail acquisition, an Emilio Pucci dress from a boutique on Michigan Avenue, which she also happened to wear the previous night onstage. “So it maybe has a little Ice Capades thing going on, but it’s beautiful. And I wore Balmain for a bit, but I’m a little over the fake-rock thing. No offense, because what the hell do I know?” Other recent purchases include a crocodile Prada bag, three colorblock Celine dresses and an army green Yves Saint Laurent bag.
“I’m wearing Rick right now. I perform in Rick, I sleep in Rick and I jog in Rick. I have, like, eight pairs of his harem pants. I’ve been running in Rick Owens for years,” says Love. “I have all of my old Rick — no one touches it.”