Courtney Love On Fashion, Female Rage & Gossiping With Hillary Clinton

“I lived here six or seven years ago, so it’s really like home to me,” Courtney Love says, as we sit on a plush sofa at Los Angeles’ Chateau Marmont. We’ve barely said hello when a woman stops to tell Love that her dress is fabulous. It is indeed: She’s wearing a patterned Valentino midi with a volcano on the bust, red suede heels, and a thin black choker. The look is fun and sophisticated and ‘90s and modern all at the same time, which seems appropriate, as we’re here to talk about Love, Courtney — her second collection with Nasty Gal. (The Los Angeles-based brand founded by Love's pal Sophia Amoruso would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy two weeks later.) I wonder if she can tell how nervous I am. A high percentage of my teenage-rage tears were shed while listening to Pretty on the Inside and Live Through This at top volume. I’ve always thought of Love as an important artist in her own right — her status as Kurt Cobain’s widow may be a biographical point, but not a defining one. Yet, it was only when I fell down a Courtney Love YouTube K-hole in preparation for our interview, watching a barrage of clips from her interviews throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, that I realised just how hard she’s had to work to establish herself as a creative force in her own right — and just how many times she’s re-established herself: first as a musician and performer in Hole, then as an actor, and now as a fashion designer. It's a timely moment to be talking to a boundary-breaking icon whose anger and imperfections are part of her appeal. We’re meeting just days before the election, and we’re both preoccupied with the flawed but fierce Democratic candidate. “I love her. She calls me ‘Court,’” Love says of Hillary Clinton. "[We met] in 1998 while we were both getting our hair cut with Sally Hershberger, and we had good gossip." Their encounter paints a memorable image: Two iconic women — who have both been subjected to brutal public treatment yet keep bouncing back and doing incredible work — sharing secrets at the salon. But, we’re here to talk fashion. Love orders a latte with “normal milk,” and we settle in to our conversation.
What made you want to collaborate with Nasty Gal?
"I really like Sophia [Amoruso]. And I want my own line, independent of Sophia. I want to be the punk rock Tory Burch. Do you know what I mean? Like, I want to design. I’m learning a lot from her and her business sensibility." So you’re interested in the business side of it, too?
"I’ve always been good at business. I’ve bought and sold seven houses, and I’ve always sold them for twice the price. Flipping a house and selling clothes are different things, but my ideas are really good. Like, my ideas are baroque. I am not a minimalist. I’m not doing Adam Lippes or Michael Kors or De La Renta or super uptown — I’m doing maximalist downtown. The Gucci stuff really hits my heart. I identify with [Alessandro Michele’s] Gucci girl. But then again, I identify with the Saint Laurent girl, as well. But that’s more for onstage. With Gucci, I identify more for daywear. It doesn’t just have to be sheath dresses and conservative bags. You can do cool stuff at 52. And if anybody showed us that, it’s Madonna at the Met Ball with her ass hanging out. I mean, good for her! I was mixed about it when I first saw it, and then Riccardo [Tisci] texted me and he’s like, 'Isn’t it fantastic?' And I’m like, 'Yeah, you know what? It is.'" What creators and designers are inspiring you right now?
"The wonderful Panos Yiapanis is probably the most influential men’s stylist working today. He’s Love magazine’s fashion director. When we met, we synced really well together, and in 2008 he introduced me to Riccardo Tisci when nobody believed in him. Everybody thought he was going to lose. But I saw the couture, and went nuts, so Riccardo made me and Marina Abramović his first muses. I was running around Paris in couture, fantastical couture that Riccardo was loaning me and giving me, and then at some point Riccardo — who still sends me wonderful things and is still a dear friend — found Kim Kardashian, because Kanye [West] believed in him, too; [models] Joan Smalls and Mariacarla [Boscono], and a couple other people. There was a Paris Match photo of Riccardo’s original gang, but Kim’s in it, too. This is how I made friends with Kim."

Speaking of Kim, is she okay after that awful burglary?
"Well, I was sitting next to her at the Givenchy show and it happened an hour later. It’s so horrible. I just wrote her a letter and said, 'If I find them I’ll beat them up. I’m so sorry.' I knew her from way, way back, when Paris Hilton was my neighbour. I didn’t know her now that she was a fashion icon. Everyone told Riccardo he was insane, that he was going to ruin the house. And he was like, 'Fuck you, I’m dressing her.' And he did — and it was a roaring success.”
A perfect match, really.
"It is now. But if you go back two years ago, people were really giving him shit for it. There was a VIP after-party for Riccardo’s last collection in New York, and for a while, it was just me and Kim. We found out we had a whole lot of stuff in common: the same doctors, we’re both L.A. girls. Then, of course, we took a selfie, and my internet exploded. Like, 'What are you doing? You’re punk rock!' It’s like, she’s punk rock, too. She’s maybe not as willing to get up onstage and take off her top…"

Do you find it annoying when people expect you to remain unchanged since the ‘90s?
"Yes. Because I’m a 52-year-old woman, and I’m not going to be taking off my top onstage anytime soon."

And yet you’re so strongly associated with this ‘90s punk/grunge aesthetic. Are there still babydoll dresses in this new collection?
"We’re doing some repeats. It sells well, and we’re in the fashion business. So I don’t get my way on everything. Some of the grunge, let’s-go-back-to-the-'90s stuff I didn’t want to re-do again. But it sold so well the first time, they were like, 'let’s re-do it again.' I wanted to do more, like, fantasy Moulin Rouge stuff. I got some of that in there."

I’m assuming that 52-year-old women are not the target customers for this Nasty Gal collection.
"This second collection has clothes in it that I would wear. We definitely talked about the Nasty Gal customer, who’s younger than I am. And then there’s stuff from my modern wardrobe, which is what I wear onstage now and is more like a Jim Morrison thing. I have a great collection of Chloé pirate shirts, so we took one of my pirate shirts that wasn’t Chloé and kind of copied it. And then we’ve got a copy of one of my slip dresses. Then we’ve got this bodysuit that’s got these beautiful, beautiful appliqués on it... For what we did, we made it as luxe as possible."
What are you working on in addition to this collection?
"My book. I’ve gone through three authors now. It’s important that the book has just the right voice. I have to find that delicate balance of somebody who knows what it is to be 40 feet up on wobbling amplifiers about to die in front of 180,000 people with your tits out; to someone who understands what it's like to dress for the Oscars."

To me and a lot of other women I know, you were a very important model of how to express anger.
"Nasty woman!"

Exactly. We’re in a moment when female anger is very important, I think.
"Well, it doesn’t feel of the moment. Because right now not there’s not a lot of rage. I mean, Nicki Minaj expresses it. I’m trying to think of successful female pop stars…like Katy [Perry] doesn’t express it. I mean, like, maybe Lena Dunham and some feminist-activist friends of mine that I know. Tavi Gevinson. But to me, it’s like, rage is expressed through rock ‘n’ roll. And we don’t have rock ‘n’ roll anymore."

I’m surprised to hear you say that, because I feel like female rage is pretty mainstream these days.
"It’s probably because you were really young in the '90s, when it was really commonplace; when it was normal and sexy and socially acceptable to be angry. And that’s why I got put on trial in Orlando for stage-diving, but no boys did. Eddie Vedder didn’t. Kurt Cobain didn’t. Scott Weiland didn’t. None of the guys did. But I got put on trial for assault with a deadly weapon, which was my guitar, stage-diving. It got thrown out, of course."
Let’s talk about your acting career. I’ve noticed that most of your prominent roles have been playing wives and girlfriends.
"I remember Warren Beatty mentoring me and saying, 'You’ve gotta play girlfriends.' Because you do. That’s part of the deal. Back in the day, when Joel Schumacher was doing Batman, I was going to do Harley Quinn. That would have been really cool. And then, somehow, the franchise went to Christopher Nolan. And I’m too old now. The clothes were cool, and the look was cool, and playing a bad guy on that level in a cartoon movie was cool. I’ve told my agency, 'I want a super-villain or a superhero role, dammit!'"

So you’re done with playing girlfriends now?
"I just did a movie with James Franco where I played the brothel madam, but also his wife. It’s insanely sexual. My daughter [Frances Bean Cobain] was like, 'Mommy, if you’re going to do an indie porn, do it with James Franco.' It’s called The Long Home, and it takes place in the ‘20s in Tennessee.
"I’m also about to do a TV show, and they’re making me a wig. But it’s a pilot, and so the wig’s not going to be the $75,000 wig that I’m used to for a big studio gig. It’s going to be a $5,000 wig — if that — from a TV department. So I’m worried about the wig."

I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race; that’s my only wig experience.
"Drag Race is fun. I sat in bed with Frances for a week and watched Drag Race. I haven’t been keeping up with it right now. Stipe was like, 'Why aren’t you a judge on it?' I’m like, 'Why aren’t you a judge on it?' I want Michael Stipe to be a judge on it! If Michael does it, I’ll do it."

You and Frances could do it together.
"I don’t know if Frances wants to do, like, 'mommy and me 'stuff together all the time. We just did Fashion Week in London, New York, and Paris together, so that was really fun. She got offered pretty much every campaign and every magazine cover, but she’s waiting a bit before she does anything. I got offered a few things myself."
How do you decide what to say yes to?
"Well, you know what you don’t want to do. There was a jeans company that offered me a hell of a lot of money, but it wouldn’t have been a good look. So, you know, you don’t do it for the money. You do it because you love the brand. I would really like to do another Versace campaign."

Do you consider yourself primarily an actor at this point?
"I’m an actress and a singer, and a clothing designer, and an artist. And I write poetry. And I’m also a celebrity, which is really weird."

That’s a job in and of itself, right?
"Not really. It’s just like, you can’t look like shit too much."

Yeah, you have to get dressed up and go to galas! I loved the dress you wore to that LACMA event recently.
"It was a little matronly, but I was wearing it with real rubies so I felt better, because they were like a jillion dollar rubies. It was age-appropriate, whatever the fuck that means."

What does that mean?
"It doesn’t mean much."

Refinery29 reached out to Courtney Love for reaction to the election, but she was unavailable for comment. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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