Friday, December 3, 2010

Jealousy Kills Girl Love: Courtney Love, Kat Bjelland, and the War of the Schmatte

"All my friends would say, 'Kat's vampyric, watch it.' and I'd say, 'No way, I love her!' "
-Courtney Love

"All my friends would say, 'Courtney's copying,' and I'd say, 'No way, not Courtney, she's my best friend!' " -Kat Bjelland

Looking at the picture above of Courtney Love and Kat Bjelland there is an unmistakable resemblance to be seen...the platinum blond hair, the pale skin, the brilliant flash of red lipstick, and the textures of two thrifted dresses, but more than the physicality its a lovely photo of two best friends that appear to be genuinely happy.
I decided to break out one of my favorite kinderwhore dresses for old time's sake along with a very antique tiara (whose previous owner received it as Homecoming Queen in 1935!), and some good old-fashioned "writing on the arms" as the ultimate photographic accessory! Historically, I didn't go for the "slut", "whore", or "rape" that other Riot Grrrls wrote on themselves...just made me a linguistics lover the homonym always appealed to me! Also, I never really bought into the reclamation of those words as being positive...sort of reminds me of a certain word that the Caucasians are never supposed to say, and to quote Carl Pope Jr. "The Use of the "A" instead of the "ER" changes everything!". Holy guacamole! Doesn't it though! Getting back to the Kinderwhore War I always loved how Courtney admitted that she ripped off the look from Christina Amphlett (above) while remaining positively possessive about being the owner of the style during the early 90's. In the infamous Vanity Fair article the got Frances Bean temporarily snatched away from the Cobains, Courtney was quoted as saying:

"Kat has stolen a lot from me...dresses, lyrics, riffs, guitars, shoes. She even went after Kurt. That was the last straw. Because I put up with the lyrics stealing. And I put up with her going to England first in the dress that I loaned her. Now I can't wear those fucking dresses in England anymore!"

We all see how completely bananas that statement is, right? Courtney admits that she loaned the dress to Kat, and then didn't think bitch was gonna wear it? Like its a pajama dress or something?! I mean, I totally related as a teenager when you live and die for your identity and where friendships are so intense that it's extraordinarily easy to enter into the "frenemy" zone. I myself, had a bestie at one time that was equally as obsessed with Courtney and Co. as I was and we both began to collect clippings and vintage dresses during PI (that's pre-internet). That's ebay. No hipster website run by girls wearing "Rapist Glasses" and the entire American Apparel wholesale catalog.

Once we ended up finding a long sleeve blue velvet dress from the 60s with a lace bib, lace ruffle at the sleeves, and tiny blue buttons down the chest. In other words, the perfect kinderwhore dress...and true to the
Judgment of Solomon neither one of us had enough money to buy the dress...unless we put out money together! The shared dress ultimately became the symbol of the dissolution to our friendship, and the longer it went back and forth between us the more we both realized that there could only be one Babydoll look-a-like in our high school!

Kathi Wilcox of Bikini Kill (L) and Christina Billotte of Slant 6(R)
So...there was time, during the early nineties, that grievances seemed to be best aired and dealt with on the answering machine, and then without fail end up sampled on records as the eternal reminder of whatever temper tantrum the person had at the moment. Answering machine rants had to have something to do with the rising popularity of spoken word, which occurred around the same time in the scene, because that's the only logical reason why someone would leave seemingly permanent evidence of themselves being bat-shit crazy.
One of my favorite messages was left on Kim Shattuck's machine, and can be heard here, in which Courtney Love addresses the "kinderwhore" debate. The Muffs later went on to name one of their albums, "Blonder & Blonder" in reference to Courtney's alleged dis on Kim and the insinuation that once again someone was stealing Court's mad steez. Kathi Wilcox (above left) invoked the kinderwhore style during the early days of Bikini Kill, but seemed to shift away from the vintage babydoll look as soon as the rivalry between CLove and the Riot Grrrl scene emerged. It may have something to do with this sassy quote:
"I saw this little riot grrrl in Spin who was holding a little magazine called Princess. She's 15, but everything in her little riot grrrl world - like Hello Kitty products - is telling her to act like she's seven. That's not feminism, it's cultural anorexia." -Courtney Love
I'd actually like to see this picture Courtney is referring to because I had a zine called "Princess", and I definitely looked like a Sanrio addict that got crazy with the black marker. Anyway...there was a palpable schism within the riot grrrl community over whether or not you could or should support Courtney Love/Hole since there was obvious beef between her and Bikini Kill and okay, well EVERYBODY. Could it have been as simple as the fact that Tobi Vail (BK's drummer) was the ex-girlfriend of Kurt Cobain? Or was it because as much as Courtney critiqued a patriarchal society it was always terribly apparent that it was one that she wanted desperately to fit into. We all know the reasons why people bully others, but in Courtney's case it was still hard not to cheer on the underdog.

Love and Bjelland on the steps of the Babes in Toyland Lollapalooza Tour Bus
What started as passive-aggressive gossip in an insular independent music scene between mutual friends soon became accusations in print from Vanity Fair to Neal Karlen's book written while following Babes after being signed to Warner Bros. Karlen's book has an understood slant toward Bjelland's version of who started the babydoll trend and characterized the rivalry as the "War of the Schmatte", after the filming of the music video for "Bruise Violet" which featured artist Cindy Sherman as Kat's evil Doppelgänger (a not so subtle allusion to Courtney Love) whom she strangles in the end. The completion of the music video, which was assumed to endow Kat as the originator of the Kinderwhore look in the collective consciousness of MTV viewers, was only shown a few times on the late-night alternative rock show 120 Minutes, and received a 20 second critique on Beavis and Butthead.
Courtney's version of the rivalry was much more intrinsic to the ambition and success that she felt Kat was having through the use of this schtick, and not necessarily having another female have similar stylistic leanings. There was a direct relationship to the time in which it suddenly became unacceptable for two Carroll Baker twins to exist, and it was coincidentally when Babes in Toyland released Spanking Machine and began to tour Europe with indie wunderkinds, Sonic Youth. In Poppy Z. Brite's book, "Courtney Love: The Real Story" Courtney references the Karlen book by stating:

"I felt molested and stolen from constantly and it wasn't until a female friend not only wrote about me, but also took some of my own persona from me. Kat took this and created her own world with it. It really moved me to get off my ass and do it myself. I thank her."

Through this account it is clear that the origin of Courtney's accusations stem from another female gaining popularity and credibility in a scene while also being a more naturally patriarchal standard of beauty than Courtney was during this time. When Courtney eventually married the Deity of Alternative Rock, its no wonder that people assumed it was the ultimate career move, and after the marriage the War of the Schmatte suddenly became obsolete, in that, interest in Love catapulted her into a truly public eye as the new Mrs. Cobain.
In the end, the one person who immediately flew to Seattle to be by Courtney's side after Kurt Cobain's suicide was her rival/best friend Kat, and in Courtney's time of grief it appeared that there was no other person that she would have rather shared a black dress with at that moment than her friend.


  1. Strange but interesting

  2. As usual I love reading ur stuff. I really find it difficult to be looking ahead and towards my own goals instead of looking sideways at other people and becoming too competitive. It's especially difficult in creative industries like fashion. It's hard to maintain your own style and inspiration especially when there are other people who have a similar style to you. So easy to blame someone else for copying you etc instead of continuing to push yourself and follow ur own inspiration. I often wonder if different artists in the same movement (eg impressionists etc) ever got angsty with each other "copying" them or whether they rejoiced that there were others who helped them pave the way forward in a time where alot of people were ignorant to their new style.
    I really appreciate your insight into things like this as it's much easier to learn from history than to always be learning trial and error yourself (and much less tiring). :)

  3. back again coz i found this image that i thought was pertinent xxx

  4. You have a really great way of putting thoughts into words. I try my best to do so, but it never comes out just right :/.

    I smirked at the "prophet" and "profit" bit. I'm really close with some people who are entirely caught up in modern day "prophets" who supposedly can lay their hands on someone and see that person's entire future. Of course, it's all about studying the mind and learning how to practice authority ... and knowing that people are very willing to travel long distances and pay big bucks for it. ;)

  5. Emma- That image is great! (I should make it into a sticker for certain people I know!)
    I think regardless of the industry many of the feelings of resentment that we experience is when another person does/has/looks similar and gets more attention/success than we do. Especially as women we view certain physical aspects as our best "displays", so to speak, and that's when it gets a little depressing because does it really all just go back to apes?! HA!
    Galliano has always been a huge influence on me, fashion-wise, because no one knows what he'll appropriate for his collections or his personal influence.
    I empathize though, now YOU yourself are a brand as well as your product (which used to speak for itself)...just look at Erin Fetherston!
    Thanks for reading Emma!

  6. Flow- Thank you so very much for reading all my blahblahs! I swear to God, I started this as something light-hearted and not as a collection of essays! I do that enough in school! I'm working on it!
    People love knowing how things are going to end..I think psychics/prophets should just be like..."Listen, we're ALL going to get cancer..for real."

    P- I know, they're both so mentally ill!!!

  7. hahahaha dude! antique blow torches now THAT is a photo I would like to see!!! take me to ur dad's house!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I agree about Galliano and also think Comme des Garcons and hussein chalayan are similar. you can just tell they are looking ahead not sideways.
    xxx winnsome

  8. I love this post!! I stumbled upon your blog while googling Kat..because I wanted to know what shes up to these days. I related SO MUCH to what you wrote about the rivalry between you and your best friend back in what I assume was 93 or 94? I went through the same thing but instead of competing with one friend I had two. We were AWFUL to each other!!! The fights over vintage dresses,bangs,who put what bow or ribbon where,Babes in Toyland and Hole rare 45s,who bleached their hair first! It was endless!

    Thanks for your totally spot-on post!!

    Here's a post I wrote on my blog for Kat's birthday that you might enjoy.

  9. Love this post!

    I included you in my own Kinderwhore post :)
    check out my blog

    1. Dani,
      Thank you so much! The kinderwhore style is very near and dear to my heart and I appreciate your post so much! Really dig yr blog!

    2. Thankyou so much! I got so happy when I read this post!! :):) x

      Rock on :D

  10. Love your post. Where did you find this photo? Great photo. I like what you said about Kat being, "the pretty one" and getting more attention for the look than CL. CL not being the traditional beauty therefore not getting the attention her bff gets. CL was so beautiful back then, even in 84 while striping before fame. Pre plastic surgery CL was prettier than Kat ever was. Too bad no one ever told her that. I think she has been riddeled by selfesteem issues since puberty.
    I related to her so much in my puberty days before growing into my features, just like her. Back then I was unable to get the dresses I wanted and I tried to dye my hair blonde, turned out orange. Dident know about bleach. I lived in a small mid west town, where not falling into line meant you were alone. I was alone, all I had was hole, babes in toyland, bikini kill, and of course nirvana.

    Now days I still think CL was the prettiest on the inside and out. So at 29 years old I stole the Kinder Whore look. I have the dresses now, but I dress comfortably instead.
    God this is a stupid comment, using too many words to get to my point. Kat and CL started the look together. It will always be"theirs"!

  11. I always found it hilarious that Courtney complained about Kat stealing the style(which I doubt) yet she never said anything about the music-style... I refer to a comment Courtney made to Kat in the 80's "you'll never get anywhere playing that punk-rock noise!"... Mmm hmm

  12. I recently bought a dress that's identical to the one you've got there, except it's missing the buttons. Could you tell me what material they are- velvet, satin, other? I want it to be authentic

    1. Steff,
      They are just plastic buttons that are rounded on top and are about half the size of a dime. Hope that helps!

  13. Oh and what diameter are they?