For the most recent issue of the Wall Street Journal Magazine, I profiled cover star Natalia Vodianova. I first met Nata, as she’s often referred to, when I was still a college student, living in the dorms at New York University. (She had slightly nicer digs: She lived in a Tribeca manse with a water feature I once fell into at a masked ball she organized at the house.) So us meeting together again at the Paris apartment she shares with her boyfriend Antoine and her three kids was a full circle moment for me. Her address may have changed, but that’s about it: She is still as sweet, smart, driven and, yes, as beautiful as I always remembered.
DURING FASHION WEEK this past March in Paris, Natalia Vodianova maintained a schedule that would test anyone’s stamina: She was the guest of honor at a surprise party for her 31st birthday, hosted by her boyfriend, Antoine Arnault, son of LVMH founder Bernard Arnault. The next night she hosted a party to launch online retailer Net-a-Porter’s sale of a shoe collection she designed for Russian retailer Centro to benefit her Naked Heart Foundation, a charity she founded a decade ago to help disadvantaged children in her native Russia. That Sunday she woke up at 6 a.m. to run the Paris half-marathon, also in support of the Naked Heart Foundation; did a Givenchy fitting; came home to feed lunch to her three children; and then headed off to get into hair and makeup to close the Givenchy fashion show at 7 p.m. Among the front-row onlookers were Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Jessica Chastain, Arnault, Vodianova’s 11-year-old son, Lucas, and her Russian grandmother, who clapped wildly as she watched her granddaughter sashay down the runway for the first time.
That Vodianova is still landing prime modeling jobs now that she is on the far side of 30 is surprising. That she simultaneously established herself as a philanthropic force even more so. Historically, supermodels have waited until their bookings diminish to turn their efforts to charity and other second careers. Vodianova still has lucrative contracts with Guerlain and French lingerie brand Etam, for which she also designs her own collection. It’s a wave she could ride until she washes up on fashion’s more obscure shores, but instead, Vodianova has always sought to establish herself as someone with interests and ambitions above and beyond the runway—or as her friend designer Stella McCartney puts it, she’s been “well-rounded” from the start.
This spring, her efforts were acknowledged with the Inspiration Award at the annual DVF Awards—an honor that designer Diane von Furstenberg has previously presented to Íngrid Betancourt and Elizabeth Smart, both women who have “demonstrated extraordinary strength and courage in the face of adversity” and use this “experience and influence to effect positive change.” Von Furstenberg met Vodianova when she was 19 years old, during her first season modeling in New York in 2001, when the designer snapped her up to open and close her catwalk presentation. “I immediately loved her. She was never like a young child, always a grown-up,” says von Furstenberg. “Very early on she took her life in her hands and decided that unless she controlled it, she couldn’t succeed.”
Vodianova’s rags-to-riches life story reads like something only a screenwriter could imagine: One day she was selling oranges at a fruit stand; then she was signing an exclusive multimillion-dollar contract with Calvin Klein. Born in Nizhny Novgorod, an industrial town 260 miles from Moscow, she started skipping school at the age of 11 to help support her single mother, Larissa, and autistic younger half-sister, Oksana. (Vodianova’s father walked out when she was a toddler, leaving her mother to work three jobs, including selling fruit at a local market. At first, Vodianova helped her before taking over the duties completely.) “I used to sell fruit on the street in minus-25-degree Celsius weather, outside in the open air, for 12 hours straight. I would come home and scream in pain as my fingers and my toes were literally defrosting,” says Vodianova, now amid much plusher surroundings in a Paris apartment overlooking the Invalides she shares with Arnault. Resting up the day before the marathon, she’s curled on a couch wearing a cap-sleeved sweater and black-and-white-striped trousers. Flipping open her agenda, she shows me a photograph from her childhood. “I always had big black circles under my eyes, which were swollen. You can literally see that burden in my face.”
Vodianova was determined to make a better life for herself, and in 1999, when she was 17, a boyfriend suggested she attend an open casting call. The model scout immediately recommended her to an agency in Moscow. At first, her mother was reluctant to let her go because she was suspicious of the scout’s intentions and depended on her help at home. According to Vodianova, “We didn’t have the time to dream. I remember having English lessons in school and thinking, Why on Earth would I learn another language?” Yet Vodianova’s grandmother was encouraging, and the family decided she could give it a try.
From Moscow, Vodianova was immediately sent to Paris. Her agency gave her a weekly advance, which she sent to her mother, who by then had a third child, daughter Kristina. “It was quite a lot of money for my family, like a month’s salary,” says Vodianova. It helped her mother come to terms with her daughter’s decision to leave. “She started to realize that this could be good.” Meanwhile, it was the first taste of freedom from an angst-ridden existence for the young Vodianova. “It was such a beautiful time, just having that chance to be a different person. For once, I was a normal girl and completely anonymous in a new place and had an opportunity to start a new life.” That new life began in earnest when she met the Honorable Justin Portman, a dashing English property heir, at a Parisian dinner party. They married in 2001, when she was 19 years old and pregnant with their first son, Lucas.
Her career took off immediately. Among a crop of leggy Russians, Vodianova stood out for her chameleonlike acting abilities, intense work ethic and sense of humor—not to mention her wide-set, expressive eyes, thick brows and pouty lips. Photographer Juergen Teller shot her for a 2001 Marc Jacobs campaign. The following year, Tom Ford cast her in a Gucci campaign. She became a favorite of Vogue, starring in the title role of a now-famous Alice in Wonderland–themed editorial shot by Annie Leibovitz and styled by Grace Coddington in the magazine’s December 2003 issue. And then, at the age of 21, she signed an eight-season, seven-figure contract with Calvin Klein that changed her life.
“When I met her for the first time, she took my breath away. She is beyond superficial beauty. This is a beauty that is from the inside and comes out,” Klein says. Vodianova was the last girl Klein personally put under an exclusive contract before he retired, catapulting her into the ranks of a Kate Moss, Christy Turlington and Brooke Shields. “She was very sexual, seductive, she was all those things that I wanted to represent. I used her for everything I could… Too often, models are flat. They have good bodies, but you can see in their faces that there’s not a lot there. But Natalia has such a great spirit.”
A year after her first Calvin Klein ads appeared in 2003, when larger-than-life images of her posing seductively loomed over New York’s SoHo, Vodianova decided she needed to pay back some of the good fortune she was enjoying by forming her own charity. The impetus was the school hostage crisis in the Russian city of Beslan in 2004, which ended with more than 380 dead, many of them children. Vodianova was in Moscow at the time of the crisis and witnessed firsthand how her countrymen were shaken by the tragedy. “It was everywhere. The whole country stopped,” Vodianova remembers. Lucas, her eldest child, was 3 years old at the time—the same age as some of the children who were killed. “I was wrestling with how I went from the bottom of society to the top of financial security. That feeling of unfairness upset me.”
As she struggled to determine what she could do to help, she sought the answer in her own past. “I went back to my childhood and saw myself as a little girl who was very much in a difficult situation, growing up with my disabled sister. My childhood was very abnormal. I missed out on simple things.” Oksana was born with autism and cerebral palsy. “I was attached to her and [therefore] almost disabled myself because I couldn’t play with my own friends.” Vodianova’s eyes tear up as she tries to explain, “I felt ashamed sometimes. We spent all our time walking outside because she loved it, but we were always exposed to people being horrible to us. I remember thinking that what I lacked the most as a child was a place to go where I felt like I belonged.” Vodianova had found her mission: to build playgrounds in underprivileged parts of Russia in order to provide other children with the carefree joy she had missed.
To date, she has built 90 playgrounds in Russia through Naked Heart, and she has expanded her horizons, helping to build three in the U.K. She has hosted fund-raising Love Balls in Moscow, London and outside of Paris, which have raised millions of dollars and attracted the likes of Anne Hathaway, Kate Moss, Mario Testino and Daphne Guinness. This year’s ball, the fourth such extravaganza, will be held on July 27, at the Monaco opera house. Hosted by Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene of Monaco, along with Princess Caroline of Hanover, the event will be Vodianova’s biggest ever: a 550-person sit-down dinner with a 1960s Riviera theme.
But while her foundation has grown exponentially, Vodianova faced a personal hurdle of her own: a separation and divorce from Portman. They were together for nine years and, after Lucas, had a second son, Viktor, 7, and a daughter, Neva, 5. The couple separated in 2011, and she soon met Arnault, now the CEO of Berluti, at a fund-raiser for her charity at the designer Valentino’s estate outside Paris, and began a new chapter. They now live together with Vodianova’s three children, and she has immersed herself in Parisian life, even taking French lessons. “I am very happy now,” she says of her love life, trying but failing to hide a smile.
It’s easy to refer to her life as a modern-day fairy tale, but for Vodianova, it’s a bittersweet comparison. “On the one hand, I don’t like it because my story was not defined by who I am dating, by some prince charming,” she asserts. “I married for love. I work hard on being a good mother, and a good partner and in my profession. Those successes cannot be attributed to chance.” But there is one fairy tale that she’s happy to be associated with: Alice in Wonderland. “She took what was given to her and went with it. Go down the rabbit hole and see what life gives you. I can definitely relate to that!” she says. “Besides, I never wanted to be Cinderella. I’d rather be Alice, and I’m happy I found my wonderland.”
Photograph by Alasdair McLellan; Styling by Anastasia Barbieri. Below, images from my archives:
Hard to believe it’s already time for another best dressed list. But, hey, time flies when you’re judging what everyone is wearing! In the June issue of Harper’s Bazaar, I start by having two very nostalgic moments. The first is when I follow Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent show into my childhood fascination of grunge (which was followed by Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy and Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton), and then I have a flashback to the 1997 Golden Globe Awards when Kim Basinger wore a cropped full skirt to accept her award for LA Confidential, which is a silhouette we’ve seen more recently on the likes of Adele, Alexa Chung and Leelee Sobieski. And finally, I present to you my newest fashion crush: The Kosovo-born, London-based sensational Pop star in the making, Rita Ora.
PS. I’m working on next month’s column now, so leave any favorite fashionable moments in the COMMENTS! And to read my weekly Mr. Blasberg’s Best Dressed list, go to www.harpersbazaar.com/bestdressed
You may not know his name, but you’ve probably seen the work of the illustrator Risko. If you’ve ever read an issue of Vanity Fair, for example, you’re familiar with his work because it’s on the last page of the magazine. He does the celebrity portraits which accompany the Proust Questionnaire. So when V magazine sought out the most important illustrators for its May issue, Risko was an obvious inspiration. I met Risko in New York, and we dished on how he got started (Warhol, of course) and what makes an easily illustrated face. Read my interview and see four of his works inspired by four of the most important faces of fashion — Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace, Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld Lagerfeld — below. But first, Risko’s portrait of me, which hangs proudly in the loo of my New York City apartment. (I wanted to hang it somewhere I was sure everyone would see it.)
Many artists have idolized Andy Warhol, but few have had the guts to walk up to him at a signing and ask for a job. Such was the all-or-nothing approach of illustrator and artist Robert Risko, then 22, now known only by his last name. “I was pretty ballsy back then,” says the world’s most celebrated caricaturist, 56, who like the King of Pop Art grew up in Western Pennsylvania. “Of course Warhol was the hero of Pittsburgh. He was my role model. I mean, my God! When I saw his Marilyn Monroe, I thought…I get it.”
Risko’s talent for composition emerged when he was five years old in profiles he drew of his sister and again a few years later in sketches of his teacher, Sister Monica, at his Catholic middle school. At Kent College in Ohio, he thought he’d be a fine art painter and was influenced by Van Gogh and the Cubists. Yet friends always asked for his caricatures, and he found himself earning pocket money by drawing funny faces for passersby on the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore and Provincetown, Rhode Island. “But I wasn’t happy drawing caricatures for people on the street for $5 when I knew I had talent as a painter. So when I moved to New York, in 1976, I said, I’m going to fuse these things together. I’m going to take my love for Cubism and combine it with the ability to do likenesses and raise the level of taste of the average man.” The result was a style influenced by Picasso, the Bauhaus movement, and 1930s Vanity Fair caricaturists Miguel Covarrubias and Paolo Garretto.
Which brings us to Warhol. “I met him while I was out for the day on Fire Island and he was signing copies of Interview with Halston,” Risko says. He waited in line with his copy, and when it was his turn to get Warhol’s signature, he showed him his portrait of Diana Ross. “And he said, ‘It looks exactly like her. That’s great.’ And I said, ‘Well, I think I should work for your magazine.’ That was that.” It was 1978 and he started doing caricatures for Interview, including an infamous cover of Dolly Parton. In the early 1980s, Risko was working part-time as a retoucher at Vanity Fair when the magazine poached him from Warhol’s Interview, much like they poached Annie Leibovitz from Rolling Stone. In the past four decades at VF, he has drawn politicians, actors, artists, divas, and anyone else of note; since 2002 his work has appeared on the back page of the magazine, with its Proust Questionnaire. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Esquire. Next up is a series of specially commissioned pieces for the Macy’s flagship in New York, which is currently undergoing a $40 million refurbishment. His portraits of Macy’s pioneers, like Madonna and her daughter, Lourdes, Florence Henderson, Al Roker, and Martha Stewart, will be hung in the top tier eatery, Stella 34 Trattoria.
What makes someone easy to draw? Clearly defined and contrasting facial features. Risko says he looks at the architecture of the face, which goes beyond decoration and makeup. “I think that’s what makes my work stand out, it’s anatomically focused,” he says, adding that sometimes subjects don’t recognize themselves at first. “Without all of the superficial icing, some people don’t know who they are.” Certain blondes, like Goldie Hawn and Jennifer Aniston, can be tough, because their public images rely so much on makeup (can you imagine Goldie without her false lashes?) or they have very soft features. But, he says, someone like Bill Cosby or Meryl Streep is fun to do.
One perk of being drawn by Risko is that his medium naturally flatters. “I’m the best skin doctor a person could ever have,” he laughs, likening his work to Egyptian hieroglyphs. “I’m convinced that Queen Nefertiti was a squat, four-foot-tall, short-necked woman who told whoever was drawing her picture, ‘Give me a longer neck. Longer!’ Sometimes I think I’m in the same business.”
In the second installment of my Mr Blasberg’s Questionnaire column, which is an exclusive feature to the Valentino Garavani Museum, I meet one of modern fashion’s most outspoken icons: Italian Vogue’s editor in chief Franca Sozzani. Her presence is familiar at fashion shows, her calm demeanor and long blonde hair folded into the front row wearing whatever Alaia garment her friend had made for her. But beneath the calm of the sea is a torrent of ideas, opinions and convictions. Here, she gave us a peek into some of them.
Who do you think is the most stylish woman in the world? Tilda Swinton.
And the most stylish man? Sean Penn.
Do you have a biggest fashion regret? To have been at too many fashion shows.
Was or is there a trend that you’ve never understood or never followed? Sorry, but I usually anticipate them.
How long does it take for you to get dressed? Hours.
When a friend is dressed terribly and asks how they look, do you tell the truth? I say, “You look awful!”
Is there a fashion era that you wish would comeback? Renaissance.
Do you have a favorite Mr. Valentino moment? His life.
Have you taken a tour of the Valentino Virtual Museum? What did you think? I presented it in NY when it opened and I love it.
What is your favorite ensemble in the museum? (And why?) The animal prints. Valentino did it 30 years before any other designer.
To tan or not to tan: That is the question? I love white.
Heels or flats? Flats.
What is your favorite color? Dark Blue.
Do you have a favorite fashion memory, perhaps a fashion show or a shoot? Steven Meisel’s “Make Over Madness” story in Italian Vogue. It was about plastic surgery.
What is the greatest piece of fashion advice that you’ve ever received, and from whom did you receive it? ”A white shirt is forever” is what my father would say.
In the debate over whether fashion can be art, where do you stand? Fashion is fashion.
If you were not doing what you are doing professionally now, what do you think you would be doing? I never thought about doing anything else.
What do you love to do? Read.
What do you hate to do? Meetings.
What would you say is your most marked characteristic? Curious.
What would those who know you well say is your most marked characteristic? “Open.”
Where are you most inspired? Everywhere.
If you could go back in time and speak to your teenage self, what would you tell him or her? Never get married.
How much importance do you place on the personal style of a significant other? I care only about my personal opinion.
It has been said that when we die we can’t take anything with us; but if you could take just one thing, what would it be? My dog’s ashes.
Photo: Franca with Giancarlo Giammetti and Valentino on Valentine’s Day of this year
For their spring campaign, H&M were inspired by the supermodels of yesteryears when they cast four fabulous new fashion faces as this generation’s icons. The dreamboat photographer Alasdair McLellan shot them and I interviewed them for these four short videos. So, without further ado, meet Joan Smalls, Liu Wen, Daphne Groeneveld and Lindsey Wixson!
A little backstory: When Mr Valentino or his business partner Giancarlo Giammetti ask you to do something, you do it. Whether it’s an invitation for an intimate Valentine’s dinner in New York or a snowy gala at Mr Valentino’s villa outside Paris, you go. So when I was asked to work on a new special feature for the fashion icon’s online museum, I happily did what I was told. Our first candidate for the Mr Blasberg Questionnaire, which is an exclusive to the museum’s website, is Hugh Jackman, the burly and beautiful leading man. What did we find out in the Aussie’s answers? He’s a devoted father and husband, he doesn’t look good in capri pants and he wants to die naked. See more of his responses below, and be sure to check out Valentino’s online museum.
Who do you think is the most stylish woman in the world? My wife, Deborra-Lee Furness.
And the most stylish man? Tom Ford.
If there’s one person’s closet you would like to raid, who’s would it be and what would you take? Tom Ford. His dark suit and white shirt: classic and simple, but when he is in it, it leaps out.
Do you have a biggest fashion regret? The ¾ pants some shop owner convinced me to wear to my first film premiere. It looked good on the model, but I couldn’t pull off the Turkish designers look. I got a few laughs, though!
Is there anything that you’ve always wanted to wear, but have had never had the courage or opportunity? Nope.
When a friend is dressed terribly and asks how they look, do you tell the truth? Hmmm. There are maybe 4 people on the planet I would be completely honest with.
Is there a fashion era that you wish would comeback? The 50’s. I did a production of Sunset Boulevard and loved all the fashion for that.
Do you have a favorite Mr. Valentino moment? Meeting him the first time. He was so open, passionate and direct. I love unbridled creativity and he oozes it.
Have you taken a tour of the Valentino Garavani Virtual Museum? What did you think? I have. It is stylish, surprising and definitive.
What is your favorite ensemble in the museum? I love the sea of Valentino Red dresses. That is something you can’t see anywhere else.
To tan or not to tan: That is the question? As an Aussie, I am now against it for my kids. But to be honest I still indulge. The feeling of lying on a beach and the sun drying the seawater is one of my favorite things.
What is your favorite color? The color of the ocean. I am a complete water baby.
What is your favorite scent? The smell of baked bread.
Newspapers, magazines or blogs? All three.
What is the greatest piece of fashion advice that you’ve ever received, and from whom did you receive it? From the author Herbert Ypma: If you haven’t worn it for an entire season, get rid of it.
Who would you like to play you in a film about your life? Ha! I can’t believe I am talking myself out of a job! But probably Ryan Reynolds. I would be a hell of a lot funnier in the film than in real life. But no offense to Ryan: I wouldn’t be seeing it.
If you were not doing what you are doing professionally now, what do you think you would be doing? I would host a TV show.
What do you love to do? Eat. Eat. Eat.
What do you hate to do? Photo shoots.
If you could change one thing about your appearance, what would it be? My head. It looks too small on my shoulders.
Where and when are you happiest? Always with my family. I come from a large family so wherever they are. But if it can be in Byron Bay in Australia or on the ski slopes – that takes it to another level.
What would you say is your most marked characteristic? Versatility.
What would those who know you well say is your most marked characteristic? I’m bad at saying no.
What would you say is your largest character flaw? The above.
What has been your greatest accomplishment to date? My family. My marriage and my kids.
Where are you most inspired? I am a meditator and have been for 20 years. After meditation is when ideas flow for me. Or when I travel.
If you could go back in time and speak to your teenage self, what would you tell him or her? Your legs won’t always be skinny, don’t worry about it.
Do you believe in love at first sight, and if so, have you experienced it? Yes, I have, but not since I was a teenager. Maybe as adults we lose that ability to give ourselves completely on first meeting.
It has been said that when we die we can’t take anything with us; but if you could take just one thing, what would it be? My family.
And more importantly, when you die, what would you like to be wearing? I’d like to die peacefully while skinny dipping or in my sleep. Since I wear clothes to neither places, I may be meeting St. Peter in my birthday suit.
Well, we’re in the homestretch of James Franco’s A Beautiful Odyssey, his short film collaboration with 7 For All Mankind Jeans. In this last phase, we get to decide if the beautiful bride, played by Elise Crombez, goes with her happy hubby-to-be or falls for a former flame. (Get in on the action, and vote here!)
When I spoke with James about this project, he surprised me with something: His appreciation for the fashion community. I always assumed it was an unwritten code for serious actors, even if they have appeared on soap operas as part of a weird art project, to act blasé when it came to the fashion industry. Even the ones that makes millions of dollars hocking fashions or perfumes often act like it’s a nuisance to have their picture taken and sit at fashion shows. But not James. “I love working with fashion people,” he smiles. “And they get really excited about these shoots too. It’s not like a normal fashion shoot where you just stand in one place and pose or hold a purse or something. They just get a chance to perform, and I like to have that dialogue and collaboration with them.” Although, let’s be honest: Who wouldn’t like a little acting advice from Mr. Franco? “The feedback I get back from models is that they love it, and that they’ve been dying to do something like this for awhile. And in most cases, they have fun embodying a character, which means I love working with them too.”
So, how did Elise do playing the part of the bride? Franco said he loved working with her, and loved shooting both endings for the film. “With what I shot there’s material for her to go with either. We shot the bride and groom being happy and being sad,” he laughs. But, what would James himself want? “I don’t think any outcome is that sinister, if you end up with someone you love.” But then he cracks a devlish grin and adds: “Now if they included my marriage of hell, it would be a little spicier.”
Get involved in the odyssey on the 7 For All Mankind’s Facebook page.
I have never felt as popular as I did walking out of the Burberry show this season. Seated across the runway from me was Douglas Booth, the former face of Burberry and a devastatingly handsome chap I had met a few times through mutual friends, who I had interviewed for the cover of the current issue of VMAN. After the show he came over to say hi and gave me a little bro-hug, which piqued the interest of every single one of my female friends. Not that I blame them: The guy is handsome, suave and a total gentleman.
In the post-fashion show milieu, we got seperated — he being the future movie star that he is was asked for photographers, me being a lowly fashion editor was asked to get out of the way — but we bumped back into each other outside. And as soon as he said goodbye, everyone started asking when they could see more of him. The good news is very soon. He will next be in the cinemas as Shakespeare’s lovestruck lead in Romeo & Juliet, opposite Hailee Steinfeld, and he just wrapped production on Darren Aronofsky’s anticipated biblical epic Noah with a cast that includes Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson. In addition to myself and the various other women (and men) at the fashion show, Booth cast a spell on photographer Bruce Weber recently, who shot him for the cover of VMAN. Check out some of Bruce’s pictures and my full article with Booth from VMAN below.
The lack of new leading men in Hollywood is no secret to anyone. Whether or not this is the result of a studio system that’s stingy with second chances or a cultural phenomenon of guys just not striving to steal the silver screen anymore, one thing is inarguably clear: Hollywood is densely populated with handsome men who don’t say much. A spin around any upscale hotel lobby, Equinox, or trendy organic juice enema bar can tell you so. But what separates actual actors from the pretty boys isn’t a desire to rebel against their attractiveness or to lean upon it too heavily, but rather to make it a nonissue. Think about the greatest performers of recent generations: Johnny Depp’s early breakout role was portraying a deathly pale, scissor-fingered living doll who horrified suburbia. Leonardo DiCaprio has Oscar nominations for playing a mentally ill kid in a messed up family (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) and a quirky millionaire who bottles his own urine (The Aviator), not for being the golden-haired heartthrob on a big boat that sank in 1912. Good looks are obviously gold, but in this business if they’re your sole skill you might as well see if that juice bar is hiring.
So it’s a relief that Douglas Booth, whose career began as a ridiculously good-looking male model, looks haggard when we meet for a drink at a hotel in downtown New York. He looks biblically haggard, in fact. Booth is wrapping up Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s epic retelling of the good book’s animal-coupling ark tale. Booth is sporting a scruffy, weathered face and gross, ratted hair extensions that are pulled back with a dime-store elastic headband. He’s just taken off a baseball cap that earlier today fell off his head and was run over by a truck. But what’s really impressive is that his seat is facing a mirror and he only falls into a narcissistic stare twice.
“It very quickly isn’t flattering to be known only for the way you look,” Booth says. “It’s just uninteresting if that’s all people want to talk about. I don’t necessarily want to hear about my talent or my greatness as an actor. You can say I’m shit, if you think so. But make it about something I do.” Ironically, he finds comfort in the unglamorous confines of a character. “The grittier, the dirtier, the worse I can look, the happier I am. It takes the pressure off.”
It’s Booth’s nonchalant handsomeness that first brought him to the attention of the fashion world. “He understands fashion and always looks effortless and impeccable, whether he’s in sharp tailoring, evening tux, or jeans and a T-shirt,” says Burberry’s Christopher Bailey, who cast Booth when the to-be was 16 for a series of international campaigns, “he’s a dude!”
The actress Emma Watson, who starred in Booth’s initial Burberry campaign and was reunited with him on the set of Noah, where he plays her husband, goes further to explain that he’s a dude with gravitas. “There’s something old-mannish about Doug, which he had even then. He knows who he is. He doesn’t get intimidated, doesn’t hold back, and is generally fearless,” she says. Yet she will readily admit that even when they met five years ago, her first reaction was that he was pure eye candy. “We met when he was 15 and I remember looking at him and thinking he was offensively attractive. And it’s just gotten worse since then.”
Booth grew up in London, but a childhood diagnosis of dyslexia made it clear from an early age he’d be better suited to the arts. He started playing the trumpet–“I figured if I couldn’t be an academic I’d be a famous musician”–but gave that up when his friends started picking up guitars and forming rock bands. “Coincidentally, I was cast in a play at the same time, and it all went from there.” He scored his first major role at 16 in From Time to Time, a BBC biography of Christopher Isherwood written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.
What brought him to the attention of the casting director was his next role, as Boy George in the 2010 British TV seriesWorried About The Boy. “That was my first lead experience, and it was sink or swim. Fuck it up and my career would be over before it even started. I knew I had to take it seriously and commit 100 percent.” Committing to the part of Boy George was colorful and bonding stuff: the role called for five hours of makeup a day, and costumes varied from vinyl bodysuits to silk kimonos to dominatrix nuns. “Even to this day, when someone says something derogatory about Boy George, it still upsets and offends me. Part of me will always be quite attached to him.”
In 2011, he scored a part opposite Ray Winston and Gillian Anderson in the BBC’s Great Expectations miniseries, which was followed by 2012’s campy American tween film LOL, opposite Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore. Booth originally had to be forced into even meeting with that film’s director by his agents but he was ultimately glad he did because it felt like he’d crammed the last two years of high school, which he’d missed, into those three months of filming.
His next role was as literature’s most famous lovelorn teenager: Romeo, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which hits theaters later this year, opposite Hailee Steinfeld. Booth describes the film as having “the beauty and romanticism of Zeffirelli’s 1968 version with the energy of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version,” the latter of which starred the aforementioned DiCaprio. It was initially an intimidating casting process, but Booth got his head around it when he realized his inexperience in the world of Shakespeare was a benefit. “I figured, Fuck it, they’re choosing me because I can bring something fresh to it. Something in-the-moment and real, which is the spirit of Romeo, isn’t it?” The film that he is wrapping up when we meet is Noah. “It’s the epic telling of the story of Noah’s ark,” Booth explains, adding, “but because it’s an Aronofsky film, it’s dark and twisted too.” It’s a boldfaced production: Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly play Noah and his wife, Watson is Booth’s wife, and Logan Lerman his brother. He jokes that this film has been the most grueling yet, and his first exposure to Method acting. The past few weeks of production have been slammed because Hurricane Sandy wrecked the set, a true-to-life-size ark, and many of the crew’s homes were affected by the devastation. (Yes, the irony that a hurricane destroying the set of a movie depicting a biblical flood was not lost on the cast and crew.) “On the last shot of the day I fell asleep in bed,” Booth says of his work the day before, when he was in bed with Watson, who just had to act her way through her first childbirth scene. “I was meant to wake up, so suddenly I hear Darren screaming, ‘Douglas! Douglas! Are you really asleep?’ I told him I was just doing some Method acting.” Booth flashes a smile, which even through extensions and untamed stubble could convince anyone of anything. “I hope he bought it.”
For more from VMAN’s spectacular spring fashion issue, pick up an issue at a stand near you. Or check out our site: VMAN.com
Hard to believe it’s already time for another best dressed list. But, hey, time flies when you’re judging what everyone is wearing! In the April issue of Harper’s Bazaar, I first talk about one of my oldest friend’s in New York City: Natalia Vodianova. The legendary supermodel, mother and founder of the Naked Heart Foundation was one of the first fashion folks I met when I was still in college, and we got into all sorts of shenanigans. We were reunited at the couture shows in January, and I was under her spell all over again. Speaking of French magic, something else I discussed this month was Marc Jacobs’ memorable, unmistakable checkboard prints from his spring Louis Vuitton collection. The LV show takes place on the last day of fashion month, after we’ve sludged through New York, London, Milan and all of Paris — but it never disappoints. This sentiment wasn’t mine alone as the checks from that show spanned all four corners of the club, and I thought Kirsten Dunst, Kerry Washington and Jessica Alba looked particularly smashing in versions of his designs. And last but not least, something else I noticed this month was how many of my favorite fashionable females were having a white winter. Elle Fanning and Rihanna both were feeling virginal in the winter months, and so did Taylor Swift, the serial dating songstress who wore a plunging white gown on the red carpet recently. Summer is coming, and it looks like it’s going to be a white hot one. You have been warned, boy banders!
PS. I’m working on next month’s column now, so leave any favorite fashionable moments in the comments! And to read my weekly Mr. Blasberg’s Best Dressed list, go to www.harpersbazaar.com/bestdressed
It’s time for the second installment of James Franco’s collaboration with Seven For All Mankind, an interactive experience that lets we viewers decide what happens in the a love triangle of three really hot people wearing the company’s denim. (Have no idea what I’m talking about? Click here to check out the first chapter and hear James tell me why he liked the Choose Your Own Adventures book series when he was a wee boy here.)
I’m not a new fan of Franco’s. We’ve had him on the cover of VMAN twice, and I’ve made pilgrimages to see his artwork on a whole spectrum of platforms, from the Venice Bienale on the sinking city in Italy to a basement in Terence Koh’s now defunct gallery space on far, far east Canal Street in New York. (The one he showed in Koh’s gallery was my favorite for a variety of reasons. I can’t really get into it here, but remind me another time and I’ll tell you all about it.) And here I find myself a fan yet again. Not just because it stars Elise Crombez, one of my favorite models from my early fashion days, and Sean Avery, a current partner in crime. And not just because we, the audience, gets to participate in the final outcome of their fictional romance. No, the reason I find myself applauding Franco again is because he’s taken a jeans campaign and made it something interesting.
Specifically, I’m talking about the work of William Blake, a Romantic era poet who wasn’t even yet born when denim became the fabric of our lives. Only a twisted guy like James would be commissioned to do a sexy viral video about jeans and be inspired by a guy who wrote long, lyrical love poems about the changing of the seasons. “I like bringing these other references, both high and low,” James tells me, adding that one reason he was drawn to Blake is because it was a more enlightened and intellectual concept of sensuality. “Focusing on someone like Blake, or on poetry in general, takes me away from the impulse to just make something sexy. That’s often everyone’s solution nowadays: Just make it sexier. But when you have these other references, it pulls it in unexpected directions.” Was he ever worried that mixing a long dead romantic poet with a contemporary priced jeans line would seem jarring? Nope. “It’s not like were pulling down William Blake, it can only elevate our material. And inspire it.”
But back to the video: Who does James want to see the bride-to-be hook up with? He’s keeping his cards close and won’t tell me. Though, I must say that it sounds like he had a little more fun planning the more devlish version of the marriages of heaven and hell. “I went and shot my own wedding of hell. I’m not sure that will make it in there,” he laughs, adding he used Kenneth Anger as the priest. Want to see the king of twisted underground cinema (Don’t know Anger? Google him now. My copy of Hollywood Babylon is one of my prized possessions) officiate a darker romance? Well, start voting!
Do you believe in happy endings? Get involved in the odyssey by clicking here and going to the 7 For All Mankind’s Facebook page.