I’m a recent Chelsea transplant. (After living amidst yummy mummys and bankers in Tribeca for a few years, being so close to art galleries and the Highline was a welcomed change of pace.) My buddies at the mens label Berluti asked for a tour of my new New York neighborhood, and I was only too happy to give it to them. Even if we nearly froze our fingertips off. Watch me wander around my favorite hotspots, including the 192 Books shop, both Gagosian galleries, the Chelsea market, Cookshop restaurant and the abrasive symphony that is New York City traffic.
My good pal Emma asked me if I’d interview her for the newest issue of Wonderland magazine, which is on stands now. As with everything she does, she took on the project of a guest editor of the magazine with gusto. And I was only too happy to get lost in her enthusiasm. Below is our chat.
My mother is the first person to say I always wanted a little brother or sister. I was the youngest in my entire family, and I always felt like it was a disservice to humanity that there wasn’t someone after me onto whom I could dispel my pearls of wisdom. So, when Emma Watson – then a smiley, sweet, super smart teenager – and I became buddies, I felt like my childhood prayers had been answered. There was only one striking difference: Emma, wise beyond her years, already knew more than I did about just about everything and didn’t need any such advice. Emma is one of those rare breeds of people who have an intuition, a good head on their shoulders, a quick judgment. I can’t be certain that, as her adopted big bro, she’s learned any of that from me, but I will say she’s taught me a thing or two. She is concise, put together, organised, forthright and reliable. (Which are not the sorts of adjectives that apply to most child actors.) Back when I’d visit her on the Harry Potter sets, her dressing areas would be tidy(ish) and her well worn and bookmarked books would be stacked everywhere. She navigated the pressures of filming the world’s most successful cinema franchise with elegance and grace, and she didn’t forget to do the little things, like send funny postcards from vacations and fruit baskets at the holidays. After Potter, I watched her grow into a beautiful young woman who is navigating a career that’s entirely her own. It’s been an interesting transition: As she herself says, she felt she was an adult even when she was in the body a little girl waving a magic wand. Now, it’s as though she has caught up with herself. In the film Perks of Being a Wallflower, she charmingly captured the end of an American innocence. In Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, she made me smile as she poked fun at the pitfalls of teenage American materialism. In the upcoming Noah, she tackles the role of a biblical daughter-in-law in an epic adventure. Behold: Emma, a thoroughly modern woman.
DEREK BLASBERG: Where are you right now and what are you doing?
EMMA WATSON: Right now I’m on holiday. I’m stood on the balcony of my hotel room and I’m scratching my feet because I’ve been eaten alive by mosquitos. I look like I have a disease. I’m told I have sweet blood.
D: Well, I’m freezing in New York, so you won’t get much mosquito sympathy from me.
E: Well, I miss New York. I loved living there.
D: You were in New York during Hurricane Sandy. How surreal was that?
E: It was surreal for a couple of reasons. It delayed the end of our shooting for a few weeks, so we got the irony of filming an epic biblical movie about a flood, and then a storm comes and floods much of New York. It even damaged the ark, which was what set us back. The other reason that it was surreal was because you and I were on the Upper East Side, which was completely unfazed by the storm. We had high speed Internet and our phones. All the shops were open and, even weirder, people were shopping in them. The Carlyle Hotel was packed with people getting drinks. I remember calling you and asking, ‘Isn’t there something we can do I feel like such a waste of space?’ And you took me on a meal delivery with Citymeals on Wheels. That was amazing that we could do that. Do you remember Pearl?
D: How could I forget Pearl?
E: She was the spritely 90-year-old woman who was listening to Elvis Prestley records when we knocked on her door and delivered her food. Pearl was a babe.
D: Were you ever scared during the storm?
E: I remember not taking it very seriously, and then my dad called and said I should fill the bath with water. And I said, ‘Why would I do that?’ He said to put on the news and then I realized it was going to be a serious thing in some areas. When I showed up at Brown they warned me that it was going to get cold, and I said, ‘ I’m from England. I know what cold is.’ But I soon learned that, no, I didn’t know what cold is. My first semester at Brown [in Providence, Rhode Island], when it got into the negative temperatures, I just didn’t want to leave my dorm room. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I’d only go out to get supplies. The cold makes me miserable!
D: Speaking of Brown, I’m very proud that you are going to be an official Ivy League graduate soon.
E: Yes! I’m going to graduate in May, which I can’t believe. I can’t. I just can’t! Very exciting.
D: So, tell me: What do you plan on doing with that major?
E: Tough question… I’ve been very fulfilled by my studies. English has helped me think in an analytical way. It’s helped me see the world from new perspectives. Diving into these stories and characters has given richness to my own life. And now, when I read scripts or look at stories, I have these references for a larger understanding of humanity. I’m sure it will make my job as an actress more interesting.
D: I visited you on the Harry Potter set a few times, and it was like a little family and everyone knew each other.
E: It was. I miss the people too. I miss the familiarity.
D: And to go from that to a new place, a new school, with new friends – must not have been easy, right?
E: I really wanted a new experience. I loved not knowing anyone. It felt very exciting, and I felt like I was striking out on my own in a very real, very new way. But there’s this thing called the Sophomore Slump, which is a phenomenon that is apparently known and recognized, though I had never heard of it. It caught me by surprise. For the first year at university, everything is new and exciting. You don’t realize that you don’t have your support structure, your home comforts, and all those touchstones that help keep you on track. Then, after the first year, when the adrenaline wears off, you find yourself in a slump. That’s what happened to me by the end of my third term. I felt very unsettled and lost.
D: My mother always told me that in struggles we find strength.
E: She’s right. Now I really know how to take care of myself, how to be alone, how to deal with stress. If I hadn’t been through that time, I wouldn’t have got there. I never knew I had limits. You make good friends and you make bad friends, and you have to figure it all out. You realize you can’t do everything. I really did think I could do it all – commute back to the UK for Potter filming and press, then go to Brown for finals, and keep up with my friends and family. You can’t do by the way. You do have to take breaks. It’s how I became interested in meditation and yoga. I developed bedtime rituals.
D: Like what?
E: You’re going to laugh, but now every night before I go to bed I make a hot water bottle. It’s a ritual that makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself, and that’s important.
D: Learning how to be alone is a good lesson, and one I don’t think a lot of actresses learn.
E: I realized that. When you’re on a film set you’re watched and you’re never alone and there are all these demands on your time. Everyone knows where you are at every moment of the day. Then, I went to Brown and suddenly I was all alone. At first I hated it. Now, I’m happy to be by myself. I can be calm and productive and content, alone in my apartment.
D: Now, be honest: Have you ever wanted to go off the rails? Like, get drunk and get a tattoo?
E: Ha, I love tattoos. But I love them on other people. In fact, I have a Pinterest account and a whole board of tattoos that I like – but I would never want one for myself. I don’t think I could pull it off. My own self-image would not allow it.
D: But you’re not as puritanical as that, Emma.
E: I feel like I’ve been given a lot of credit where it isn’t due that I don’t like to party. The truth is that I’m genuinely a shy, socially awkward, introverted person. At a big party, I’m like Bambie in the headlights. It’s too much stimulation for me, which is why I end up going to the bathroom! I need time outs! You’ve seen me at parties, Derek. I get anxious. I’m terrible at small talk and I have a ridiculously short attention span.
D: That, I have noticed. Is part of that because you’ve become this big public figure?
E: Probably. I feel a pressure when I’m meeting new people because I’m aware of their expectations. That makes socializing difficult. Which isn’t to say that when I’m in a small group and around my friends, I don’t love to dance and be extroverted. I am just extremely self-conscious in public.
D: On that note, I’d like to formally apologize for being so shocked when you cut off all your hair.
E: Why? I loved that you were one of the first people to see it. I loved your reaction. You were utterly shocked. It was an appropriate reaction for a big brother.
D: You caught me off guard. It was so unexpected.
E: It wasn’t unexpected to me. I had been crafting it in my mind for years. So, when the time came, I went ahead and did it.
D: Have you ever thought of the psychology behind it? Like, did you do it because you were done with Harry Potter and you wanted to craft yourself a new image? Like Jennifer Lawrence and The Hunger Games?
E: I think Jennifer Lawrence needed to cut hers off. But I see the parallel you’re trying to make. Maybe Miley Cyrus is a better example?
D: Ha! Exactly.
E: My mother always had really short hair, always had a pixie. So for me, it wasn’t as crazy as it was to you. To be honest, I felt more myself with that haircut. I felt bold, and it felt empowering because it was my choice. It felt sexy too. Maybe it was the bare neck, but for some reason I felt super, super sexy.
D: So, one day you’ll cut it again?
E: Absolutely. I miss it so much. The minute I get pregnant, the first thing I’m going to do is cut my hair off because I know I won’t be working for a time. If I wasn’t an actress, I’d keep it that way. I could wash it in the sink and shake it out like a dog. It’s so low maintenance!!!!
D: Let’s continue discussing appearances. Has fashion been any sort of fulfillment for you?
E: I love fashion as a thing. And I very much still follow it and find it interesting and when I come across something really great I get excited and I’m inspired. But there was a moment when I took a step away from fashion.
D: I was once sat next to Gwen Stefani at some fashion event, and she told me she always often feels like she’s in a Saturday Night Live skit at those things.
E: I find it slightly surreal too. I can remember my first Paris fashion week, and the insanity and hysteria that went along with it. Just to get into a fashion show? It’s more intense than a movie premiere. Sometimes people ask me why I don’t go to more shows, but to be honest I’d rather watch it on the internet. Fashion is this massive, huge industry, which I like to dip my toes into. But it’s not my industry.
D: That’s true. Film is. Do you remember the day that you and me went to see the Francis Bacon retrospective at the Tate, and I told you that I could see you being a producer or director one day? And you looked at me like I had ten heads.
E: Yes! People say that to me a lot now. Maybe I will one day.
D: Are you still looking for something else you enjoy doing?
E: Do you remember that time I called you up and asked if you knew anyone who needed an intern? And you almost died laughing?
D: Yes. You asked if I knew anyone who wanted you to be their personal assistant for a week.
E: I was serious! I am interested in everything!!! This year, I’m turning 24. A lot of my friends are really worried about turning 24, but I like that I’m getting older. In a way, I started out like this old lady, and now I feel like my age is catching up with me. And I’m excited by all these new things for me to do. I feel like I have so much more to accomplish as an actress. I’d love to try theater and that’s a whole other thing. But when I finish my degree, I will have a lot more time to pursue other passions, and I want to figure out what those will be. I love having something completely unrelated to the film industry. I want to find something that will let me use my brain in another way. I like connecting people who aren’t part of that world too.
D: I’ve seen your paintings, they’re swell.
E: I love painting. So maybe I hone in on that and do more art classes? Or maybe something different.
D: Well, I know you’re great at yoga.
E: Then, there you go. I can be a full time actress and a personal part-time yoga teacher?
D: It’s a plan.
I’m often asked who’s been my favorite interview of all time. It’s a long list, but the name that always pops to mind is Tom Ford. And that’s for a variety of reasons: He’s handsome, he’s polite, he’s seductive, he has that special thing when he talks to someone it feels like he’s looking into your soul and you’re the only person in the entire world.
I remember the first time I interviewed Tom. It was for the London Sunday Times. He had just opened the Tom Ford store on Madison Avenue in New York. It was during a chubbier phase in my life when I was wearing bowties. (Don’t get me started.) And after his legendary tenure at Gucci, where he redefined modern sexuality, I had to ask: “So, what do you think is sexy now?” Without missing a beat, he said, “I think bowties are really sexy right now.” I blushed like a school girl. Since that moment and in the numerous interviews we’ve had since, I’ve been hooked. Hooked on Tom Ford.
Another reason Tom is the ultimate interview? He goes there. In the below interview, which I did exclusively for 10magazine, he didn’t hold back. We were asked to discuss movies – which we did: His first movie was the Wizard of Oz; he liked Great Gatsby, which isn’t a surprise – but as with any chat with him, things veered into hedonism. Like, that smell of cocaine that really isn’t a smell but you can definitely smell it? (That was an anecdote from Studio 54, which we get to eventually.) He’s also not the biggest fan of Honey Boo Boo Child. Above all else, though, he loves making movies, especially the writing process when it’s still in his mind and everything is perfect and before the real world fucks it up. All this and more. Happy reading!
Tom Ford and I at his store opening in London.
TOM FORD: “I’m warning you, I’m so comfortable with you I may have a hard time making the effort to answer the questions properly. It takes a lot of energy to think of an answer that’s going to mean something.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “But you’re a pro. And we’re talking about film, which you know a thing or two about. I’ll go easy on you. What’s your earliest cinematic memory?”
TOM FORD: “The Wizard of Oz. When I grew up in America, they only ran it once a year. I was probably three. It was a big deal. We had color television by then because I remember seeing it in color. And I remember my parents telling me that day, ‘Wow, tonight there’s this great movie coming on – The Wizard of Oz.’ We watched it and it terrified me.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “What! How?”
TOM FORD: “The wicked witch? The flying monkeys? And the little dog, too! The witch melts at the end! That’s terrifying.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I thought you were going to say you loved it, and you’ve dreamt of sequined red shoes ever since. Are you still scared of that movie?”
TOM FORD: “No, I watch it now and enjoy it. By the way, we couldn’t have had The Great Gatsby without The Wizard of Oz.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “You’re the first person I’ve heard make that comparison, but it makes sense. I’ve found that Gatsby has become such a polarizing film.”
TOM FORD: “Everything is divided these days. Some of my friends hated it and some loved it. I loved it. I thought the casting was good, I thought the drama was good. I thought it actually told the story of the book in a more accurate, intense way than the one with Robert Redford. I saw it in 3-D. The layers and layers of camera work it took to make that is impressive. And I loved the way he always uses contemporary music in his films because it gives us, today’s audience, the same rush that a 1920s audience would have had while listening to jazz, which was totally new at the time. That’s not a new trick because he’s used it in every one of his movies. But, let’s stop this. I don’t want to review Baz Luhrmann’s film because I wouldn’t appreciate him reviewing my clothes.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “As a film-maker yourself, when you watch a film, can you detach yourself from a director’s point of view?”
TOM FORD: “I always dissect it. My emotional life is absorbing what’s happening, but I am also very aware of the shots and the cutting and the clever use of something or the depth of field or the shifting. I won’t name films, but sometimes performances that people think are so spectacular are actually the result of innovative sound design or editing.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Can a film be technically terrible but still great?”
TOM FORD: “Oh, absolutely. Sometimes those are even better. Like ‘Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Don’t kill me, Tom, but I’ve never seen that film.”
TOM FORD: “What? How can you call yourself a self-respecting homosexual and not have seen this film?”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I know!”
TOM FORD: “It’s not even an old 1940s movie that people of your generation don’t watch any more! Marc [Jacobs] has done collections based off of it. I’ve done collections based off of it. Shoots based on it. Let’s go on YouTube right now. [Tom gets his computer and plays the trailer for the film.] Now, aren’t you dying to see that? It’s shocking you don’t know it.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I told you I was embarrassed!”
TOM FORD: “[The director] Russ Myer is a genius. The camera angles are inspired and it was so innovated for its time. Even though it was made as kitsch, camp send-up, it’s still great. It was on the dawn of pop, just as Warhol and Lichtenstein were blowing up.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “What other films would you consider works of genius?”
TOM FORD: “I could pick genius films from every period for a variety of different reasons. If I had to pick a decade it would probably be the 1930s. Most of my favorites that I would watch over and over again would be from the 1930s and early 1940s. I like Hitchcock, too.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “What about that particular time period is so amazing? The silhouette?”
TOM FORD: “The silhouette? Derek, not everything is about fashion.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “But I thought that with you it would always come back to the fashion. Designer first, director second?”
TOM FORD: “I know I’m not giving you a tight answer. Let me think this through. There was a moment when I was shooting my film that really hit me – I was watching Colin [Firth] and Julianne [Moore] together in the scene when they have their fight. We shot it over two or three days. While I was watching them on the monitor, I could remember sitting in my bed and writing exactly what I was looking at. Right there were the things I had made up in my head actually happening. Here was this woman walking through this door exactly as I had written it. Saying exactly what I had written. Dressed exactly as I had imagined. So while we can say everything in these movies didn’t really happen, they did happen! Someone filmed them. They happened. They occurred because actors and other people made them happen. They existed. One of the reasons I love Los Angeles so much is that it only exists in the world of film. Am I making any sense? [Silence.] Ha! All the films that create an imaginary life and only actually happened on film were real, are real, in some capacity. And this imaginary world of film is part of my life and my culture, so it’s hard for me to say, ‘Yes, I was inspired by this film to do this dress.’ Yes, there are particular dresses in particular films that, while I’m watching, I go, ‘Fuck!’ and I get up and I get out a piece of paper and say, ‘That shoulder looks great again’, or ‘Oh, it’s time for that waist again.’ But there is a giant file in my head of this alternative universe where thousands of films and women exist, and they are as real to me as the women I know in the real world. Now am I making sense?”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Yes, and I understand. I’ve fallen in love with people in movies, too.”
TOM FORD: “Nowadays, though, it’s not people in movies. We still live in a world of parallels. As a lot of people have fewer real-life friends, they try to connect with unreal ones. Maybe they’re online friends, or maybe it’s watching The Real Housewives. That’s why there is this fascination with the minutiae of other people’s real lives. The Housewives are now the women that live down the street that the mothers in the neighborhood would gossip about. They just don’t live down the street any more; now, they live in New Jersey or Texas, or wherever those shows are filmed. But you’re fascinated because you don’t really know your next-door neighbor any more. You watch them intimately because other people’s lives are fascinating.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “So it’s in the films of the 1940s that you find your friends and inspiration?”
TOM FORD: “Yes. The chic people from the 1940s are my friends. My parallel life is Barbara Stanwyck in 1942. Henry Fonda. That’s where I am. I’m hanging out in the desert with those crazy girls [from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’] and I’m still drinking and smoking and maybe doing some drugs. But, ‘Honey Boo Boo Child’ is not my friend.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “You said in film that you are gratified when something you envision comes to life. Do you have the same experience when you design a collection?
TOM FORD: “I have it at the fitting before the fashion show. The way we work today is really weird. We don’t work like Yves [Saint Laurent] used to work. Couturiers used to buy a bunch of fabrics that they liked and put them in the closet and when they were ready to design a new collection they would go in that closet and say, ‘Oh, that pink taffeta looks pretty. What’s going to look good with that? Orange chiffon? Okay. That one.’ It was built organically. The way we do it today – even at the highest level of design – is that you sketch something for the leather factory and off they go. You sketch your tops and your shoes and whatever else, and off they go. You have an idea of how it’s going to come together, but it’s all done compartmentally – and then 10 days before the show, it happens! And then it’s luck. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it all arrives and the shoes look wrong with the skirt and the shoulder pads look off. So the great moments of ‘wow!’ are in the fitting. When a girl puts it on and she walks across the room and it works. That’s when you get it. Besides, during a show, I’m not out there watching it. I’m sitting backstage and worrying, ‘Shit! Did the lighting cue work? Is the music on time? Where is that girl? Is she dressed? WHY ISN’T HER SHOE ON?’ And then after the show, I step out and think, ‘Fuck. Was it terrible? Was it good?’ And then I’m thinking, ‘Fuck, if it’s bad, how is it going to sell? If it’s good, what am I going to do next season?’ Actually, now that we’re talking about it, I can tell you I get depressed – no matter what – for two or three days after a show.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “What do you do in the depressing days?”
TOM FORD: “Well, in the old days at Gucci and Saint Laurent, where I worked less hard than I do now and I didn’t own the company outright, I took to my bed. Always. And just kind of slept for two or three days. In the new world, I have to drag myself here to the office and go through the collection with the merchandisers and make sure the pricing is right and the showroom looks beautiful and alter anything I can at the last minute before the buyers come in. Then I’m working on the next collection. It doesn’t stop.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Well, how are you going to make another movie with that schedule?”
TOM FORD: “I’m dying to make another one! I naïvely thought, ‘Yeah, I can make a movie every two years and do women’s collections and men’s.’ But I was wrong. Maybe this August I’ll deal with it. I have options. I have a couple of books I’ve started adapting. I thought I haven’t made another movie because I haven’t had the time. But the reality is I haven’t found the right project. It’s like when you’re first in a relationship and you have sex all the time no matter what you’re doing, no matter how tired or busy you are. But then a few years in, it’s, ‘We’re not having sex because I’m really tired and I’ve been working too hard.’ That’s bullshit. You’re not having sex because you’re just not having sex, and then you rationalize why. Maybe it’s not that I don’t have the time. Maybe it’s that I’m not making the time because I’m not inspired.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “What’s your favorite part of that process of moviemaking?”
TOM FORD: “Writing. I loved all of it, but writing was the most satisfying because it doesn’t exist yet. So, when you write ‘She was the most beautiful woman in the world’, she really is. Then the actress could come in and she’s bow-legged and we have to shoot from the knees up. Reality rarely lives up to the imaginary perfection. As you write it, it’s perfect. You’re not up against a budget problem or the fact that it’s supposed to be snowing and you’re shooting in the summer and the heat is melting your fake snow.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “That’s when you still have a fantasy.”
TOM FORD: “That’s when it’s perfect. That’s when it’s in your head. And, of course, in your head everyone loves it, because it’s so perfect.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Do you miss writing?”
TOM FORD: “Of course I do. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life. There were some moments at Studio 54 that were pretty fun, but this topped even that.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Oh, Tom, tell me about Studio 54.”
TOM FORD: “Every now and then, when I hear a certain song, I remember having a vodka tonic in a glass and a bottle of poppers in my nose and jumping up and down on the dance floor, and it’s so clear in my memory.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I don’t have that sort of triggered memory from music. I get that from smells. Like, if I smell CK One, I think about being in love with the wrong people in high school.”
TOM FORD: “Well, if I smell poppers, I think of the late 1970s. Studio 54 reeked of poppers.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Really?”
TOM FORD: “Yeah! There was a very definite smell to it. Poppers, alcohol, cigarettes. Cocaine doesn’t really smell, but that’s kind of in your mind, so it smelled like coke, too. It was fuelled by coke. The whole place was coke. No one was mopey because the whole place was on drugs.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Have you seen any of the films about Studio 54?”
TOM FORD: “Yes, but none of them capture it. When you look at the photographs you see a wood floor, but I never saw the floor when I was there. It was dark and there were neon lights that glowed. You just saw flashes and had smells and knew people. Nothing has ever truly captured that. Baz Luhrmann came the closest to it in his party scenes in Moulin Rouge, and in Gatsby, too. That’s what it was like. My memories of 54? There is Brooke Shields over there with Michael Jackson. Over there are two guys fucking. And there is a naked person wrapped in Saran Wrap dancing. And that’s Princess Grace. I couldn’t get enough of it. Marc Jacobs can tell you about it, too, because his boyfriend at one time owned Xenon, the rival club. We used to go back and forth between Studio and Xenon because they were both in Midtown. Then you’d go downtown to the Mudd Club. The Mudd Club was new wave, a more glamorized version of punk. It was way downtown, which used to be a drag. But Studio was open until dawn, so when Mudd Club slowed down and you had done so much coke you didn’t care and you had tons of energy, you would go back uptown. And then you slept all day. You’d paid some guy down the hall to write your term paper and you’d go to class at 4pm and hand it in. Then you went home for a nap and woke up and did it all again. Took a ‘disco nap.’ Those still exist, don’t they?”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Yes. I’m familiar with the disco nap. But I hate this feeling that I missed everything, Tom.”
TOM FORD: “No, you didn’t! Your generation had something equivalent.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I guess we had the Beatrice Inn. Everyone compares it to Studio 54.”
TOM FORD: “I don’t ever go to New York! I go once a year for the Met Ball for 24 hours.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “Why don’t you like New York?”
TOM FORD: “I loved New York when I was young and single. Maybe I don’t like it now because the only time I go is for work. I don’t like making performances. I don’t like signing perfume bottles at stores. I don’t like that stuff. Maybe that’s why I don’t like it.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “You prefer LA.”
TOM FORD: “Totally. I prefer it because you can get in your car. You can be really anonymous in LA.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I grew up in Missouri with cars and yards and dogs, and I miss that.”
TOM FORD: “I love to be able to get in my car and go somewhere. I like those 20 minutes all alone to listen to music and be by myself and get my thoughts together and be alone before I get somewhere.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “I like being able to change in a car.”
TOM FORD: “Well, a car is a giant handbag! You don’t have to carry anything anywhere; it’s all in your car.”
DEREK BLASBERG: “We’re getting off topic, Tom. We’re supposed to be talking about the movies.
TOM FORD: “I love film, Derek, but what I love about real life is that it’s a movie you can only see once.”
Tom Ford and I at a dinner in London. I was getting an earful.
For more from Tom, check out: www.tomford.com
For my new column in V magazine, appropriately called LAST WORD BLASBERG, I interviewed a titan of this industry: Giorgio Armani. The guy is an icon, and he’s not afraid to show it. Why learn English when you’re the king of Italian fashion? We talk about New York, muses and his fellow pantsuit aficionado Hilary Clinton.
Welcome to New York!
Giorgio Armani I love it here. It’s a city in continuous, constant evolution, with inexhaustible energy.
Do you remember your first time?
GA How could I forget? It was 1979; I came to collect the Neiman Marcus Award, which was a big deal for an Italian at the time. I was just starting out, and when I arrived my idea of New York was entirely based on films. For me it was a city of pure fantasy, made up of black-and-white images.
GA Mostly the films of Fred Astaire, but also Mean Streets by Scorsese. I fell in love immediately. I like how it changes from one block to the next. Then there are the people, an electrifying mix of humanity that you can’t find anywhere else.
Are you an uptown or downtown person?
GA My style is perhaps uptown, but the New York that I like is downtown: chaotic but alive and in ferment. I’ve always found the concepts underlying the American Dream fascinating: tenacity, a sense of responsibility and liberty, full belief in what one does. These are values and thoughts that I too have always been inspired by in pursuing my own dream. So it’s no coincidence that in America my dream instantly garnered support.
Do you like any other American cities?
GA Los Angeles, Sunset Boulevard. It is such an immense city, so different from European ones. It is the cradle of cinema and the type of glamour that dreams are made of.
Since starting your label, have you ever worn a suit designed by someone other than Giorgio Armani?
GA No, I’ve only ever worn my own clothes. It’s a natural choice, don’t you think?
Do you have a muse?
GA Many. Certain garments are created especially for some of them, like the decidedly eccentric dress I designed for Lady Gaga. But I shouldn’t name names when it comes to my muses. I would forget someone and I wouldn’t hear the end of it…
OK, let’s talk about dead people then. What historical figure would you like to have designed for?
GA As a designer, the past has never attracted me. I admire historical figures, in particular the emancipated women of the 1920s, like Zelda Fitzgerald. But I am more interested in dressing modern women.
Who’s the first person that you think of when you think of a modern woman?
GA Cate Blanchett. Cate is truly modern, both fragile and strong, glacial and sensual. Hers is a unique elegance, because it is genuine.
The thing I admire most about you is that you have reached that stage in your career when you don’t have to humor fools or do anything you don’t want to. You are the king. To me, being in charge is the ultimate luxury.
GA I haven’t really thought about it. I think that it’s a stage that you arrive at unknowingly and you act accordingly. Like when you move from adolescence to maturity, one day you are no longer a boy but a man. That’s all there is to it. I have always been a man of action.
We’re communicating through a translator. Do you think you ever will learn English?
GA Never say never. But at the moment I grant myself this little luxury of not learning English. Not speaking it grants me the electrifying feeling of being a foreigner in transit. I like this.
Any American phrases you particularly like?
GA I like “hands-on.” It sums up my sense of pragmatism. You have to be hands-on to have success.
How do you stay so physically fit?
GA I believe in the motto, “A healthy mind is a healthy body.” I exercise consistently. For me this is essential. A balanced diet is undoubtedly another secret to keeping fit. And then there’s work, which keeps not only the body but also the mind fit.
Retrospectives tend to make the public feel nostalgic. Do you feel that?
GA Nostalgic celebrations create melancholy, and melancholy is not part of my makeup. My exhibition is not designed to be a commemoration but a gift to the people of the Big Apple who have always followed and supported my style. For this reason I didn’t just want to offer them a great parade, but also show the eccentric side of my fashion. I always look to the future and the new challenges that are waiting for me. The past is made up of lessons already learned and errors that won’t happen again. Nothing more.
Looking back, is there any particular Armani design that you’re most proud of?
GA It’s difficult to choose. I’m linked to certain things I did at the beginning, like the soft and completely embroidered male suit. It encapsulates my concept of the eccentric, only slightly theatrical and infinitely exquisite.
Speaking of suits and the American Dream, what do you think of Hillary Clinton?
GA I like her decisive and feisty manner. I like her self-assured and determined way.
She’s a self-described pantsuit aficionado. If Hillary were president, what do you think she should wear to the inauguration?
GA I love a strong woman in a suit, although a powerful woman today doesn’t need to wear trousers to succeed. An authoritative appearance helps though, and let’s just say Mrs. Clinton looks good in pants. So, yeah, she’d look great in a soft and sophisticated Armani pantsuit for that inauguration ceremony.
Last year, I teamed up with my friends Classy Cat and Drunk Pussy to help illustrate holiday etiquette. Not much has changed since then: The holidays are still a time of merriment, etiquette is still important, and cats still rule the internet. So, without further ado, behold ‘The Eticats.’ (And for more, scroll down to see some hilarious bloopers and outtakes.)
I’m down here in Miami for the Art Basel festivities (check back this weekend for more pics and goss) and last night at a dinner for Louis Vuitton, Cindy Crawford showed up and put every other hussy at the Raleigh Hotel to shame. At one point, when the legendary hair dresser Oribe turned up, she did this sexy shimmy in her stiletto heels — in the sand — that left me gobsmacked. Not that this was the first time that I’d spoken to Cindy. I caught up with my fellow Midwesterner in the issue of V that’s on stands now for a fashion story where she cavorted with the handsome Clemente in the woods in Brooklyn wearing menwear. The story is reprinted here, as well as a sultry video from the photo shoot. (Click here to see the full story and more of Sebastien Faena’s glorious pictures of Cindy.) In our interview we talked about everything from West Coast dinner time to Harry Styles, but the part that I think was more pertinent is when she says that she’s a better model today than she ever was. Last night, there wasn’t a man who would have disagreed.
There’s a reference in modeling that captures a certain era: “B.C.,” as in “Before Cindy.” Cindy Crawford ignited the fashion world when she appeared on the cover of Vogue at the tender age of 21, with her killer bod, signature birthmark, and otherworldly appeal. Originally from a small town in Illinois, she would go on to become one of the most super of all the supermodels, a muse to Gianni Versace, and a household name, with her stints as MTV’s House of Style host and spokeswoman for Revlon and Pepsi.
The multi-hyphenate model, now 47, is still in demand in front of the cameras, and has launched her own multimillion dollar businesses too—making her more alluring than ever. Cindy told us that she feels like she’s a better model now—and by the looks of these photos, we’re inclined to agree with her.
What’s it like to be back in New York?
CINDY CRAWFORD When I arrived and got to the hotel I walked to a little market to get some things for a protein shake the next day, and I was reminded of the city’s energy, that buzz. I lived in New York for 15 years. I miss it sometimes. It’s very different from my life in Malibu. You don’t walk in Malibu…or else people think your car is broken down! In L.A. you go to dinner at 7 pm and in New York you go to dinner at 9 pm. But then in the Midwest it’s 5:30 pm.
That’s right, you’re a Midwestern girl. I’m a Midwestern boy. Maybe life in California is a mix of the people from the East Coast with the laid-back lifestyle of the middle of the country.
CC I grew up in a small town in Illinois where you never locked your door. I didn’t even have a house key. Midwestern people like us are nice, sometimes to a fault. You smile at strangers. But then you go to New York and everyone is hustling and in a hurry with their heads down. I love New York, but it’s a city of excesses. Too much of everything…the good and the bad. There are great restaurants, but you don’t know where to eat because there are so many choices! It was perfect for my 20s, when I was working so much, but I wouldn’t have known how to raise kids in an apartment.
Speaking of your kids, my assistant is obsessed with Harry Styles and she told me he came over for an impromptu pizza party with your daughter. What happened there?
CC Oh, that? [laughs] He stopped by to say hi when my kids and I were making pizzas. My kids were doing their own little pizzas and they couldn’t slide them off the pan. Harry goes, “Well, did you put down enough flour so they wouldn’t stick?” And my husband says, “How in the world do you know that?” and my little girl chimes in, “Oh, he used to work for a bakery, Dad. Everyone knows that.”
And started blushing, I bet.
CC Are you kidding? My daughter is twelve. That was bigger than her birthday!
Your kids are gorgeous. I know one of them did a Versace kids’ campaign. What are your thoughts on them getting into the family business?
CC That opportunity felt organic. I worked for Versace a lot in my career and I knew Mert and Marcus were the photographers and Donatella would be there. That’s a dream team. So I figured if she ever wanted to do it this would be a good experience, and it was. We had to drive three hours to the shoot and she had to miss a friend’s birthday party, and then we had to wait in the trailer for three more hours because they shot Gisele first. At the end, she thought, “This is boring.” And I said, “This is work.” It was a good lesson. If she wants to do it, I’m a good guide. I can help her make good decisions, but now I think she’d rather be an actress.
How do you reflect on that supermodel era?
CC What a wonderful time for me. That was a fun time to be a model. It was a lot of focus on fashion and how all these worlds were colliding. MTV was bringing music and fashion and television together. It felt really fun, and we were all really busy and really making money.
Do you ever use that word, “supermodel”?
CC In a tongue-in-cheek way, maybe. At first I found it silly. Do we change into capes and tights in phone booths? But with anything, the more you hear it, the more it seeps into your language. What it means to me is that before us models were more two-dimensional—mostly nameless faces on magazine covers. We were the tipping point. Some girls before us, like Twiggy and Lauren Hutton, were making the shift. But what was unique about our group was that there were five of us and we were all very different but looked good together. Is it five or seven? I never know who to include. Depends on who you ask, I guess. It was a moment when it felt fresh and different and new.
Were you aware of it in the moment?
CC If I had to label my supermodel moment, I would say it was that Versace show when Naomi, Linda, Christy, and I all came out together. We had just done the George Michael video for “Freedom,” and George was in the front row, and we came out skipping and holding hands. It felt like the stars had aligned. But then the next day we were all on another plane going to another city to do another job.
Did you ever want to slow down?
CC I remember thinking, What am I going to do when I’m 25? Or 30? Or 40? We kept pushing the sell-by date.
Are you still gratified by the job now?
CC I’m not doing it every day anymore. At this point in my life I’ve done more photoshoots than I can count, so I like something new. I’ve had people say on a shoot, “This is so Helmut Newton,” and I think, No, not really. I knew Helmut. The part of modeling I like is telling a story with an image. Modeling is a skill, and you become better at it the more you do it. Understanding clothes and lights and your face and angles…you don’t lose that, even though other things come into your life.
More so than the others, you managed to brand yourself. Was that intentional or was it clever management?
CC In the beginning it was more like, why not? I’ll try MTV, that sounds cool. But my agents were telling me not to do it. They said I could make more money doing other jobs. But they were wrong, and House of Style opened a lot of doors. When I did Playboy, it was a big deal because I was also in Vogue. I trusted Herb Ritts, which is why I did it. So those things worked out in my favor, and it gave me the confidence to go and do other projects—but not everything worked out! I did a movie that was successful for me personally, but not successful in many other ways. Choosing to do my exercise video was the beginning of making deliberate choices to do my own projects that were authentic to me, and that led to my skin care line. That was a really hard decision, because I had been with Revlon for a long time. But it was time for me to do my own thing, and now it feels like I have a real business. I love that.
You’re a business tycoon!
CC I had my whole modeling career, which was about learning the business. For the last 10 to 15 years, I’ve been building a business.
But the businesswoman still knows what to do in front of the camera.
CC I’m a better model at 47 than I was when I was 22, although I wish I still had the body I had at 22! Ah, youth is wasted on the young.
When God created Gisele, he broke the mold. To be in her presence is to be intoxicated. That face, that body, the energy, the joy of life: They just don’t make ‘em like her. So, when WSJ. Magazine asked me to interview her for the cover of the Innovators issue, I said yes with the giddiness of a schoolboy who found his father’s stash of dirty magazines. I stopped by the shoot in LA when she was carooning with Daft Punk, who I could tell had big smiles on their faces even through their trademark masks. And afterward we shared a green juice and talked about how she went from a bombshell in a bra to the world’s most successful supermodel.
GISELE BÜNDCHEN MAYbe the most powerful model in the world—but that’s not what she prefers to call herself. “I’m self-employed,” says the 33-year-old Brazilian. “[Modeling has] always been a business.” This year, she topped ‘s list of highest-paid models for the seventh year in a row, beating out the likes of Kate Moss and Miranda Kerr by tens of millions of dollars. The magazine reported that she made $42 million, though she rolls her eyes at the figure. “Who are they speaking to when they come up with these numbers? Not my accountant, that’s for sure.” Whether the number strikes her as high or low, she leaves unsaid.
How did Bündchen, who was scouted at a shopping mall in her native Rio Grande do Sul when she was 14, rise from mere model to multiplatform business tycoon? Selectivity, she says. After becoming the most in-demand face and body on the runways of Paris and Milan in the late 1990s—in 1999, put her on the cover and declared “The Return of the Sexy Model”—she developed a knack for taking exactly the right steps in her career at exactly the right times.
High risk yields high reward, and nothing was more risky than her decision to sign with Victoria’s Secret in 2000, making her one of the first in her field to bridge the once-taboo divide between luxury fashion editorials and commercial work. It was a canny maneuver that proved light-years ahead of the rest of the fashion industry, though such high-low blurring has since become the norm. After Bündchen signed with Victoria’s Secret, it ballooned from a prosaic bra brand into a lingerie powerhouse with a world-famous fashion show—ultimately helping to net her a reported $25 million per year. (She wore the company’s famed Angel wings for the last time in 2007.) She inked lucrative deals with luxury brands such as Chanel and David Yurman. Anne Nelson, her agent since she was 17, says that in Brazil, “she is a god.”
These days, Bündchen is picky about which jobs she takes not because she’s cultivating an image but because of domestic obligations. In 2009, she married Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, and is now mother to Benjamin, 3, and Vivian, 8 months, and stepmother to Brady’s son, 6-year-old John Edward Thomas, from his previous relationship. “When you’re by yourself you only make decisions for yourself. But when you have a family, you’re making decisions for your whole family.” She now turns down multimillion-dollar jobs if they require her to leave the country or have obligatory personal appearance days in the contract.
When asked to describe how she manages the roles of wife, mother and supermodel, she offers a metaphor: Ginga, the basic back-and-forth swaying step of Brazilian martial art capoeira. “You’re always trying to balance everything, but it can’t be 100 percent all the time. Sometimes when you are a great mom, you’re not so great at your job. And then when you’re good at your job, you’re not so great of a mom or a good wife. It’s a dance that never stops. But it’s beautiful. I’ve never been happier.”
Bündchen’s packed days are meticulously organized on her iPhone with the Cozi app, which synchs the entire family schedule, from kids’ play dates to her press appointments to Brady’s football practices. Every single hour is accounted for and each family member is color-coordinated: She is purple, Brady is blue, and when the whole family needs to be at the same place, it’s in red. “I know what everyone is doing every second of the day,” says Bündchen.
Most mornings start around 6 a.m. Before heading either to her home office, where she works on her own fashion and accessories lines, or to a modeling job, she spends time with the children. (The couple has homes in Boston, New York and Los Angeles.) Vivian comes with her to photo shoots. “If I’m with my kids, I’m not answering my phone. You can’t reach me. With my husband, too. If I’m at work, then I’m at work. If I’m with you, I’m with you. I am in that moment, and there is nothing else.” The family prefers dinner at home, and Bündchen and Brady are rarely seen out at social occasions. One exception is the annual Met Costume Institute gala in New York City, where they are consistently one of the glossiest couples on the red carpet.
While work and family commitments dominate Bündchen’s schedule, she says her trick to keeping it together is her hour. “It’s important to me to have some time for myself. So one hour a day is mine. It may have to be at 4 a.m. or whenever the kids are napping or not home, but it’s in the schedule. I read a book. I meditate. I make something. I need to nourish myself in order for me to give to everyone else.”
First, a warning: I’m a Miley Cyrus fan. At the base of her work, beyond the criticisms and the open letters, is a young girl who wants to show everybody a good time. And in these times of trials and tribulations, Miley, I appreciate that. So I don’t want to get into a debate on the feminist implications of her artistic expression, no matter how relevant they may be. (There’s a blog for that, but this ain’t it.) I have watched with a smile on my face as she has transformed from the Disney princess into a modern Pop icon. I was behind her on the haircut. I was behind her on the butched up, blinged out, bad ass bitch makeover. I was behind her on the Twerking. Well, not literally behind the Twerking. I’m not sure I have the balance to brace that.
All of this is to say that when Harper’s Bazaar sent me out to LA to do the cover story on my girl Miley for the October issue, I was in a taxi to JFK airport before we put the phone down. She is a defining icon of this generation, whether we like it or not. (Simmer down, Sinead.) So, behold my story with the one-and-only Miley.
Miley Cyrus is wearing an oversize sweatshirt and nothing else, curled up in an enormous trailer parked outside Soundstage 24 at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. She’s just unpacked her “kit,” which is what the 20-year-old pop star calls the gym bag full of over-the-top, blingy, fabulous accessories that she brings everywhere. There are Chanel logo suspenders and belts, Versace Medusa necklaces and brooches, spiked stilettos, hats, and miles of shiny gold chains. “I never know when I’m going to be like, ‘Photo shoot!’ And need some weird stuff to whip out.” What if there’s a sudden swarm of paparazzi? Or worse: “What if I get to a photo shoot and the stylist just sucks? So I bring my own shit.” Cyrus, whose fourth album, Bangerz, is out this month, today is filming an MTV promotion—and, sure enough, when she’s dressed in a tight white crop top and tiny black shorts, she dips into her kit to layer on gold necklaces and a low-slung vintage Chanel chain belt.
It’s been a year since “I started trying to take over the world,” she says, unknowingly paraphrasing a comment that Madonna made on American Bandstand nearly three decades ago, when she herself was an over-accessorized twentysomething. (In 1984, asked by Dick Clark what her future plans were, Madonna responded, “To rule the world.”) It all began when the fresh-faced Disney star shaved the sides and back of her head, leaving a shock of platinum on top. “It changed everyone else’s life more than it changed mine,” Cyrus says with a laugh about her new ‘do. But she’s not kidding: Since wrapping the Hannah Montana series in 2011, the little girl who led a double life on a top-rated kids’ TV show has reemerged in the public sphere as a provocative pop sensation.
The new look apparently had been brewing for some time. Cyrus released the album Can’t Be Tamed during her final year as Hannah Montana. When the series wrapped, she semiretired. “I took off and I just wanted to party. I worked so hard, and I wanted to buy a house and just chill.” She moved out of the house she shared with her parents, the Southern crooner Billy Ray (he of “Achy Breaky Heart” fame) and Tish Cyrus, and in with her fiancé, Liam Hemsworth. “I was an adult when I was supposed to be a kid. So now I’m an adult and I’m acting like a kid,” she says. There are times when I’m sitting in my big ole house and I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I’m allowed to be here alone.’ ” (She and Hemsworth have been reportedly on and off and back on, but she declines to talk about their relationship. She will, however, say that she still plans on getting married. Eventually. “I definitely don’t have time to deal with a wedding right now. But I will at some point.”) She bought a car, a white Maserati with a Ferrari engine, and built a skate ramp in her backyard because she was too famous to go to the skate parks in her neighborhood. “I want my house to be the party house!” she says, flashing a big smile lined in bright-red lipstick.
On the point of partying, Cyrus brings up Justin Bieber, whose teenage rebellion is in full stride (as evidenced by the monkey incident and naked YouTube serenades). She wants to elaborate on the advice she recently gave him: “I’m not saying you need to take a break because you’re crazy. I’m saying you need to take a break so you can be crazy, and people aren’t going to judge you. You’re going to do dumb stuff from here on out. But do it in your own time. Do it safely. You can afford to protect yourself and still have fun.” She likens it to celebrities who get arrested for drunk driving. “Why don’t they just get a driver?”
Blinged out, blindingly platinum, and with that banging body on display, it’s clear that Cyrus is in the driver’s seat of her new image. Take the much buzzed-about music video for her hit “We Can’t Stop,” which shows her cavorting erotically with life-size plushy toys. “We’re in a world of selfies,” she says of the unconventional glamour shots in the video. “I told my label: ‘This is the first time I’m showing you what I’m bringing to the table as an artist. If this goes wrong, you never have to trust me again. I’ll be your little puppet. But if I’m right, then you know I’m on to something.’” In fact, she was on to something—the video racked up almost 11 million views on its first day on Vevo.com.
Her ability to twerk, a slang term for hip-hop’s brand of booty popping, debuted in the video too. Cyrus says she learned to twerk when she’d travel to Atlanta from her native Nashville and go to parking-lot dance-offs with girlfriends. They’d listen to music at tailgate parties and practice gyrating their bottom halves. “Not the country girls who are wearing the little frilled skirts and cowboy boots,” she adds. Suffice it to say, she’s not trying to tread on Taylor Swift’s turf. What’s Cyrus’s country niche? “There is no girl out there speaking on behalf of the country girls who are turnt up.”
While Cyrus is bristling with attitude, she’s kept her feet on the ground paved by her famous father. “My parents always had money, and I’ve always been around this industry, so I didn’t have my mind blown or become obsessed with being famous,” she explains. Before moving, at the age of 13, with her entire family to L.A. to film Hannah Montana, she lived on a 500-acre farm where the children could do whatever they wanted. Her new California life wasn’t that different. “When I was growing up, I didn’t even notice that I started making all this money. There’s something about new money that makes people change. But I never did not have [money]. So when I got it, I didn’t become obsessed with having it.”
She trusts her instincts, and runs with a discreet crowd. “The other day I saw that Lindsay Lohan was getting rid of, like, 80 of her friends because she wants to cut out the toxic people. I’m like, ‘Honey, you’re going to have to move out of this universe because everywhere you go there are toxic people.’?” Her best friend is her makeup artist, and most of her friends aren’t famous—and are boys. She likes when they ask to drive her Maserati, and she lets them.
Her makeover mentor and album coproducer is Pharrell Williams, who had two hits of his own this summer. (You’d have to be living under a rock to have missed his “Blurred Lines” with Robin Thicke and “Get Lucky” with Daft Punk.) “His philosophy is that it’s not what you’re wearing, it’s the way you wear it. It’s not about the music you’re making, it’s how you’re making it.” She says he encouraged her styling in the “We Can’t Stop” video too. “I feel like every girl is trying to have a beauty shot and prove that they’re ‘fashion.’ But I can be in white leggings and a white sports bra and I’m on a whole other level of shit that those girls don’t even get yet because they don’t know how to do it.” Cyrus calls Williams her “rock,” the one man she can trust with her music.
He is equally effusive about Cyrus, who left a lasting impression on their first meeting. “I remember saying she was different,” Williams recalls. “She was very clear as to what she likes. I kept thinking, ‘She’s got something.’?” What was it like to work together on the new album? “She has a crazy range like you wouldn’t believe. And I really like that she is expressing herself.” He’s not worried about her falling off the deep end either, like so many other child stars. “It has a lot to do with her parents and the way she was raised,” says Williams. “There’s a thing Southern people understand that’s hard to put into words.” Maybe it’s just that: Even though Miley’s a second-generation performer, the Cyruses still aren’t showbiz people.
To that end, she’s put acting on the back burner for now. “I don’t really care to do anything acting-wise,” she says. “I want to make all of my music videos so epic that it feels like I’m still involved with acting.” Hannah Montana may have burned her out. “I had to have [the producers] put sun lamps inside because I was getting depressed from a lack of vitamin D,” she says of the show’s last two seasons, after the franchise expanded into films and world concert tours.
Miley has dabbled in fashion too, but she wasn’t completely fulfilled. She inked a deal with Walmart in 2009, then became disillusioned when the line didn’t turn out as she’d hoped. “I went in there and saw, like, a puppy on a T-shirt. I was like, ‘This is not what I wanted.’ I wanted skinny jeans, I wanted to bless Walmart with jeggings!” (Walmart discontinued the line in 2012.) She says she loves jewelry and would consider doing that, when she has time: “Making real stuff with high quality. Not quantity. But not until I know I can give it 120 percent. I don’t want to just slap my name on something.”
All that’s left is Miley and her music. Which turns out to be the one thing in her life that’s not stressing her out. (In addition to her own reportedly rocky relationship, her parents separated and then reconciled this summer—another topic she’d rather not discuss.) “I’m someone who cares about the real things in life. There are things that are personal that stress me out, but my career? That doesn’t affect me. I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.” She lifts her fingers, which are tipped with long dagger nails and stacked in gold rings, and pushes her platinum bangs out of her face. “I’m not scared of anything.”
Luis Venegas makes me smile. He’s a rare thing in the worlds of fashion, publishing and transvestites: He is genuinely happy. He publishes several magazines from his native Spain with the intention of spreading joy and smiles and good cheer. It’s the reason why whenever he asks me to contribute to anything he’s working on, I say yes without hesitation. (Last time we worked together, I interviewed Chloe Sevigny for the Candy cover story, which you can read here.) Not that our most recent collaboration took much convincing: Interviewing Jared Leto for the cover of Candy magazine to accompany Terry Richardson’s photographs. After all, who hasn’t been a fan of the part time actor, most time singer and full time hearth throb? Feel free to reminisce on your own Jordan Catalano fantasy here. And when you’re back, check out my chat with Leto.
Derek Blasberg. So, Jared, do you think you make a beautiful woman?
Jared Leto. I don’t think so! Ha! But I do think Rayon [the character Leto played in the film Dallas Buyers Club] was beautiful on the inside. And I think she wanted to be beautiful, and that’s how I felt when I was in character. But I never felt like I made the best woman – which was funny because I always thought I would.
DB. I would have thought so too because, well, you’re very pretty.
JL. It doesn’t matter how much weight or muscle you lose; the hardness of your jaw, your shoulders, it’s more than obvious masculinity. I so wanted to be beautiful because, and this is something that I think the character thought, if you’re beautiful, you’re loved. So I don’t think I made the most attractive woman, but I certainly tried my hardest.
DB. Tell me more about Rayon.
JL. She is a male to female transsexual, and she was a wonderful, strong woman. The film takes place in 1985, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, and she lives in Dallas just as it is hit by this plague. This part and this film seduced me. This is the first film I’ve made in half a decade, Derek. I was waiting for a character that really spoke to me, and a story that was really powerful. This was it.
DB. What was it like to dress in drag?
JL. High heels are tough. I lost 30 pounds dressing in drag.
DB. How did being in your costume make you feel?
JL. I felt good! It was different for me because it wasn’t just putting on a dress. I had to work out the part in my mind too. I wanted to bring to life a character who was a real life, living person – not just a caricature of a cross dresser. I think sometimes people confuse that sort of character as a joke, or they confuse a transgendered individual as “just a drag queen.” But I will say that I took to the high heels pretty quickly!
DB. Apart from the heels, what other physical parts of the character are the most memorable?
JL. Well, I waxed my entire body, my eyebrows included. That was certainly transformative.
DB. But this isn’t the first time you’ve changed your appearance for a part. You lost 25 pounds for Requiem for a Dream and I remember when you gained almost 70 pounds for Chapter 27.
JL. The tricky thing about extreme weight loss or weight gain is how much it affects you on the inside, not the outside. Altering your shape that much changes your behavior, the way you think. It changes how you laugh and how you move and how people look at you. It’s a double-edged sword, the internal and the external, and it’s not always a lot of fun.
DB. What was it like to go out as Rayon?
JL. As soon as you wax your brows and lose that much weight and you’re walking through a hotel lobby with your high heels cling clanging, you can’t help but draw attention. When people change their gender, they make a real statement. You surprise and confuse people, and I had to deal with that. I went out in drag and lived in that character to do research, and in the process I fell in love with Rayon. She had a heart of gold.
DB. Were you ever surprised when researching the role?
JL. In New Orleans, where we filmed the movie, I met a wonderful 13-year-old girl who was more than six-feet tall and was so gentle, and so sweet. She had been living as a woman since she was 7, going out in Bourbon Street dressed in her sister’s clothes. She opened a side of life I had never seen before. And there was a woman called Kalie, who was a tremendous help to me in LA. I spent the initial formative first days of prepping for this part with her, talking about the difference between transgendered people and transvestites, and the concept that these are real people and not a lifestyle. She taught me a lot. That’s what I liked about this film: I learned.
DB. What first drew you to this part?
JL. The challenge. The script. The role. The director. All of those things. It was impossible to say no. To reach that far inside myself – or outside myself, depending on how you see it – it was something I hadn’t explored. I found that exciting.
DB. It’s been a change of pace to the other stuff you’ve been doing these past few years: Being a rock star.
JL. That’s why I haven’t made a film in so long. We’ve been touring the world. [My band] 30 Seconds to Mars has been on a phenomenal adventure, with more success that we could have ever imagined. We sold out the O2 Arena and the Wembley in London, played the biggest shows of our lives. We got in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest tour ever. I have the plaque in my bathroom.
DB. How was balancing those two worlds?
JL. The hardest challenge was time. Time to do it all and do it well. I loved what Andy Warhol said: “Labels are for cans, not for people.” So now I try and do whatever I’m attracted to. If you have a desire, just go for it and fucking do it. A long time ago I gave myself permission to live like that – to act or design, or do music, or technology. It keeps life interesting.
DB. What do you hope will be the reaction to this film?
JL. I hope that people in that community see on the screen something that is true and honest. Something that is authentic, that comes from a really pure place. It also shares this tragic but inspiring story about how difficult it was when this plague started depleting these communities.
DB. What will you take from this part to your daily life?
JL. I haven’t worn much makeup since 2006. I used to wear a lot of eyeliner.
DB. You mean guyliner, don’t you?
JL. Yes! Maybe I grew up loving The Cure too much. Although, can you love The Cure too much? But, what I learned from this experience was less about the look and more about tolerance and understanding. I can be very intense and very work-oriented, and not too socially graceful. But there was a gentleness to that part. There was something open about Rayon that I’ve tried to carry on. There was something really fragile and approachable about her, and I hope those sides of her continue to exist in me.
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: