The woman in the dress
Actress, musician and now designer, Zooey Deschanel is having more than just a moment.
Ask Zooey Deschanel about women in comedy and it’s probably the closest you’ll come to seeing the actress bristle. Sitting on an appropriately preppy couch in Tommy Hilfiger’s spacious West Hollywood flagship, her turquoise eyes fire brighter when we broach the well-worn stereotype that women can’t be funny. “There are a lot of silly notions from the past that need to be forgotten,” says Deschanel. Barely taking a breath, she whips through a list of her funny-girl influencers: “You can’t say Lucille Ball wasn’t funny. You can’t say Mary Tyler Moore and Carole Lombard weren’t funny. You can’t say Katharine Hepburn wasn’t funny. The list goes on.”
Were she less humble, Deschanel could have added her own name to the list of female comedic greats. Though she first hit our radar in the early 2000s for her enduring roles in flicks like Almost Famous and Elf, her portrayal of bubbly, sometimes bumbling, teacher Jessica Day in Fox’s runawayhit sitcom New Girl has solidified her status as a chick with serious comedy chops.
In real life, she’s just as quirky and affable as the onscreen persona that has rocketed her to the top of every woman’s girl-crush list (those bangs!), but, refreshingly, she’s much more self-assured. The Los Angeles native talks about her current projects like she’s giving you the weather report: nonchalantly, without a hint of arrogance, but also without the slant of self-deprecation that so many women are tempted to employ as if apologizing for their successes.
Breezily, she tells me about the movies she’s working on this summer and about the three television spots her production company, founded with her pal Sophia Rossi (former producer of The Hills), sold to Fox and NBC this year. This is all in addition to making music with She & Him, her indie outfit with musician M. Ward, for which she sings and plays the piano and ukulele. The duo released their fourth album last year, and Deschanel also recently collaborated with Prince on his latest single, “FALLINLOVE2NITE.”
Onscreen and on the red carpet, Deschanel has become a modern muse, beloved for what collaborator Tommy Hilfiger describes as her quirky yet sophisticated style.
This spring, the 34-year-old added yet another slash to her actress/producer/musician title: clothing designer. Our interview comes in the middle of a long day of press appearances to launch To Tommy From Zooey, her retro-feminine capsule collection for Tommy Hilfiger. But if she’s exhausted, she doesn’t show it, greeting international journalists with a warmth that rivals the balmy afternoon.
Deschanel tells me how she and Hilfiger met through friends at a party in Los Angeles and immediately bonded over a mutual appreciation for each other’s work and for classic, all-American style—including a penchant for seersucker, which Hilfiger would use to design Deschanel’s custom gown for the 2013 Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala.
But the collection is not Deschanel’s first foray into fashion. The red-carpet darling has been sewing her own clothes since she was in high school. “I remember being two years old and crying because I got carsick and my mom had to change my dress. She had jeans in the trunk and I was crying because I just wanted to wear my dress,” she says with a laugh. “I also insisted on wearing party dresses to preschool every day. I was two or three years old—it was just pure instinct.”
Does she have a favourite from her Tommy collection? “I love them all!” she enthuses, sounding like Jess Day. But, more important, she hopes the women who wear them will love them too. “We want young women to feel great about themselves and feel beautiful and confident. That has always been really important to me,” she says, straightening the cuff of the navy-andwhite chambray number she is wearing from the collection.
In fact, a similar sentiment was the impetus for HelloGiggles.com, an online project she launched with Rossi and 2 Broke Girls writer Molly McAleer in 2011. The humour site, touted as “a positive online community for women,” has a loyal Twitter following and has been lauded for its silly-but-sharp lady-friendly content—covering everything from beauty trends to bullying to puppies to politics (sometimes even sewing projects).
It’s important to Deschanel to show that women don’t have to be pigeonholed. And the girl hustles. After our interview (plus several others for international media) at Tommy Hilfiger, she’s filming a segment for Ellen. In the evening, she’ll co-host, with Hilfiger, the official launch party for her collection at the London West Hollywood’s swish rooftop. What’s even more remarkable is that Deschanel doesn’t relegate any of her projects: She gives her music the same serious consideration as her acting career, and her production company is just as important as her new role as designer.
“There’s a tendency to compartmentalize people’s creativity,” she tells me when I ask if she identifies with one of her roles more than the others. “I think there are many people who can do a lot of different things. For me, one creative outlet leads to the next. They all inspire one another.” ■