Reflections on fashion: Kristen Stewart: a rebel heroine in the house of Chanel
In fashion as in life, K risten Stewart has always challenged gender norms with her androgynous beauty – which makes her the perfect face of Chanel’s new fragrance, Gabrielle, inspired by the legendary founder of the couture house. But she is also very much her own woman, as independent-spirited when it comes to fame and feminism as she has been in facing down Donald Trump.
Kristen Stewart has a photograph of herself from when she was five years old. In the picture, she’s standing against a fence at Disneyland with her older brother and she’s wearing blue Levi’s jeans, black Vans, a baseball cap and a white T-shirt with a pocket on the chest. She glanced at the picture again recently and then looked down at what she was wearing and realised it was ‘the exact same thing’: jeans, T-shirt, trainers. ‘I haven’t really changed my style since I was a little kid,’ she says. As if to prove the point, today the 27-year-old Stewart is wearing blue Levi’s, black Vans and a ripped white T-shirt emblazoned with a monochrome image of the British band Madness.
‘I love Madness,’ she says. ‘Ska is some of my favourite music.’
The only striking difference from that childhood image are the tattoos on her arms and her hair, which is cropped close to her scalp with frostedblonde tips, giving her the appearance of a delicate elf dipped in gold.
Some moments earlier, Stewart had been dressed in a long, draped, cream-coloured gown as she posed for the Bazaar shoot in Coco Chanel’s Paris apartment. This was an alternate Stewart: swan-like, elegant, her image reflected and refracted a dozen times over in the slivered mirrored surfaces; her face fine-boned and fragile as she gazed to one side and then the next and then, with unapologetic directness, straight into the camera lens.
There is a duality to Stewart; a liquid, shape-shifting magnetism that makes her compelling to watch. She is an actress who has embodied everything from a semi-vampiric adolescent in the Twilight movie franchise to a haunted fashion assistant in the critically acclaimed Personal Shopper, directed by Olivier Assayas, who won the Best Director award at Cannes.
Stewart directed her own short film earlier this year and has just wrapped Underwater, her first big-budget action feature. She plays one of a team of scientific researchers trapped in an underwater laboratory after an earthquake and ‘was literally dripping in sweat for the entire two months’. And yet in all these roles – from box-office catnip to off beat independent cinema – Stewart imbues each part with an intensity that comes straight from a desire to connect.
‘All I want to do,’ she says, ‘is be understood and express feelings and know that, when they come across honestly, you’re just becoming closer to other human beings.’
In person, Stewart is a woman at ease with her fluidity, who has dated men (most famously Robert Pattinson, her co-star in The Twilight Saga), is currently in a relationship with the Victoria’s Secret model Stella Maxwell, and who earlier this year opened an episode of Saturday Night Live saying she was ‘soooo gay’. When Stewart shaved her head in March, the transformation felt metaphorical as well as physical, as if she were leaving the long tresses of her girlhood behind.
So it seems particularly fitting that we’re meeting in Chanel’s apartment on Rue Cambon. The designer was renowned for challenging traditional notions of gender and womanhood through clothes. When she started her business in 1910, women were still trussed up in corsets. It was Chanel who introduced men’s tailoring to the female wardrobe – simple cardigan-like jackets and straight, sporty skirts – lending women a sartorial dignity and freedom that had previously been an exclusively male preserve. Chanel wore trousers. She bobbed her hair. She was daring, empowered, unconstrained by social convention.
How apt, then, that Stewart has been chosen as the face of Chanel’s latest fragrance, Gabrielle, a scent intended to channel the designer’s rebellious spirit and appeal to a new, contemporary audience. Stewart was recently taught the French word insoumis, which doesn’t have a fully accurate translation in English. The closest way of expressing it would be to say ‘unsubmissive’. It’s a word Stewart feels encapsulates both Chanel’s and her own refusal to conform.
As a child, growing up in Los Angeles with three older brothers, Stewart was ‘a total tomboy’. She used to dress as a boy and it was only at school that she realised it was ‘not the most normal thing. Not all little girls are that way. And it actually really hurt my feelings, like badly. Like, I remember being in the sixth grade [aged 11] and [people would say] “Kristen looks like a man. You’re a boy”, or whatever, and I was so offended, horrified and embarrassed.’
She pauses, and looks at me, the gaze spooling out sideways from green-hazel eyes.
‘Now I look back on it and I’m like, “Girl, be proud of that!”’
Everything shifted when Stewart hit puberty and grew her hair long. Suddenly she was accepted as one of the pretty girls ‘and I was like, “Fuck all of you!”’ It gave her an insight into how fickle and superficial acceptance could be. The real challenge, she realised, would be to remain true to herself.
‘There’s nothing worse than growing up and then having someone say, “Oh, I mean, we could all tell that you ultimately were going to date girls in your life, we could tell from day one,”’ she says.
This bothers Stewart because it undermines the authenticity of her previous, straight relationships. ‘I’ve been deeply in love with everyone I’ve dated. Did you think I was faking it? ’ She shakes her head, cat-like, as if ridding herself of a fly. ‘I’ve always really embraced a duality. And really, truly, believed in it and never felt confused or struggling. I just didn’t like getting made fun of.’
So would she date a guy again in the future?
‘Yeah, totally. Definitely… Some people aren’t like that. Some people know that they like grilled cheese and they’ll eat it every day for the rest of their lives. I want to try everything. If I have grilled cheese once I’m like, “That was cool, what’s next?”’
She means this literally: we’re talking on a lunch break from the shoot in a room filled with freshly cut flowers, softwhite furnishings and scented candles. The caterers have provided several food selections: chicken, salmon or strips of Parma ham with melon. Instead of narrowing her options, Stewart has brought them all in with her, laid them out neatly on the coffee table in front of us and is eating a bit from each plastic box as she talks. When she finishes, she places the lids carefully back on each one and takes them to the bin herself.
It’s the sort of thoughtfulness I imagine she inherited from her parents, both of whom work behind the scenes in film and television. Her father, John, is a television producer, and her mother, Jules, a script supervisor and director. Stewart began acting at eight, after an agent spotted her in a school Christmas play. She never really thought of doing anything else because her parents always seemed to have so much fun on set.
Her breakout role came at the age of 11, when she played Jodie Foster’s daughter in David Fincher’s Panic Room in 2002. But it was the Twilight movies that fully catapulted Stewart into the unforgiving glare of the limelight. Seventeen when she starred in the first one, and 21 by the time the series drew to a close, she struggled with the media attention and sometimes seemed an awkward presence on the red carpet. Media commentators accused her of being ungracious and moody. Really, Stewart says, she was overwhelmed by the attention.
She still has bouts of anxiety, where her hands will seize up and she finds herself unable to perform the simplest of physical tasks – when she won a 2015 César Award (the French equivalent of the Oscars) for Best Supporting Actress for Clouds of Sils Maria, she had to ask the presenter to hold the statuette for her because her hands were so clenched that she was afraid of dropping it.
‘Fame is valued quite ridiculously,’ Stewart says. ‘So then there’s this idea that you’re beholden in some way, and I resent that. And it comes across like I’m ungrateful or something but, actually, I just find it weird to talk to the general public as a whole. Like, you can relate to a person, you can relate to an individual, but addressing the world at large is something that just perplexes me.’
I ask her whether, like me, she suffers from ‘Resting Bitch Face’ – that affliction whereby your normal, relaxed face projects an unwitting sense of glowering annoyance – and she says, without pause, ‘Completely. I’m really not introverted – I’m just not acting all the time, which is what it would take to look like how people expect famous people to behave.’
She’s being real, she says. She is being herself.
Besides, she hates the word ‘bitch’ because ‘there’s no equivalent for that word that could be applied to a man.
‘Men cannot say bitch any more, I’m sorry. Say something else. Say, “You’re rude,” say, “I don’t like you,” say, “You’re a dick,” whatever. Just to say, “Oh, that bitch.” You can’t say that because there’s nothing I could say to you, there’s no retort that would be equal to that, therefore it’s demeaning and literally on par with… something homophobic or something racist.’
In truth, Stewart is one of the most open, thoughtful and engaging actresses I’ve ever met. She is extremely bright, cites East of Eden by John Steinbeck as her favourite book and has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the world.
When I ask her if it’s a difficult time to be a woman in America after the election of Donald Trump and the rolling back of abortion rights, her answer is nuanced. Yes, she says, it’s obviously terrible what’s happening but at the same time, it feels good to be part of a wider female community that is finally standing up for itself.
‘I’ve never felt such a strong sense of community. So it’s brought us
‘I’ve been deeply in love with everyone I’ve dated. Dıd you think I was faking it? I’ve always really embraced a duality’
together, for sure… The catalyst for this is regrettable, obviously, it’s shitty. But at the same time I think that you need something to stir things up in order to get people to come together and define their opinions and force them to be heard.’
In fact, Stewart has a bizarrely personal link to the 45th President of the United States. In 2012, she found herself in the eye of a media storm after paparazzi pictures of her embracing the film director Rupert Sanders emerged in the press. At the time, Stewart was dating Robert Pattinson and Sanders was married to the model Liberty Ross. Trump took it upon himself to Tweet a flurry of unsolicited advice: ‘She cheated on him like a dog & will do it again – just watch,’ read one, subsequently retweeted more than 24,000 times, ‘He can do much better!’
‘Isn’t it crazy? ’ Stewart says when I bring it up. ‘It’s so surreal. I can’t even think about it without getting crazy eyes, and smiling but not smiling. Like, it looks like a smile but it’s not a smile.’
It’s a grimace, I suggest.
‘It’s like laughing at a funeral,’ she replies. Stewart recently poked fun at Trump’s Tweets when she guest-hosted Saturday Night Live. Was she ever scared by the prospect of taking him on?
‘No. What’s he going to do? Attack me on Twitter? I don’t have one [a Twitter account]. I don’t care. And by the way, I was kind of hoping that he would just to add to the story. But no, not at all. What’s going to happen? Are you going to, like, arrest me? He’s going to be mad at me? Good. That would be awesome. I would be so proud of that. Do you know what I mean? I’d be in good company.’
The incident with Sanders was deeply unpleasant for Stewart, who was derided and criticised, heaped with the full weight of public opprobrium. One of the few people to leap to her defence was Jodie Foster, who wrote a supportive article for The Daily Beast.
‘The fact that she came to my aid like that…’ Stewart says. ‘Men didn’t do that. I was really harshly judged by most guys in my life actually.’
For Stewart, female friendships are profoundly important and she has a close-knit group of friends who live near her in Los Feliz, LA, including the actress Dakota Fanning, who has described their relationship as ‘one of the most special bonds in my life’.
‘There’s an unspoken understanding that you have with some women that’s purely female,’ explains Stewart. ‘And I really value that. Because it’s reassuring in a world that really likes to put women down.
‘I think it’s strange when I hear a girl say, “Ah, I have more male friends. I don’t get along with girls, I don’t like girls.” Like, that’s crazy!… It’s actually so self-critical, it’s so stubbornly insecure. “I don’t like girls.” You are one. So you don’t like yourself.’
She catches herself, then pauses. She jokes that she can imagine the way this piece is going to be headlined, and it will be a giant quote saying ‘I love women!’
‘But, you know, it’s not a mutually exclusive thing. I love men too! I love good people. I just think drawing a distinction is kind of messed-up.’
Much like Chanel, Stewart refuses to draw distinctions and defies easy categorisation. In a world of people pretending to be other, Kristen Stewart remains determinedly, dazzlingly herself.
‘What’s Trump going to do? Arrest me? He’s going to be mad at me? That would be awesome. I would be so proud’
Kristen Stewart on the mirrored staircase that leads to Coco Chanel’s Rue Cambon apartment, wearing silk jersey dress, £14,930, Chanel
Beside Coco Chanel’s beige suede sofa, wearing embroidered knit jumper, £3,335; cotton trousers, £1,000; leather backpack, from £2,385, all Chanel