Re­flec­tions on fash­ion: Kris­ten Ste­wart: a rebel hero­ine in the house of Chanel

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents - By El­iz­a­beth Day

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

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