WINTER COVER CHARLOTTE CARDIN
While shooting Charlotte Cardin in the Canal Saint-Martin neighbourhood of Paris, the FASHION team was treated to an impromptu concert. “While we were waiting around, Charlotte would sing—her voice is beautiful,” says creative director Brittany Eccles. Photo shoots normally happen in swanky studios or opulent hotels, but for this issue, we shot our star in a slightly grungy Airbnb. ON THE COVER: Charlotte is wearing a jacket, price upon request, skirt, $3,875, and shoes, $1,025, Chanel. Top, Charlotte’s own. Photography, Brent Goldsmith. Creative direction, Brittany Eccles. Styling, Juliana Schiavinatto. Hair, Peter Gray for Home Agency/Shu Uemura. Makeup, Julie Cusson for Chanel. Fashion assistants, Cherry Wang and Gabriela Lima. Photography assistant, Florian Debray.
Charlotte Cardin isn’t lying when she talks about her love of Radiohead. When you’re a fan, you don’t necessarily mean to talk about your idols all the time, but opportunities just seem to arise. It so happens that, as a musician, Cardin gets asked about music a lot. Consequently, there’s a good chance you’ll hear her gush about Radiohead.
Over the phone from Paris, where she is overlooking the artistic mecca of Montmartre (tough work, right?), she’s talking about one of their songs in particular. “I always give the example of ‘No Surprises’ by Radiohead,” she says. “It’s probably my favourite song in the world. It’s so simple, and the melody is so beautiful. I like hearing something that’s so good that it doesn’t need much—maybe they even underdid it, just because your mind can complete the song a bit. I like hearing space in music.” Take note: Cardin is big on space. Imagine if she were a character in a novel about a beautiful singer-songwriter from Montreal who first earned acclaim as a competitor on the Québécois version of The Voice (La Voix) but is now writing music in Paris, for instance. It shouldn’t be much of a stretch. To continue this precarious metaphor, let’s say this novel was assigned in an English 101 class. You could write an essay in said class about how Cardin represents the concept of liminality, of occupying a space in between. You would probably get a pretty good grade. (I hope so, anyway, because that’s essentially my angle for this piece.)
Right now, she exists in a moment just before. Before adulthood, before fame and celebrity, she sings her entrancing smoke-and-nostalgia-scented pop somewhere in between real life and stories.
Part of this ambiguity is intentional. The songs she writes are confessional, sometimes raw or sad or brimming with lust and longing. But that doesn’t mean they are true or even about her exactly. “I don’t only write about personal heartbreaks,” she says. “I will write from my perspective, but a lot of my songs are fictional: things that a friend told me, something I noticed or something I experienced myself.
“I love playing with the line between fiction and reality,” she continues. “If you start from a story that sort of affected you but isn’t currently destroying your life, there’s just more space to create around that event.”
Speaking of fiction and singers: Cast your mind back to 2002. That year, when she was 20, poet, performance artist and icon Britney Spears sang her powerful tribute to liminality. You’ll recall that at the time, as she insisted in the song, she was not a girl anymore but neither was she a woman. What she needed, she proclaimed, was time—a moment for herself—while she was in between. In terms of genre and branding, Cardin doesn’t share many similarities with Spears. (Stylistically, and with good reason, she’s more often compared to Amy Winehouse, although she doesn’t share her demons, thankfully.) But that song could have been written by Cardin. Or, I suppose, by any woman in her early 20s. Liminality is a universal experience: when you are old enough to hang a degree on your wall but not old enough to rent a car. Cardin doesn’t sing about it in so many words, but she embodies it. For her, it has less to do with post-adolescence and more to do with experience and self-discovery.
She is at the age when your identity starts to coalesce and you start examining your life with a more critical, informed eye. At 24, with two headlining tours under her belt, two successful EPs and an album on the way, Cardin is learning more about herself. And what she has discovered is that, like Spears, she needs some time. “I didn’t think I was a loner, but I realized I am a little bit,” she says. “I really need some space, some personal time just to do my shit without having people around. I tour with extraordinary musicians, awesome human beings, and they’re really good friends of mine, but I realized I do need some personal space to be happy.”
But, Cardin says, this revelation doesn’t extend to her romantic life. “In a relationship, I don’t feel the same way,” she explains. “I think the best relationships are those where you can spend so much time with the other person but you never feel like you need to act a certain way or do specific things.”
Which, actually, sounds a lot like how she feels about her family. If we judge fandom by how readily, and how often, a person mentions his or her favourite band (or whatever), then Radiohead has nothing on Cardin’s family. That’s probably how it should be. After all, Thom Yorke didn’t put her in singing lessons when she was eight, and he doesn’t travel to as many of her shows as he possibly can. Her parents do, always full of pride for their daughter, even when she sings about adult situations. “It’s awkward sometimes if they ask exactly what I meant by something that I know is not something I want to share with them,” she says. “But they’re open-minded. I’m glad I don’t have to feel ashamed, because I know they understand. They were young once, too. They’re like, ‘We know that sex exists.’” »
She’s safe is the point. But her family isn’t the only reason she can enjoy where she is now. There’s excitement and freedom when you’re in between because the world hasn’t assigned you a dominant narrative quite yet. Sure, there are comparisons to Winehouse— but that is as complimentary as it is accurate. She also tends to get asked about La Voix and about the time she spent modelling when she was 15. (She left the biz when she was 19 to focus on her music.)
If “It girl” were still a title women wanted and the media bestowed, Cardin would be an ideal candidate. And the fact that she was a model is an essential ingredient in her It-ness. She’s so cool; she gave up what is a quintessentially cool career in favour of an even cooler one.
The other thing that makes her cool is the confident way in which she trusts her instincts. “I’ve realized that when you believe in something, even if you have a certain doubt, or a certain fear, it’s nice to go with it because you can never be mad at yourself for something you believed in,” explains Cardin. “It’s when someone imposes something on you—that’s when you’ll regret a song or doing something. You might mess up a few times, but at least it’s your own fault.”
I can see her hanging out in that Paris apartment, writing songs, on the edge of whatever comes next, trusting herself to figure out what that is. In his novel
Everything Matters!, Ron Currie writes something about moments—moments like the one Cardin has made for herself: “...even in this last moment there is still Everything, whole galaxies and eons, the sum total of every experience across time, shrunk to the head of a pin, theirs for the asking, right here, right now. And so anything, anything, anything is possible.”
If only that were in a Radiohead song, then it might be Cardin’s favourite line because it already describes her perfectly.
Jacket, price upon request, skirt, $3,875, and shoes, $1,025, Chanel. Top, Charlotte’s own.