Ever since she first graced our screens over 10 years ago, briefly in Sonic Youth’s “Sugar Kane” video, then more fully as the HIV-infected Jennie in Larry Clark’s harrowing “Kids”; Chloe Sevigny has captivated with a unique mix of steely toughness, sloe-eyed beauty and heartbreaking vulnerability. Put simply, there’s no-one else like her. She can find hidden depths in marginalized characters like put-upon socialite, Alice in ‘Last Days of Disco’ or conflicted Laurel in Woody Allen’s ‘Melinda & Melinda’, often making them more riveting than the central protagonists. The roll call of directors she’s worked with, from Lars Von Trier, David Fincher and Whit Stillman, have helped cement her position as a fearless actress, willing to take on challenging, often controversial roles. While her Oscar-nominated turn as Lana Tisdel, white trash girlfriend of a doomed transgendered in “Boys Don’t Cry” remains her finest movie role, her increasingly nuanced and rich turn as Nicolette Grant, second wife in a polygamist family, in HBO’s “Big Love” should see her win her first Emmy nomination.
Through all this, she’s been embraced by the fashion world for an effortlessly cool and idiosyncratic style. A love of dress up and thrift-shopping started as a young girl in the middle class enclaves of Darien, Connecticut and led to her being hailed by Jay McInerney in The New Yorker as the “coolest girl in the world”. After previous stints as creative director for now-defunct label, Imitation Of Christ and modelling in campaigns for Miu Miu and Dolce & Gabbana, Chloe Sevigny staked her own claim in the fashion world by designing a collection for New York boutique, Opening Ceremony in 2007. Inspired by New Wave music and her youth, the engaging mix of Liberty prints and vintage stylings proved an instant hit which led to the introduction of menswear for A/W 09. While backpacks with a plastic pocket for cigarettes and 50’s influenced brothel creepers were some of the more quirky pieces, there were plenty of adorable knits, button down shirts, jackets in relaxed tailoring, not to mention kick ass boots that will be desirable to both young men and their girlfriends. Chloe also injected a bit of New York attitude to London Fashion Week with a riotous party at The Double Club playing a DJ set that was heavy on 80’s nostalgia.
Two days after the party, Dazed Digital got to check out the collection at The Double Club and chat with Chloe about her second foray into designing.
Dazed Digital: Were you surprised by the success of the first collection?
Chloe Sevigny: I was and the shoes did really really well. Originally we were just gonna do menswear or unisex this season but I thought we should do some girl’s shoes because I still see some of the editors wearing them. So the shoes, people really respond to. But I was really surprised. Especially for me, Opening Ceremony’s such a perfect and organic fit.
With Humberto (Leon, Opening Ceremony co-founder), we’ve always seen each other around and we go to the same parties, like the same kind of music, dance at the same clubs, have a lot of the same friends. So we just had a lot of the same references when we were designing the collection. It was a very natural fit for me.
DD: Your first collection was inspired by your Junior High years, is your menswear from the same period?
CS: I guess so. I was hoping that a lot of pieces were more timeless. A shirt jacket in navy, it could be from any period. We wanted to make lots of oversize jackets for girls. My favourite piece is probably the full pants. But they’re all pretty classic pieces.
DD: You’ve appeared on the cover of L’uomo Vogue in menswear. What’s your take on androgyny?
CS: When I was 19, 20, I had very short hair and I was very into the androgynous look. But I was much thinner then and I’ve filled out and become more of a woman now. I don’t think I could pull it off so much now. But I think the androgynous look is so beautiful. It’s one of my favourite looks on women.
DD: You had The Slits play the party for the first collection. What music were you listening to this time around when you designed the collection?
CS: This time around, I wouldn’t say music so much influenced it. This was more outdoorsy, preppy, alternative, bit grungy.
DD: Is designing a nice release after working on a dramatic show like Big Love?
CS: Oh yeah this was fun. I don’t wanna say it’s a vanity project but it kind of is y’know! It’s just something for me to do that’s creative and fun. I get to make pieces I always wanted to wear.
DD: Speaking of which, this season of Big Love seems to be getting deeper and darker. How did you find making it?
CS: Nicki (Nicolette Grant, her character) is getting so revved up! She’s getting into sixth gear! It was really hard to do. Towards the end of the season, she is so tortured; everyone is so mean to her. And she deserves it because she causes trouble. But then secrets are revealed about why she’s such a troublemaker.
So yeah it was such a nice release doing this after the show. The show is intense 16 hour days. I love doing the show and I love acting in it. This is just a fun thing to do on the side. If I didn’t do this, I’d just be walking around everyday spending money, being too idle y’know!
DD: You’re one of the few actresses with your own style. Where did that come from?
CS: I think it came from my father. He was always a very stylish man. He inspired a lot of the collection, like the preppy pieces. And I was always into fashion magazines. When I was in high school, the library had like 4 years worth of Vogue that they were throwing out. And I took them home and hoarded them! So it’s something I’ve always been into. And I dress myself, I think that’s a difference between me and a lot of the other actresses.
DD: Do you take more inspiration from the streets or from magazines?
CS: A bit of both. More the street. Magazines can be a little too clean. But certain photographers and stylists’ work are very inspiring to me. I also like to sit in the park and watch the kids go by. I’ve just been hanging out in Milan a lot and surprisingly, there’s like this whole fashion, hipster, weirdo scene there! Which you would never know. That was very unexpected. London is always amazing, so youth-orientated. I think the kids are so much braver here, they really go for it. As for London designers I like, I like Christopher Kane, Marios Schwab, Luella Bartley.
DD: What fascinates you so much about dressing up? Is it a chance to become a different character?
CS: I think it’s a way of identifying yourself with different tribes. I just got that book, “Teenager” by Jon Savage – all about different youth movements and the origins of those. So for me, it’s a way of identifying with other misfits.
DD: You’ve been part of the Downtown scene in New York since you were a teenager. How do you see it changing?
CS: I guess it’s getting younger or maybe I’m getting older! The biggest difference for me is that I see these really young kids and I think, should I really be out at this club? (laughs) Last year I thought there was a bit of a socialite thing happening. All these famous sons and daughters descended upon our scene, hanging out in dirty bars wearing Crass t-shirts. And you’re like “What?” It seems like that is sort of the craze right now. But I shouldn’t say that because maybe one day, I’ll have a daughter and she’ll be doing that!
DD: What movies do you have coming up?
CS: I’m working on a film, “Mr Nice” with Rhy Ifans based on the Howard Marks book. Then after that, I’m off to San Diego to do a film with Werner Herzog. (“My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done”) It’s with Michael Shannon, Willem Defoe and David Lynch is producing it. So it’s a total weirdo project.
DD: Complete this sentence, “At heart, I’ll always be…”
CS: At heart I’ll always be the awkward shy girl!
Photographs by James Mountford.