We hung out with Chloë Sevigny pre Kenzo x H&M in New York
The director-actress-model talks about her attraction to rule breakers, her next short film and how she prepares for the red carpet.
Chloë Sevigny is sorry, but she has to chew. “It’s so rude,” she says, apologising. She lays out some chips and a sandwich wrapped in brown paper in front of her. She smiles. This is her preferred pre-event ritual. “Sustenance!”
We’re perched in an expansive suite in the Mercer Hotel in downtown New York, where Sevigny is getting dressed for a night out to celebrate the launch of Kenzo x H&M.
She’s in New York for a few weeks at least, an almost break in her tireless schedule. Up next, Sevigny will travel to Portland to direct her second short film. Then, she’s due to spend some time in Florida to shoot the new season of Bloodline on Netflix. And meanwhile, she has “six films in the can” that will kick off a parade of press junkets and premieres.
It’s a little manic, “a little wild,” she concedes. But she takes a deep breath and resolves to focus her attention on the event, her showstopper of a dress, her friends. “Pre-event, I like to get to bed early,” she says. “Which is the most, most important. But usually I’ll be anxious the night before, so it’s sometimes hard.” To calm her nerves, she tries not to schedule too many appointments when she knows she’ll be out late.
“I like to be very zen, not running around,” she explains. “Later on, and maybe this is corny, but I love to do a mask. I love a good mask.” She waves a hand over her sandwich. “And like I said, I like to eat a good meal for fear I’ll end up somewhere with no food.”
Across the hall, a team has already assembled to help Sevigny get ready. “I like to spend some time with people that I like and that know me and that will make me feel and look good,” she says. “I try to keep it mellow.”
Having just slipped on the dress she’ll wear to the launch party, she turns her attention to the rest of her look. She decides she’ll have her hair back and slick on red lipstick. “That’s kind of what I do,” she says. “I once heard that rock stars and society women always keep the same look so they never look older, and I think that’s maybe the key—consistency.”
Between bites and a quick survey of her accessories for the evening, Sevigny and I chat films, fashion, and why she thinks Kenzo represents the best of America.
YOU'RE A NEWLY MINTED DIRECTOR, HAVING PREMIERED KITTY AT THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL. WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT THE DIRECTORIAL PROCESS?
“I learned that I was a better communicator than I thought I was. As a director, you really have to sell people on your ideas and your vision and get people excited and enthusiastic about it. You have to rally people for time, money. I feel like that was one of my biggest fears about trying this—could I communicate my ideas in a way that got people excited? And I did it!”
“And I realised that I have a lot more spontaneity in me than I realised or anticipated. As an actor, you improvise a little. But then you learn your lines and you start playing a part in one way. When I was on set, I was thinking of new ideas all the time. In every sequence or scene, I had so many concepts I wanted to try out.”
AS A VETERAN OF ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF SETS, WHAT KIND OF CULTURE DID YOU WANT TO CREATE ON YOUR OWN?
“Well, [in Kitty] we had a kid, a seven-year-old. And we had cats. So, I wanted to keep the vibe very calm and simple. I wanted it to be kind of genteel. On the first day, I showed up in this floral skirt and these big gold hoops. I just wanted to make it very obvious that this was going to be a feminine set. We had a lot of women in power on set, which I loved. But I really wanted people to be gentle. Cats are like babies. They’re very attune to sound and scents, even. I wasn’t supposed to wear any perfume, because they’re that sensitive. So I wanted it to be calm and cool. Even if we had to rush, I wanted people to come to me and talk to me about it privately. Like, let’s not make it known. Let’s keep everything very easy and breezy and everyone very happy and calm.”
I’m excited about all the discourse around social justice, women in film, equal pay. The more discussion there is, the better for everybody.
SO, NOW THAT YOU’VE DONE IT ONCE, ARE YOU HOOKED? CAN WE EXPECT MORE OF THESE KINDS OF STORIES FROM YOU?
“Oh, for sure. I’m shooting my next short film in November in Portland. It’s the story of a performer, a comedian, a girl called Carmen Lynch. I feel like I’m practising with short films now. It’s exciting. I’m figuring out my voice, figuring out lenses, camera movements. That way, when I do eventually approach doing a feature, I’ll have more of an arsenal. I’ve been on sets for 20 years, so I’ve heard people call for different lenses and filters. But I wasn’t always aware of how much went into those decisions or how those choices can shape the way you tell different kinds of stories.”
YOU’VE WORKED IN MOVIES, ART, BOOKS, FASHION—HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHAT YOU WANT TO WORK ON OR WHICH STORIES YOU WANT TO TELL? WHAT ABOUT THEM HAS TO GRAB YOUR ATTENTION?
“I think it’s about an original voice and someone’s real passion and vision. I think a lot of the TV that I’ve done has been driven by a really singular viewpoint. That’s the duo behind Portlandia to even Mindy Kaling to Ryan Murphy to Louis C.K. When somebody has a really creative perspective, I’m drawn to that.”
“And even now with Carol and Humberto [creative directors at Kenzo] and all the different fashion collaborations that I’ve done, it’s always been about people with real passion. I love rule breakers, in a way. I’m attracted to that.”
HOW DO HUMBERTO LEON AND CAROL LIM EMBODY THAT SPIRIT FOR YOU?
“They’re friends of mine, and I love them. But even more, they have this kind of American optimism that just really charms me. They’re both the children of immigrants. And in a way, they’ve really lived the American dream, getting scholarships to go to Berkeley and now becoming these powerhouses in their field. They’re very inclusive, even kind of democratic in their process. They believe that they have this platform and that they should try to help people who are also trying to create. That’s who they are. And it’s very, very special.”
AS ONE OF THE FACES OF THE CAMPAIGN, TELL US WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO SHOOT ON SET IN PARIS.
“It was amazing to shoot with Jean-Paul Goude. He’s one of my favourites. I’ve always wanted to be shot by him. So for me, that was just a wild opportunity. He has this incredible mind. He’s such a treat and such a pleasure and so much fun to work with. On set, most of us in the cast were pretty separate. But we all had this one night out together, a big dinner. Looking around at the diversity, the different ages, around the table, I felt really empowered to be included. I wish more people in fashion would show that range. I’m so proud of Carol and Humberto. They’re always one-upping themselves. They’re always pushing themselves, and I really admire it.”
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST REACTION TO THE CLOTHES WHEN YOU SAW THEM IN PARIS?
“That it’s so them. It’s super Kenzo, super fun. I loved the Kenzo Takado, the original. I love that there are so many nods to him and to what he did. The ribbon dresses, the animal prints, the patterns—I think it’s really vibrant and alive. It’s a wearable fantasy, which sometimes feels like it isn’t an option in fashion. It’s either commercial or it’s fun. And this is both.”
YOU’VE BEEN A PUBLIC PERSON FOR DECADES, BUT EVEN CELEBS NEED TO RELAX! WHEN YOU’RE NOT HEADED OUT TO CELEBRATE KENZO X H&M, HOW DO YOU UNWIND?
“I moved to Park Slope. It’s very private. I have this anonymity there, which I love. I have a lot of freedom. I walk around totally dishevelled, which I’d never do in Manhattan, and people don’t care. It’s all residential, and there’s a lot of green space. It’s really nice. I spend time with my friends. I have them over. I dance. I turn off my phone. I try to do that whenever I can.”
BEYOND THE KENZO X H&M JUNGLE, WHAT’S GETTING YOU EXCITED NOW, JUST THINKING ABOUT IT?
“I’m excited about all the discourse around social justice, women in film, equal pay. The more discussion there is, the better for everybody. The awareness that’s cropped up around a lot of these issues is really fantastic to me and necessary. I feel a real sense of camaraderie in the creative world, and I love that.”
OCCUPATION: Actress, director, designer, model
LOCATION: New York