The Fashion Bazaar - On Reflection
Harper's Bazaar Malaysia|October 2017

In fashion as in life, Kristen 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.

Elizabeth Day

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 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 frosted-blonde 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: swanlike, 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 to 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.

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