backstage at chanel, rowan blanchard talks fashion and politics
Invited to Paris by Chanel for the house's Métiers d'Art show, the outspoken Disney star met us to discuss how her generation is finding its voice.
She's been a Disney star since she was nine, Rowan Blanchard now uses her fame, intelligence, and her connection with her four million followers to speak up and defend the rights of women, queer people, and minorities in general. In Hollywood, she takes the floor to denounce Trump, patriarchy, and stereotypes. But she's also slipping into the world of fashion, making a show stealing appearance for Kenzo at NYFW last season, and last week, she was invited to Paris by Chanel, for the house's Métiers d'Art show that took place in the very luxurious Ritz hotel. Where we caught up with her.
I noticed that you were pretty at ease in front of the camera during shooting. You seemed to enjoy it.
Yeah, it's my last night in Paris, the clothes are beautiful, and it's a small, intimate, and fun group. Photo shoots freak me out when there are a lot of cameras, a big crew, and super posed, and I don't get to be myself, when people tell me how to pose. So this one was a lot of fun.
When was your first fashion shoot ever?
I'm not sure there's a specific one I can remember, but I remember getting very nervous before. The environment is kind of scary. I like the whole idea of creating images, but it gets freaky when there's a bunch of people constantly reviewing how you look.
But you're used to cameras, to having people looking at you. How is it different with fashion?
It's very different. In a film set or a TV set, you're hiding behind a character. I don't even consider that I'm on camera. It's like another person. I can watch something with me in it, and be quite okay with it. I don't even feel connected to it, because that character that I embody is so separate from me. But in a fashion shoot, it's strange because you have to incorporate the clothes and allow yourself to have fun with the clothes rather than feeling rigid, in control. It's not a character but you have to channel something. It can be fun to do this kind of shoot because you can play with the set, work with that. I feel that's how many actors approach fashion shoots, with their knowledge of acting, by asking "what do you want to get across?" I'm not a model but that's what my understanding of it is: channeling something, which is different from standing in front of a camera. Channeling the essence of the story.
What's your relationship with Chanel?
I started working with them in February or March of this year, and they've been so kind, so generous. I think people wear Chanel because they make you feel so comfortable. The clothes are always beautiful, works of art, but I never feel that I'm being put in a box. It's very surreal to be in Paris with them, to go to all of these places with them. We've been working in Coco's apartment lately. And that was crazy, to be in this place, where this woman created a brand from nothing. And now it's so huge. It's an incredible thing to be part of. The people at Chanel are so loving and nice and welcoming. They're interested in how you'll feel in the clothes rather than how you'll look in the clothes.
What do you think of Chanel's vision of women?
I remember seeing all the Chanel ads, since forever. The women that they always chose to represent their brand are representing so much. They always have been very interesting choices. It's always people with some unique individuality. There's always that classic side of Chanel because of how old it is, but there's also a sense of youth, of life. The pursuit of interesting people. The girls I'm here with are so great, like Willow Smith... Girls that are so fun and loving, and not rehearsing or auditioning for popularity or anything. It feels like we're amongst friends.
We could see that in the show.
Yes! I was so happy to see a bunch of models smiling, dancing, twirling, and having fun. I feel like that's something we don't see often. As a consumer, when I'm flipping the pages, it feels very serious most of the time. It was nice to see that, to be a part of that ambiance, so happy.
You come from Hollywood, from Disney. A world that can feel narrow sometimes, in which you've managed to follow your instinct, be yourself, and impress everyone in the process. Were you conscious of this?
I don't think so. I have social media on my phone and my mum let me run it without her watching over me. I just started reading the news, watching the news, and questioning myself about what I saw, and building my way of comprehend and answering questions. I do that by writing. I keep a diary, in a very organic way, with no idea of what it may become. I just write what my mind is thinking about, about what's important to me. My first essay, which went viral, was literally written on the floor of my bedroom. I wasn't thinking about creating this thing for attention. I just wrote about something that was important to me. It was nice to see that people were talking about me in a nice way, a curious way about what I was doing. I was really happy that the conversation was turning less about me and more about the subject that I was writing about.
We can see that you're committed to a lot of things. And it's people like you who are shaping the minds of the youngest. Are you conscious of your power as a public figure and a role model?
I am when people say things to me, but I think there's a subconscious part of me that doesn't want to know how much effect I actually have. The main thing is that I wouldn't do these things if I didn't believe in it. I guess now I have more awareness of my audience, I have a better feeling of what the audience is. I'm not trying to make the conversation about me. I'm just trying to make it happen. It's not about 'I think,' it's me wanting people to talk about certain topics, no matter what their opinions are. That's what Willow is doing, that's what so many people are doing.
Do you think that fashion can be honestly political?
Absolutely. I think fashion is political. I feel like the way women dress is political. It's used against us or for us. You can't really involve a woman in something without it being political. There's a lot a talk about gender in fashion right now... And fashion can have so much power in fighting a binary concept of gender. So much influence. A bunch of teenagers wouldn't otherwise think: "ok, it's ok for me to wear a suit, and it's ok for my brother to wear a skirt!"
Text Tess Lochanski
Photography Manuel Obadia-Willis
Rowan wears Chanel Paris Cosmopolite Métiers d'Arts 2016/17 which was shown at the Ritz Paris