Chloë’s Scene, 21 Years Later
by Steff Yotka
New York’s homegrown It girl on her style-icon status and life in the public eye.
Being anointed the coolest girl in the world at 19 by Jay McInerney in The New Yorker is a hard accomplishment to top. But somehow since the article’s publication in 1994 — which detailed her rising stardom via a Sonic Youth video shot in Marc Jacobs’ apartment and appearances in Sassy and Details magazines, the latter photographed by Larry Clark — Chloë Sevigny has managed to do a pretty good job. At 40, she has covered countless magazines, starred in acclaimed films and TV shows, and designed her own collection for Opening Ceremony, plus she has fan sites where her images are blogged and reblogged by the thousands—but you already know all that.
What most people don’t know about is Sevigny, the person. While her image is circulated online, in magazines, and in books, she has little to do with that world. She only just joined Instagram several months ago and says she’d rather “kill myself” than Google her name. But instead of taking a total backseat to the world’s fascination with her, she teamed up with Rizzoli to create a book that aims to show a truer side of the actress through personal photos, childhood ephemera, and witty juxtapositions of tabloid clips with zine imagery. In honor of the book’s release, we caught up with Sevigny over the phone to discuss two decades of It girl-dom.
Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you want to release a book about yourself?
Rizzoli approached me and it seemed like a good opportunity. I like the books that they put out; I think they have really good taste and really good quality. I’d seen a book that somebody else had done of me, and I just thought I wanted to preempt someone else doing something. You know, I turned 40, and it just seemed like a nice time to — I don’t want to say celebrate myself — but to look back on and compile images that I feel represent the time and me as a person and the career that I’ve honed and developed over the years through fashion, film, and art. I feel like in the age of the Internet, too, when your image can get away from you, it was just a way to own it again and put myself out there the way that I wanted to be seen.
What way is that?
The designer, Su Barber, and I decided we wanted to have a certain vibe. We didn’t want it to be too glamorous or too high fashion-y. We wanted it to really represent me in an authentic way, so I think that that helped us immensely just to wipe out certain shoots or a lot of photos, just saying, “We want this to be a girl from the streets.” [We show] some glamour here and there, sprinkled throughout, but we wanted it to be more like me in my real life, who I really am, and not the person put through the hair and makeup and the photographer’s eye and the retouching. We wanted it to be something more real.
When you look back on your life so far, do you feel as if there’s a specific photo in the book that embodies you the best?
There’s one early in the book that this guy David Perez Shadi took in which I’m sitting in Washington Square Park and I’m backlit. I have really long hair and I’m wearing some baggy hobo jeans and steel-toe wingtip Doc Martens, and I’m just gazing out. I feel like that was a real pivotal moment in my life. I feel like there’s so much I can read on my face. There’s an innocence but also a knowing, and I could see it all and that was just a pivotal moment in my life. I think I was around 17 or 16 — that’s when you’re deciding who you really want to be.
And how did you decide who you were going to be?
[Laughs] I think living in Connecticut, and the proximity to the city, and coming into the city all the time and meeting people, creative people—I just knew that I wanted to do something bigger than where I came from. I was so inspired by New York and the people who were there who were creative types and into lots of things. I was just like a sponge, and I knew that I wanted to hit the ground running.
In your early career, when you started taking off and appearing in magazines, how did you react to seeing people become obsessed with your style and your look?
Initially, I was kind of doing it with Harmony [Korine], because he was being celebrated, so it felt like we were in it together and that was very comforting. There’s a lot of safety in numbers, you know? And we talked about everything we were going to do — “Should I do this magazine or that magazine?” It was something more considered early on, and I feel like it was also pre-Internet, so it was a different kind of thing. I mostly did magazines that I really respected, like The Face, i-D, Interview, and Paper — cool magazines when cool magazines really made a difference. Now I don’t really know what that landscape is—maybe it’s the same, maybe I’m at the age where I don’t really care so much anymore — but then it was a very considered thing.
What about when people outside of your world started noticing you and your style?
It didn’t seem so much like a blowing up. I feel like I had a lot of peers who were also coming up, mainly the Harmony thing and other people who were working in fashion, like Mario Sorrenti or different designers whom I knew, and they were younger and coming of age. And so it felt like we were all coming up together, so I didn’t feel as singled out.
Has the Internet and the circulation of images changed people’s perception of you?
A lot of kids come up to me on the street and are like, “I like your style.” I wish that they were watching the earlier films as much as they are maybe just flipping through imagery, you know what I mean? I wish there was a way for them to be more excited about that. I feel like everything is so disposable and immediate, and they’re churning, and they’re going through it, and the concentration is just not there. I’m trying to think of a word… the attention span is just not there. There are the kids who are really into film who do see that, but I have a real problem with being isolated and being celebrated for style. I’d much prefer to be celebrated for the work I’ve done as an actress.
Do you feel that you’ve lost control of your image?
Yeah, and that’s probably the reason I wanted to do the book. [It’s] just a way for people who are fans of mine to see the real me, I guess, or those images could then be propelled even more. I mean, I don’t look at the… I don’t Google [images of] myself. I would rather kill myself [laughs].
Who could enjoy Googling themselves?!
I think people do. I think people have Google Alerts on themselves. The Internet to me is so frightening, and it scares me to death. I barely go on it.
But you just joined Instagram.
I did. I was kind of… strong-armed because of the book and the new collection for Opening Ceremony. Then, of course, I’ve hardly promoted either of them in the end! [laughs] When I joined, I had never looked at it before, and when I looked at people’s [accounts] that were doing only promotion, I was like, “This is so transparent and horrible!” So I just posted something about the book, and I put #promotion because how could I not say that? [laughs] It’s just so gross, but I guess it’s because I’m not constantly looking at it, so there’s not a way for me to filter that out. It just feels like… I don’t like the shameless self-promotion. I’m trying to figure out how to balance that, I guess.
A lot of people consider you a style icon, and you said that you’d rather be recognized for your work. Have you come to terms with the fact that some people just like how you dress?
I mean, yes, yes. I just don’t really see it. Even in the book — this isn’t even a fashion book. I think there’s an authenticity to the way I dress, and that’s what people like, but I don’t see myself as having some sort of super-classic look or anything. I don’t really understand it. [laughs]
I think it’s the authenticity, as you said.
But I don’t understand the celebration. When I see a bunch of different photos [of myself], I’m like, “Ugh, god! Terrible!” Mostly because they’re red-carpet photos, and I still don’t know how to dress for the red carpet. Very. Problematic. It’s very hard; maybe I need to get a stylist and just have her or him work it out for me. Red carpet is a whole other thing. There’s too much makeup and there’s too much hair, and then you don’t look like yourself. I wish there was a way to do it in a more casual manner with beauty, that we kind of look back on when women weren’t as styled and they still looked so glamorous and elegant.
Who are some people whose taste you admire?
Mostly people in fashion, like Melanie Ward or Jane How. Not so much celebrities.
Moving forward, how are you trying to maintain control of the public perception of yourself?
I’m trying to put a little more effort into being involved in that process, which is really draining and not a lot of fun, and I don’t really want to do it, but now I’m trying to regain control of how I’m put out into the world. And [I’m] trying to do it less. I feel like this book was like, “That’s it! No more photo shoots. I’ve done a million. I’m 40. It’s done, it’s over.” And then I’ve had to do more photo shoots than ever to promote the freaking book! [laughs]
As far as movies and TV, I’m just trying to find good material. I did the show Bloodline that’s on Netflix right now and had this amazing cast and the part was interesting. I’m going to do American Horror Story again. I just did a movie with Whit Stillman, who I love and who I worked with in the past on The Last Days of Disco. It’s a Jane Austen adaptation. It’s Kate Beckinsale and me, and it’s my first real period piece. It was just us walking and talking, and talking, and talking, and talking, and walking. I just love his films, and I love how verbal they are. I’m really excited and really proud of that. I think all in all, I’ve learned that I want to work with people who are really strong show-runners, writers, creators, and auteurs, and not [on] the things that are so much compiled together. I really want to work with people [for which] it’s their passion project.
In 40 years can we expect another Chloë book?
I mean, I hope not! [laughs] I don’t know, there would have to be some crazy, seminal shift. But I never say never, so we’ll see. There are other books, other things I’d like to do. Going through all the ephemera that I had for this Rizzoli book, we were like, “We could make so many different books right now.” Su and I were like, “What book should we make?” So maybe there’s a different incarnation.
‘Chloë Sevigny’ is available to buy here.
© Style.com 2015