If you’re a certain type of person who came at age at a very certain time, the news that director/writer Whit Stillman would be premiering a new series called The Cosmopolitans on Amazon Instant Video probably caused you to react with the sort of glee normally reserved for fan boys getting their Spiderman fix at Comic-Con. And when you found out that said pilot would include Chloë Sevigny (who last worked with Stillman on 1998’s The Last Days of Disco), you probably called up your (now aged and jaded) college friends and invited them over for a viewing party (and immediately procured a rare Bordeaux that would vouch for your sophistication). You see, Stillman is sort of the master of a type of talky, navel-gazing cinema that is probably best appreciated if you went to an elitist East Coast university—or just wish you did. (“Urban haute bourgeoisie” is the term uttered in his 1990 film Metropolitan). His characters exhibit a sort of blasé, WASPy pretention that reeks of privilege, but the viewer is never quite sure if they’re the real deal or mere strivers. (At one point Sevigny’s character Vicky—disparaging the expat American boys who populate The Cosmopolitans—says to the young Aubrey (Carrie MacLemore), “Did you really come to Paris to meet Albuquerque?”). But anyway, enough of the heady stuff! The point, for our purposes here, is that Chloë Sevigny plays a fashion editor! Read on for what she had to say about dressing the part and the style supremacy of French women.
Lucky: Have you revisited The Last Days of Disco recently?
Chloë Sevigny: I’m waiting until I’m old and weathered and grey to go on that nostalgia trip. Right now, I’m just at the point where it’s making me really depressed to see younger versions of myself. I’m kind of struggling with that at the moment, which I’ve never really struggled with before. I was hanging out with this kid who’s 31—not hanging out dating—hanging out as a friend, and there’s such a difference between 31 and 39 you can’t even begin to imagine.
But you really do look the same.
Thank you. I appreciate that. Well, they do say, for rock stars and/or society women at least, that if you keep the same look, you don’t age as much. You’re kind of frozen in time. That’s true for someone like Patti Smith to a certain degree. But I don’t know if it holds true for me.
I feel like I’m always on the fence with Whit’s characters. They’re so pretentious, but so charming. Should we love them or hate them?
I always find them amusing. Like with Damsels of Distress [the director’s 2011 movie starring Greta Gerwig]. I loved that movie and the characters. I guess I was thinking that Carrie’s character was more likeable and I would be the unlikeable one. But that’s OK. Vicky will eventually be multidimensional, especially if it runs, you know, 10 episodes. So I feel like it’s so open to interpretation. In Big Love, I played this character Nicki who a lot of people thought was such a bitch. I find it very telling when people come up to me and say she’s this bitch. Then I know what kind of person they are. She was the most damaged character in the entire show. I miss her a lot.
So the guys in The Cosmopolitans aren’t jerks?
I don’t think they’re jerks. I can only say for myself how I feel about them. At the end when they all crack a smile in the cab you’re like, Aw, sweet. I mean, they’re all putting up fronts. There’s a lot going on in those scenes.
You play an enigmatic fashion editor. Did you give a lot of thought to Vicky’s backstory?
Whit and I didn’t really talk much about it. He gave me some ideas of certain snippets of scenes he had in mind for future episodes, and that was the extent of it. I didn’t even realize she was a fashion journalist until he gave Carrie’s character that line about Vicky. It wasn’t even in the initial script. I think she was supposed to be a lot more mysterious and then after Whit got me to Paris he beefed up the role a bit. I didn’t know anything about her; I just thought she was sort of a generic Whit Stillman character—not that any of them are generic—but well-educated, very Whit.
Well, Aubrey says you’re “really important.”
Not that my character is based on this person in any way—I’m putting this out there as a disclaimer—and it’s not like I’m dressing like her or anything, but I think she was meant to be important in the way of like Sally Singer [from Vogue]. A very bright influential woman in the industry who worked for someone very important and has since made a name for herself. That’s kind of who I was thinking about. But, who knows? She could be someone totally different. I could be grasping at straws right now, but that’s what I was imagining.
The pilot shot in Paris. Are you a believer that the French women have the upper hand in terms of style?
I do believe in the mystique of the French woman. There’s a certain beauty, a type of nonchalance, about them. I went to this big AIDS charity event there with my friends from Kenzo and the difference between the French quote-unquote "red carpet style" and American red carpet style is remarkable. The women all do their own hair and makeup. In my mind, they look more chic. It’s not a lot of jewels and fancy gowns, it’s more simple and effortless. When you’re in that environment you realize that the difference from the New York or L.A. version is really pronounced. But even on the street in Paris everyone looks freshly scrubbed and neat. They do have some sort of sprinkly dust of magic there.
Does your own style change when you’re in Paris?
Not really, but I hear my mother’s voice in my head. She always told me "you better dress nicely." People treat you better when you’re dressed well. Which is true. I mean, she’s right—it’s really annoying. But if you’re traveling or in a restaurant and you look nice and have a nice bag, you’re treated better than if you look schlubby.
How did you decide on Vicky’s outfits?
It was a bit of a struggle. For me, wardrobe is always a bit of a struggle. They pull samples and then I’m left trying to fit into sample size, which is always a head trip. Instead of going shopping and buying, like, size four or six, I’m trying to squeeze into a zero. And that happens on photo shoots as well and it’s really unfair. I can’t imagine if I were any heavier or a different shape how much more difficult it would be. So they had all these samples, from Chloé, Carven, McQueen and other brands that were very generous. But Whit is very particular. So, in the end, he has the final decision. I wish I did because I had some really cute outfits put together that were maybe too fashiony for him. I was going more Emmanuelle Alt-esque. That was little more “fashion” than he wanted for her.
If you really could be a fashion editor, what would your magazine be like?
Oh, what would my fashion magazine be like?…I think I would have more real girls as models and less of this idea of young and skinny. I think I would have more street style. I always love those pages where they have more girls on the street. I’d have a lot of in-depth articles dealing with women’s heath and women’s issues—a bit like what Sassy magazine did, that kind of trailblazing.
What are you reading lately?
I read New York magazine and I read The Atlantic. But I don’t really look at any fashion magazines right now, because as I said before, I’m having a fragile moment. It’s too hard not to compare.
We’re excited to see your next collection for Opening Ceremony. What can we expect?
We just shot our lookbook yesterday and I’m showing on September 11. The new collection is kind of like a lost girl Connecticut who’s running away on Metro-North. It’s a little preppy, a little wacky, a little like Yohji [Yamamoto], over-shaped. It’s kind of a hodgepodge.
Where do you get your design inspiration—movies, images, life?
It’s kind of all of the above…a movie or an image or a garment. I get the initial inspiration and then it goes from there. Like, Heathers, Winona Ryder in Heathers, was kind of my starting point.
Well, I hope The Cosmopolitans pilot gets picked up for a whole series and we get to see more of Vicky.
That’s the hope. I think that’s up to the Amazon viewers.
The Cosmopolitans debuts on Amazon today, August 28.