Elle Fanning Says Her 'The Great' Character Would Smell Like Vodka
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When Elle Fanning thinks of the antithesis of her character on Hulu’s The Great—Catherine the Great, the uptight, calculated Russian empress on a mission to kill her husband—she thinks of fun and joyful. That happier spirit is exactly the role she takes on in Paco Rabanne’s campaign for its new fragrance, FAME.
“Perfume ads can sometimes be extremely serious, but we wanted to do the opposite,” Fanning explains of her first campaign as the brand’s muse. “It’s very, like, playful while still being sexy and sensual. You can see personality shine through.”
The campaign has tons of shine, from Fanning in the late designer’s iconic metallic chain-mail dress to the FAME bottle itself, which matches the actress in a similar chain-mail motif and cat-eye sunglasses.
We sit down with Fanning ahead of the campaign launch to talk about the fragrance that taps into her nostalgia, the power of a trench coat, and her favorite (also metallic) fashion moments from The Great.
Do you have a favorite look from the campaign video?
I love the military coat. The brand gave that to me afterwards. The pink silk dress was really pretty too. They have such amazing clothes. I think you only see it for a split second, but I had a bucket hat from the ’60s.
Smelling the fragrance, and watching you in the campaign, you can’t help but want to dress up and go out.
Luckily, the fragrance smells good. It’s really buildable and refreshing—I think because it’s light. You can just spritz a little, and add more later. It’s very much a fragrance I would gravitate towards. And the bottle is so cute. I love how the bottle has so many details: the boots, the earrings, the Paco dress.
It feels like the campaign pulled inspiration from Brigitte Bardot or Audrey Hepburn. Is there someone who inspires you?
I have had so many role models to look up to. I’ve always been a Marilyn Monroe girl since I was young. I saw a photo of her once when I was seven and was like, “Who is that?” I started watching her films, probably, when I was, like, too young to watch them and was enamored by her presence. I also love Grace Kelly and Katharine Hepburn too. I definitely gravitate towards the older movie stars.
More currently, I look up to Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Jessica Chastain—they’re all amazing. There are so many people I’ve looked up to. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Nicole and so many talented actors that I really feel like I could reach out to any them and they would be there, which is not always the case.
What an iconic group of role models. Jumping back to the fragrance, what occasion would you wear FAME for?
I wear it every day. I’m a perfume girl. I have to have perfume on always. It makes me feel fresh and complete. FAME is a great scent for going out at night though. The bottle is metallic and slick, and that’s what you want to embody on a night out and ready to take on the world with confidence. But at the same time, I’ll wear it in sweatpants. It’s a fragrance refreshing enough for daytime or nighttime.
What makes you feel instantly confident?
A great jacket. I’m a coat girl, so if I have a long leather coat, like this black one with big shoulders I just bought, I feel really good. I’m tall, so I carry them well. I get them oversized, and it always complete my look.
When I’m in London, I’ll wear coats nonstop, because L.A. dressing is so different. It’s much more relaxed, which is not me. I have to remind myself to wear the outfit I like—not what I think makes sense for L.A. dressing. I’m that girl who goes to things overdressed a lot of the time, but that’s just me. I love fashion.
Is there a time when you feel the most glamorous?
When I get ready for a red carpet. It’s the ultimate glamour. It can be stressful, but I find it exciting. I’ve always loved putting together a look that expresses myself, and it’s an extension of my creativity. I’ve always had fun with red-carpet looks instead of putting pressure on myself.
At Cannes was probably the most glamorous moment I’ve had. I mean, there’s nothing like being on that red carpet; it’s huge, exciting, and pure glamour.
Perfume can really transport you. Is there a scent that makes you feel nostalgic?
When I got to New York, there was a certain chocolate in my room that brought me back to when I four years old and visited New York with my family. It was my first time visiting, and we went to Serendipity and Dylan’s candy store.
Smelling the chocolate brought me back to visiting New York in my childhood, and then I started to miss FAO Schwarz. Even the smell of that store brings back memories, like, the Ferris wheel and the piano.
It’s crazy how many smells we remember from childhood. After playing Catherine in The Great, what kind of scent do you think she would wear?
Something vodka infused. I don’t think she would wear a super-sweet fragrance. I think it would be more floral vodka. Strong, but with a feminine undertone. Definitely something crisp, like morning air. It’s an interesting question. I know some actors create fragrances for characters and wear them while they’re filming. I’ve never done that. I would be interested to work with someone to come up with Catherine’s fragrance.
Who’s the best-smelling person you’ve encountered?
Patricia Clarkson has a really specific smell. Angelina Jolie has a very specific smell. They’re all very nice scents—when you film scenes with someone, you get very close, physically, so you really smell the other person.
Do you have a favorite look from The Great?
They’re all handmade, so each one is really incredible. The third season hasn’t come out yet, but there are some really great looks in there. In the second season, Catherine was pregnant most of the time, so the dresses were made to fit the growing bump. I did love the coronation dress, the big gold dress. It was very Russian with the long braid and the bow. It reminded me of a Gucci look or something very couture, [like] if Christian Lacroix designed something back then.
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