On an early fall evening, Helen Mirren threw on a flowing Giambattista Valli gown and bounded barefoot through the courtyard of the Monnaie de Paris, the French government institution off the Left Bank of the Seine. If you know anything about Mirren, you know that it could be just another Saturday night for the dame. But the occasion of the night’s escapades just happened to be L’Oréal Paris’s third annual Le Défilé show. With a magnetic joie de vivre, the 74-year-old Oscar-winning actor joined Camila Cabello, Amber Heard, Andie MacDowell, and Eva Longoria in leading an inclusive model lineup spanning age, backgrounds, and body types as a 40-musician orchestra accompanied the open-air runway to powerful effect.
“If it was just me in a show, it would be, ‘Oh, what an amazing novelty that they have a really old woman walking!’—and I wouldn’t feel so good about that,” laughed Mirren ahead of the show backstage, where makeup artist Val Garland encased her blue gaze with flicks of winged liner and iridescent gems. “But here we are, a whole, diverse group of sizes, shapes, genders, and races. We’re making a statement about the inclusivity of the family of L’Oréal, and I think that’s a great message, and I’m happy to be a part of it.” After a short pause she added: “I just hope I don’t fall over!” An understandable fear in front of a 600-person crowd with Naomi Campbell among its front row, it proved, unsurprisingly, to be a nonissue for Mirren. An indomitable force by nature, she’s always right at home in Paris. Mirren not only speaks French fluently (and mesmerizingly accent free), but early on her career she also lived in the city for six months while doing experimental-theater work.
“I had a single room without any running hot water,” she grinned. “When I needed a bath, a woman would have to literally fill a tub of hot water, and I’d stand in a plastic bowl. It was bohemian! I’m so privileged to have had that experience in Paris.” And while Mirren was a self-proclaimed Francophile growing up “during the era of Françoise Hardy and Brigitte Bardot,” it was as a transplant that she came to truly appreciate the French woman’s insouciant approach to fashion and beauty. “They take it for granted because it’s absolutely a part of life the same way that breakfast or having a glass of wine with dinner is!” And ever the student of life, Mirren admits to unabashedly channeling la Parisienne. “When you’re walking on the streets of Paris, you see these women—not in their 20s, in their 40s or 50s—and everything about her is so cool and elegant,” she explained. “I follow them, studying them to discover what is it that makes them so great. Is it their hair? Is it their shoes? Is it the way they tie the scarf? They’re just doing their thing, and it’s absolutely natural.”
Whether it’s intentional or not, one thing that Mirren certainly shares with French women is aging on her own terms. “It’s much better to age disgracefully!” declared Mirren, bucking the expectations that come with being a woman of a certain age. “Take it on the chin, and roll with it. You die young, or you get older. There is nothing in between! You may as well enjoy it.” Living life large no matter what age you are is a notion that has been ingrained in Mirren for decades. “My mother once said, ‘Never worry about getting older,’“ she recalled. “‘I know the thought of you being 45 when you’re 25 is, Oh, my god! Who wants to be 45? But it’s amazing because when you get to be 45, you’ll realize it’s actually very cool and you don’t want to be 25 again.’ And I have to say, she was absolutely right. With every age comes advantages and disadvantages. And you tend to find that you don’t want to go back. You want to be exactly where you are with everything you’ve experienced.”
It’s no wonder that Mirren—who wears python print and bubble-gum pink hair with total aplomb—has become a symbol of all there is to look forward to as the years go on. The latest case in point? Mirren was fresh off the set of Fast & Furious 9, also starring Charlize Theron and Vin Diesel, as evidenced by her glitter-tipped lilac gel manicure. “They’re my Fast & Furious nails!” Mirren replied after being complimented. “But I thought I’d keep them because they’re quite nice.” Continuing to live life large at a dizzying speed, 74 looks nothing short of aspirational on Mirren.
Originally Appeared on Vogue