At 29, Coco Chanel was on the precipice of fame. Margot Robbie is already there, an Oscar-nominated actress with her own production company. Yet on her 29th birthday, which she celebrated in the front row of Virginie Viard’s debut haute-couture collection for Chanel, there is a sense that, like Chanel, the next decade of Robbie’s life will be her biggest, too.
“The show was amazing ... very wearable, which is great because I have a lot of press coming up,” Robbie says, grinning, as we sit down in a hotel suite overlooking Paris’ Grand Palais.
As an ambassador for Chanel, Robbie has worn dramatic couture gowns to the Oscars and Cannes Film Festival. Now, she’s taking on a new role with the fashion house as the face of the brand’s latest fragrance, Gabrielle Essence.
Launched in 2017, Chanel Gabrielle was a light, feminine perfume dripping in tuberoses, which were grown specifically for that scent in the fields of Grasse in the South of France. Gabrielle Essence takes this one step further, with Chanel perfumer Olivier Polge introducing citrus, vanilla and red berries to create a new composition that is warm and playful. “When I smell Gabrielle Essence, I feel like a powerful woman,” Robbie tells marie claire. “I feel feminine, I feel creative.”
Scent has always played a role in Robbie’s life. As a child growing up on a farm on the Gold Coast, Robbie remembers gazing at her mother’s perfume bottle in pride of place on the bathroom counter. “I always associated the idea of wearing perfume with being grown-up,” Robbie recalls. “[I thought] ‘when I’m a woman, I’ll wear perfume as well.’ I definitely idealised the notion of wearing perfume.”
Later, when she would prepare for roles in The Wolf of Wall Street or Suicide Squad, it was fragrance that helped her tap into the heart of a character. “I always end up wearing the perfume I wore as Daphne [Milne] in Goodbye Christopher Robin,” Robbie says. “I always go back to it. I think because I was having such a good time when we were making that movie in the English countryside. I think I’m just craving ... a simpler life.”
Robbie shot the Gabrielle Essence campaign with photographer Nick Knight on an enormous rotating set, clouds of silk swirling through the air. The idea was to channel both Chanel’s creativity and her strength, Robbie says. “It’s named after her real name [Gabrielle],” she explains. “[We wanted] to embody this woman who is a creative force ... and there’s beauty and chaos, but she knows who she is.”
Robbie feels inspired by Chanel’s sense of self. “I love that she was a rule-breaker,” Robbie says. “At the time, even creating a fragrance was not done. She was the first person to join fragrance and fashion together, [and] now we take that for granted ... I think it’s cool [how] she changed the way everyone plays the game because she wanted to try something and she went for it.”
The actress is also inspired by her mother. “I know I should have a go-to answer for this, and I should not say my mum because I say that all the time,” Robbie says, laughing. “It’s so hard not to be like, ‘My mum is seriously awesome.’” She also draws strength from her girlfriends, who “are incredible and doing amazing things”, and from the late Karl Lagerfeld with whom she worked on the campaign for the Coco Neige collection.
“He was so [much] fun,” Robbie recalls. “We honestly spent more time eating and drinking wine than we did actually doing a photo shoot. It just felt fun and easy and that was my favourite way to see him: working like that with the people he loved and having a good time.”
For Robbie, all this – posing for Lagerfeld, sitting front row at fashion shows, learning from Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino – continues to be one of those breathless, fairytale “pinch-me” moments.
“I never ever thought any of this would happen,” she says, laughing. What would a young Robbie, learning her lines for the school play in her bedroom, say if she saw her now? “Gosh,” Robbie sighs. “I have no idea! She would say, ‘How did that happen?’”
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of marie claire.