A conversation with Cara Delevingne is a bit like going down a rabbit hole. You start off politely talking about make-up – the star, who turns on 27 on August 12, is the new face of Dior Addict Stellar Shine lipstick – and within moments you’ve zigzagged into feminism, masturbation, depression and her love of Bear Grylls. Curiouser and curiouser.
For a globally famous supermodel – after Kendall Jenner, she was one of the highest-paid in the world last year, raking in about $14 million – she’s pleasingly un-supermodelly. Sitting on a sofa in the sumptuous penthouse suite of a Parisian hotel, we are surrounded by colourful macarons, vases of plump pink peonies and chic silver bullets of Dior lipsticks. The setting is très French, but Delevingne is exceedingly English. “Do you mind if I take my shoes off?” she asks in plummy tones. By all means, I say, relax. “Take it easssssssy!” she trills, bursting into song, slipping off her pointy black flats and curling her long legs beneath her. She’s eccentric, effusive and when she can’t think of a sufficiently entertaining answer to a question, she swears like Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Delevingne may come from a privileged background – her maternal grandmother was once Princess Margaret’s lady-in-waiting and her godmother is Joan Collins – but she has an everywoman appeal that’s earned her more than 40 million followers on Instagram and over 10 million on Twitter. It is this frankness and willingness to talk about her mental health, fluid sexuality and tricky teenage years (her mother, Pandora, battled heroin addiction and Delevingne was bullied at school) that have won her a legion of loyal fans.
Eight years since first appearing on a London catwalk, she remains the fashion and beauty industry’s favourite poster girl, and she’s carving out a promising career in Hollywood. Following breakout roles in Paper Towns (2015), Suicide Squad (2016) and last year’s Her Smell, Delevingne will be seen next in her first major television series, Amazon Prime’s neo-Victorian fantasy drama Carnival Row. “It’s one of the most incredible pieces of writing in terms of something that’s set in a fantasy world but deals with current affairs, like the refugee crisis and what society needs to do differently,” she explains. “Hopefully, it will make people think and get them talking. I play this fairy called Vignette Stonemoss who is a survivor, a really strong female lead. I’m a bisexual fairy – what else would you want to be in life?”
marie claire: If you could give advice to your 16-year-old self, what would it be?
CD: That this moment won’t last forever; just hold on. Every 16-year-old needs to hear that. Sixteen was one of the worst years of my life, my most depressed age. I just needed to know that (a) I wasn’t alone and (b) it was just that moment. Moments are like a river – they keep going.
MC: When it comes to beauty, what’s been your most transformative moment?
CD: Shaving my head [in 2017, to play a cancer patient in upcoming film Life in a Year]. Before, I’d always kept my look very similar. I’d have my hair and makeup done for shoots and go through these transformations, but personally I never did anything – I kept the same haircut and never coloured it. Shaving it all off was a big leap of faith into my own exploration of femininity. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t beautiful. I learnt you don’t need hair to be a woman and that my previous beauty ideals weren’t true.
MC: What’s your earliest beauty memory? For many of us, it’s watching our mum apply lipstick.
CD: It was less watching my mum put on lipstick and more getting her lipstick and rubbing it all over my face! I was not one to watch, I was one to do. Then, when I was about 10 and had these big eyebrows, my mum told me to leave them alone as they were my best feature. I was like, “What are you talking about? I keep getting bullied for having a monobrow.” I wanted to make them smaller. Of course, if you’re being told that you have something horrible on your face, you’re going to want to change it, but I’m glad that I listened to her.
MC: Do you have a favourite lip look?
CD: I love a lipstick in a dark colour like Diorcelestial. You can wear it day and night and change it from matte to shiny by layering a gloss over the top. I’m someone who eats, talks a lot and is bad at maintaining lipstick, so it’s great because it’s long-lasting.
MC: How does wearing lipstick make you feel?
CD: It’s the process of putting it on that I enjoy. It’s almost like an intimate experience with yourself, like touching yourself.
MC: Care to elaborate?
CD: That sounds a bit weird, haha! But it’s almost like you are seducing yourself. You’re putting something on your lips, you’re feeling sexy … it’s empowering. And it’s not just women; men can wear lipstick, too. It’s something they should do more. There’s nothing as great as putting lipstick on and having it smudged off.
MC: What are your desert-island beauty products?
CD: A good rose mist spray to keep my skin hydrated, because I fly a lot. I like to use an anti-ageing moisturiser, like Dior Capture Youth, because prevention is pretty important, especially with the rise of cosmetic surgery. It’s better to look after your skin than go for a needle or a knife.
MC: How do you practise self-care?
CD: I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without any self-care. I go on a yoga and meditation course once a year after [autumn/winter] fashion week. It’s a good time to go away because January and February are always very busy. The course is eight hours a day, very intense, and it allows me to connect with myself. And that practice carries me through the year, so it’s very important. As a kid, I could leave my make-up on for days and just carry on, but as I get older, I take self-care more seriously.
Carnival Row airs on Amazon Prime Video from August 30.
For the full cover story see the September 2019 issue of marie claire Australia.