In the two decades since making her acting debut in Larry Clark's disturbing teen film "Kids" and being dubbed "Girl of the Moment" by Jay McInerney in the New Yorker, Chloë Sevigny has proved to be a surprising chameleon. While her career has remained deeply rooted in the independent film world (she received an Oscar nomination for 1999's "Boys Don't Cry"), she garnered mainstream recognition (and a Golden Globe) as the scene-stealing sister-wife in HBO's popular "Big Love" and flexed serious comedic chops more recently on the Fox sitcom "The Mindy Project." Currently appearing opposite Kyle Chandler on Netflix's "Bloodline," the 40-year-old actress stars in next season's "American Horror Story" series and has recently reunited with her "The Last Days of Disco" director Whit Stillman on "Love and Friendship," a film based on a Jane Austen short story.
To fashion fans, Sevigny has garnered an equal amount of recognition for her role as a style icon. Admired for her singular mix of preppy, street and vintage, she has modeled for Miu Miu, been photographed by controversial fashion photographer Terry Richardson and appeared on more best-dressed lists than most women twice her age. A new photo book from Rizzoli, the simply titled "Chloë Sevigny" (with a thoughtful foreword by rocker Kim Gordon and a hilarious afterword by actress Natasha Lyonne), includes a bevy of startling images of the actress, from risqué magazine shoots to personal Polaroids. We spoke to Sevigny about her style evolution.
You were so young when you started being photographed. Did you ever feel exploited or pushed into looking a certain way?
I was always pretty strong-willed. If there was something I didn't want to do, I generally didn't do it.... I always knew how to take care of myself. I felt more exposed and exploited over some of the styling and some of the makeup that was put on me — there were times when that felt uncomfortable because it was so not me.
The book is filled with personal pictures. Can you pick a favorite and tell the story behind it?
The two prom pages are my favorite. In the first one, I'm wearing a pearl choker and that very fancy black dress — I felt like I looked like a real woman. My brother was dating a Ford model and I borrowed it from her. It wasn't actually expensive and it looks kind of cheap! [Laughs] I was a freshman and my boyfriend was a senior and he was really into [the band] 3rd Bass, so he's wearing a sort of zoot suit and has a cane. And in the other picture, I'm a senior and the dress I'm wearing was my mother's prom dress. I loved it and actually I still have it.
Which raises the question: Where? I'd imagine you've acquired a pretty large wardrobe at this point, so where do you keep all of it?
It's in storage in Connecticut and it's mainly alphabetized by designer, but also there are sections labeled things like "high school," and "vintage" or "Victorian." People are going to think I'm so OCD! The space is climate-controlled, but it's utterly jammed — in order to get in there, I literally have to take stuff out. I guess I have a hard time letting go of things. But I do try to clean stuff out — I don't keep everything. If I haven't worn it for two or three years, I try to get rid of it. Right now, I have two huge bags ready to go to [NYC charity shop] Housing Works.
Your style is such a mix of avant-garde, preppy and vintage. What pieces do you consider classics, that you'll always own/wear?
Always Bass loafers and Weejuns; Levi's, in many different styles, but usually vintage; navy blue blazers; and cashmere sweaters, especially in black and gray.
Fashion-wise, we all secretly want something that we don't have. What do you covet, but do not own?
I wish I had Lauren Bacall's handbag. When I worked with her [on 2003's "Dogville"], she had this gorgeous Kelly bag, but instead of being structured, it was soft, mushy even. I've wanted one like that ever since, but I can't bring myself to spend that amount of money on a bag.
Is there a particular look of yours that makes you cringe?
In my late twenties, I went through this period where I always seemed to be mixing seasons. Like, I'd wear a spring dress over a fall sweater and thought it looked very Corinne Day [the late cutting-edge fashion photographer]. When I see those pictures now, I definitely have a "what was I thinking" moment.
Whose style do you admire?
Liz Goldwyn — she has something that's missing today, an effort she puts in, and she always looks super chic. And my friend Tara Subkoff — she always looks like a perfect little jewel. Her dad was an antiques dealer and she has an eye for beautiful things. And I really love Miley Cyrus — she wears things that are super fun and cute. And Marlene Dietrich is the ultimate — she was uber-feminine but wore masculinity beautifully.
Do you ever use a stylist?
I have here and there, when I've been too busy to do it myself, like when I was shooting "Big Love." But I could count those times on one hand. I like to dress myself.
The vast majority of your peers, however, use stylists because of the scrutiny they're under to look perfect on the red carpet. What's your take?
To a certain extent, it's something women in this business have had to deal with forever, but yeah, it's a bigger problem now. No one wears clothes from their own closets anymore. There's much less authenticity these days — it can be about stylists doing favors for designers, or actresses getting advertising campaigns and endorsements. But I don't know how to stop that machine. Men have it so much easier — boys get to wear their suits and everyone's fine with that.
What will be your wardrobe staples this summer?
We, I just got my latest shipment from Opening Ceremony [the actress collaborates with the retailer], and I'm really into all of it — there's lots of blue and white and denim with tiny ruffles. And I'll be wearing my new cotton Comme des Garcons navy dress a lot too.
At this point in your life and career, you must receive a lot of clothes from designers, but do you still go thrift-store shopping?
A lot of things are given to me, that's true, but I still buy used and vintage all the time. In L.A., I like Wasteland — they'll often have Martin Margiela pieces and some rare, weird stuff; Resurrection is one of my favorites; The Way We Wore is another one; and I love Playclothes in Burbank. And I'll always go thrift store shopping. It's the thrill of the hunt, a dopamine high: "Oh, I just found a Gaultier jacket!" I love that feeling!