At the Chanel Haute Couture presentation in Paris, models marched across the mirrored floor in tweed suits and pearl anklets, faces serious as sentinels. But when Lily-Rose Depp, 17, glided out in a billowing petal-pink gown, the young actress grinned broadly and winked. It was a cheeky break with fashion-show convention, and the audience, iPhones aloft, loved it.
“My family was at the show, so I smiled when I saw them and started laughing,” she explains, chatting on the phone from Los Angeles. “Runway walking is not what I am used to doing.”
Depp’s catwalk inexperience hasn’t dissuaded Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld from embracing her in a big way. The designer has always loved personalities with, well, personality, and this pint-size beauty has it in spades. In addition to ending the couture show by circling the room arm in arm with Depp, Lagerfeld anointed her the face of both Chanel No. 5 Eau, an effervescent take on the world’s most famous fragrance, and Coco Rouge Gloss, the coveted brand’s new lip shine.
VIDEO: Lily-Rose Depp's Beauty Transformation
“I thought I was dreaming when they asked,” Depp says of joining a sorority of pitchwomen that includes not just her mother, Vanessa Paradis, a longtime Chanel muse, but Gisele Bündchen, Nicole Kidman, Keira Knightley, and Kate Moss. Depp first met Lagerfeld when she was only 8 years old and then modeled sunglasses for Chanel when she was 15. “He’s very down-to-earth,” she reports. “He treats everybody the same way—with genuine respect.”
In photos and on video, Depp may seem like a slip of a girl, as fragile as her namesake flowers, but she’s determined to be her own person despite her illustrious parentage. (Dad, as pretty much everybody knows, is Johnny Depp.) “Whatever you want, you should just go for it,” she says. “Whatever you have in your head, you can achieve it.” Last year she took part in Self Evident Truths, a photography project involving individuals, including Cara Delevingne and Rosie O’Donnell, who identify as anything other than 100 percent straight. Depp’s declaration of gender fluidity garnered headlines, but she shrugs it off. “Times are changing,” she said when the news broke. “Kids don’t need to label their sexualities.”
Depp is hewing to the family blueprint in other ways too. When her parents were teenagers, each dropped out of high school to pursue show-business dreams—her father to act and her mother to sing and model, memorably as a caged bird in a fragrance commercial for Chanel’s Coco. Their daughter recently followed suit to focus on her film career.
Like her father (and Meryl Streep, one of her favorite actresses), Depp loves an unconventional script. Director Kevin Smith, best known for Clerks, cast her in his recent movie, Yoga Hosers. Depp gamely played a convenience store worker who saves Canada from miniature animated fascist sausages (or something like that). The film was not well received, but a fan on the Rotten Tomatoes movie-review site called Depp “a magnetic screen presence.” In last year’s Planetarium, she starred alongside Natalie Portman as a young medium in pre–World War II Paris, and in The Dancer, another period piece, she portrayed Isadora Duncan, the groundbreaking American performer. “I’m not really set on one type of role,” she says.
While Depp juggles different personas onscreen, she’s a shape-shifter in real life too: blinged-out Venice Beach tomboy one day, as captured in these photos by her friend David Mushegain, and petite Parisienne fashion plate the next. Talking with reporters at the Cannes Film Festival, she moved easily between perfect French and laid-back English, reflecting the two worlds she grew up in. “I think both cultures are always with me,” she says. “I like the independent side of Paris—being able to walk everywhere, and my family is there. But L.A. is really where I’ve grown up. I went to school there, all my childhood friends are there. I always miss one place when I’m in the other.”
Being a face for Chanel Beauté comes easily to the teen, whose job perks include getting firsthand tips from pros like Lucia Pica, Chanel’s global creative makeup and color designer. “I’ve always been into makeup, even when I was little,” says Depp, who started wearing it at 13, an age she now considers “kind of young.” “My mom would be getting ready, and I would ask the makeup artist to put lipstick or lip gloss on me.”
Because of her parents and her luminous beauty, Depp has captivated fashion insiders along with the 2.5 million Instagram fans who pepper her comments section with hearts and kisses and hang on her every post. Despite all the attention and affection, Depp is candidly aware she’s still a teenager, just finding her way in the world. “I’m not a perfect person,” she says before jumping off the phone. “I have my own issues. You just have to be who you are and be the best version of that.”