Gwen Stefani is cleaning out her closets. At the moment, she’s prying open a crate labeled “archives.” It’s overstuffed and stuck closed; her long, white-painted nails slip on the latch, and she breaks into a wry, red-lipsticked grin as the satiny contents spill out. Everyone has old boxes full of memories. But not everyone’s are full of 20 years’ worth of iconic costumes. The bags and boxes crowding Stefani’s design studio are a testament to the many phases of her career: first as the lead singer of the band No Doubt, then as a solo artist, a judge on The Voice, and ultimately as a fashion designer.
There’s a lot to be excited about in this box, but Stefani seems reluctant to dwell on the past—it’s almost as if there’s something in there she’d rather not let out. Closing the lid and standing up, she projects a kind of defiantly confident glam-rock vibe. Her high-waist J Brand skinny jeans and strappy L.A.M.B. high heels exaggerate her tall, slim figure, while her faded black tank (an “old favorite,” she says) reveals glossy blue bra straps. Her famous platinum locks are twisted into a severe topknot; her signature red lipstick is carefully in place. “I just feel like I’ve been in this cocoon,” she says. “And now I’m ready to burst out with all these new creations.”
Stefani has certainly undergone a period of transition. In the past three years, she’s had a third child, Apollo (her older sons, Kingston and Zuma, are 9 and 7, respectively), joined The Voice as a judge, and thrown herself into mogul mode, launching a series of new fashion lines: bags, eyewear, shoes, watches. She’s almost finished recording a new solo album. Most dramatically, of course, she has filed for divorce from her husband of 13 years, singer Gavin Rossdale.
Stefani’s marriage to Rossdale was a high-profile mix of romance, family bliss, and then, still, tabloid drama. For the past few years, media coverage has alternated between snapshots of the happy-seeming couple doting on their adorable children and other images hinting at marital tension. Just this spring, Stefani made headlines after her appearance on the Today Show, during which she spoke emotionally of the pride she took in her marriage. “We both want the same thing—to be married, to be good parents,” she said at the time.
Fast-forward several months and it’s clear the brave front she put on was sometimes that—a front. Though she refuses to discuss exactly what caused her marriage to crumble, she has been using her songwriting to work through her emotions. In October, she released a new single, “Used to Love You,” which painfully documents her slippery slide from love to hate. She sings, “I don’t know why I cry / But I think it’s ’cause I remembered for the first time. / Since I hated you / That I used to love you.”
In person, she has the almost overzealous energy of someone who has suffered through a tough decision but is determined to come out stronger. When Stefani mentions Rossdale in conversation, there’s no animosity or ill will, just a suggestion that their union wasn’t always easy. “I didn’t tour at all,” she says of the years leading up to her divorce. “But I did record the No Doubt album, which was super-hard. I was torn the whole time. Every day I would take the kids to school, drive to Santa Monica, work on the album, and then I’d think, Oh my god, if I don’t leave by 2:30, I’m not gonna get home in time for dinner. And Gavin being on tour ... I’m not gonna say there weren’t some incredible moments making that album. But it was a lot of knocking my head against the wall. A lot of struggle.”
Stefani still lives in the house that she and Rossdale once shared: a luxurious but unpretentious modern home in a gated Beverly Hills neighborhood high above Los Angeles. At the moment, the house is full of vibrant activity. Tonight Stefani is launching her line of high-end children’s clothing, Harajuku Lovers for Chasing Fireflies, and teams are on hand to organize the show and prep Stefani’s look. In the midst of the hubbub, Stefani’s cherubic 22-month-old son toddles comfortably, trailed by a babysitter. The mood is one of excitement, not anxiety. She refuses to take credit for the positive mood, but it’s clear her attitude is giving it shape.
To read Gwen Stefani's full feature—where she talks about her new solo album, new fashion collabs, and her new life at home—pick up the December issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download November 13.