Amandla Stenberg on Gender, Fashion, and Self-Expression
The evening before the fall-winter 2017 Chanel show, I walked from my Paris hotel to rue Cambon; the street famous for all things Coco. There, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour Mademoiselle Chanel’s apartment with Amandla Stenberg who, obvious or not, is the quintessential Chanel woman.
Eighteen-year-old Stenberg is as much an activist as she is an actress. She’s known equally for her breakthrough role in The Hunger Games, where she played Rue, as she is for her political prowess and social advocacy. She has an unrelenting dedication to push young adults to express themselves and speak out about the things that matter the most.
“This is my first fashion show in Paris,” Stenberg told me as we began walking through the wallpapered walls of the apartment. “I’m so blessed to be here. I’m going to die.”
I assured her that she would not die, and that Coco Chanel would be honored to have her at [her show], one of the biggest at Paris Fashion Week.
Stenberg poses with Chanel’s Gabrielle bag (above). As beautiful as all Chanel bags, the Gabrielle range epitomizes everything Mademoiselle Chanel wished her brand would represent: freedom, gender fluidity, and ease.
As we sat underneath the famed mirrored staircase from which the designer once watched her shows, Stenberg—dressed in black and gold tweed skirt and holding the latest from Chanel's Gabrielle handbag collection—talked gender, fashion, and self-expression.
VIDEO: 21 Unforgettable Looks from the Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2017 Show
One of Coco Chanel's biggest goals was to liberate women through fashion and self-expression. As a role model for many young women today, how do you feel you embody some of these same ideals?
Something that Mademoiselle Chanel did so well was to utilize the power of comfort to make beautiful statements and craft intricate pieces of fashion. That’s something I try to cultivate. How to use fashion and how to use comfort, for me, a lot of times [means] dressing like a boy … and how to intermingle that with a sense of personal flare and attention to detail. That’s something that [Chanel] did masterfully.
She’s the queen of the tweed suit and pants. It’s so important to have an outlet for self-expression. As fashion can be so polarizing, what would your advice be for young adults on how to use fashion as a positive tool?
When you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing you feel the most powerful. You radiate the most. People can sense that immediately. I’m not necessarily drawn to one particular style, but to people who know how to take their insecurities, spin them on their axes and present them to the world through their clothing.
How have you practiced this in your own life?
I think something that was a huge limitation for me was gender. I thought that I had to dress a certain way in order to appear female, in order to subscribe to certain beauty standards, in order to look pretty. And once I lifted that limitation off of myself of trying to look digestible, especially to the male gaze, it was a lot easier for me to find what style actually suited me. I was able to recognize that gender is a construct and my clothing can look like whatever I want. At the end of the day, it’s fabric draped over your body. [When I realized that] I was able to actually recognize when I do enjoy women’s fashion. Chanel is one of those brands that I feel comfortable in. It doesn’t make me feel like I’m trying to fit into a box that doesn’t feel natural to me. That’s super rare for a luxury brand.
Amandla Stenberg's new film, "Everything, Everything," directed by Stella Meghie, premieres May 19th 2017.
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