Jake Gyllenhaal Is Using Fashion and Fragrance to Spread Joy

The star talks his Prada partnership, his sister's style influence, and the co-star whose scent leaves him speechless.

Jake Gyllenhaal Smells Good
Photo: Getty Images/InStyle

Jake Gyllenhaal signs into a recent video call wearing a pea-green Prada polo unbuttoned to reveal a thin gold chain and a semi-colon of chest hair, which probably smells like bergamot and pink peppercorn. These, along with artemisia, a striking, herbaceous plant, form the top notes of Prada's Luna Rossa Ocean, a masculine fragrance launched in 2021 with Gyllenhaal as its celebrity face.

The two are perfectly paired. The scent swathes its bravado (vetiver, sage) between softness, like lavender, iris, and a surprisingly powdery finish. (Yes, I'm a proponent of women wearing "men's" scents, and this is a great one to try, especially if you also like feigned closeness with Jake Gyllenhaal.) Its campaign video, released in August, was directed by Breaking Bad and Chernobyl's Johan Renck and takes place on an America's Cup racing boat contending with rough seas. This was a selling point for Gyllenhaal who, on our call, giggles often, calls the scent "lovely," and gives credit for his recent style renaissance to his big sister, Maggie. See? Strong. And also so soft.

Jake Gyllenhaal
Courtesy Prada

When the call gets glitchy, he's unruffled. "We're in the netherworld of the internet," he says empathetically. "We're all kind of floating around, it seems like." And, sure, that's how many of us have spent the last two years, but Gyllenhaal's actually been quite busy.

He stars in 2021's The Guilty, which was filmed in less than two weeks with director Antoine Fuqua quarantining in a van nearby due to COVID-19 exposure. This spring saw the release of Ambulance, a Michael Bay heist movie with a heart of gold, co-starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Eiza Gonzalez. Both projects seem emergency-level stressful, but that's not something Gyllenhaal takes home at the end of the day. "It was actually really creatively fulfilling and very helpful — somewhat cathartic, you know? I think that acting can be that, at its best," he says. "And Ambulance, it is very stressful and really intense, but was a real joy to make, actually, and really kind of packed with laughs and much-needed."

Ultimately, Gyllenhaal says, he is "really grateful to have been working in that time" and relishes being a part of something that brings joy to others, which is also how he arrived at his newly uninhibited fashion sense, though props also go to his stylist, Michael Fisher. (One InStyle editor referred to the actor's recent red carpet aesthetic as 'hot, rich '80s dad,' and that editor is not wrong, though the '70s references are undeniable, too).

Read on for some of Jake Gyllenhaal's favorite scent memories — tasting honeysuckles outside his childhood home and the former co-star whose fragrance leaves him speechless, to name two — and more about those "scratch-and-sniff" colorful outfits.

We're here to talk about your work with Prada. So, let's get into that. What attracted you to this particular partnership?

I think Prada, as a brand, is extraordinary in that it's always sort of a merging of the technological with the artistic and more abstract. There's always a sense of logic, and science, and respect for those things, and at the same time [...] the artistic expression of it, which is sometimes not that logical. I adore Mrs. [Miuccia] Prada and Raf [Simons, co-creative director] and I just think they're incredible minds.

And then came Luna Rossa Ocean.

Yeah, for the fragrance [campaign] itself: they came to me and they said Johan Renck is going to direct it, and it's on this boat that actually exists that they race. It's a sailboat and it's extraordinary. I love physical things, I love athletic things, and I love when you can kind of combine something you're doing or making with that.

And then, overarching the whole thing was the idea of harnessing nature and the power of nature, the overwhelming power of it for certain advances, for adventure, which was really intriguing to me. I love that idea.

Scents can be so personal and smell different to and on different people. How does this smell to you?

The smell is lovely. It's, like, strong, and I now know the notes of it: the bergamot and the pink pepper, and things I didn't realize were the smells that I was moving towards. Now, I know what they are, I've been educated in them. And I just think it's a really, really great fragrance.

Speaking of the power of fragrance, can you think of a smell that evokes a memory of a place for you?

When I was growing up, we had — it was like a carport? And there was this honeysuckle that grew on it, and the smell of that — and then also actually being able to taste it, like you could pull out the stem and taste that — that evokes the memory of my first home that I grew up in, in Los Angeles.

What was your first experience with fragrance, do you remember going to the mall to pick one out?

There definitely was the generation of — I definitely used too much cologne in junior high school and saved up money to buy it. And learned that there were a lot of my peers who smelled exactly the same as me, so, yeah.

Who is the best smelling person you've ever met?

That's a real doozy — this is a hard one. I'm going to go with Tom Holland.

What does Tom Holland smell like?

There is no describing — I know you're going to ask me for a reason! I'm sorry, I can't, I just can't seem to conjure…

He's someone you meet and you're like, "Wow. The smell on that guy."

I mean, until you know, you don't know. You know? You just. Take my word for it.

Jake Gyllenhaal
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Is there a food smell that gets you every time and you have to have it?

Anything in the vicinity of pasta, yes.

But I would say specifically the smell of pomodoro. I have a dear friend who has a restaurant in London and she makes the best pomodoro. She has a podcast that I did called The River Cafe, so, yeah, that's the one.

If something in your fridge is nearing its expiration date, do you smell it or have someone else smell it for you?

That's a natural human response! "Oh, it's terrible. Smell it," right? That's sort of like, "Can I get a confirmation on that?" But I'm smelling it first. No, I really am smelling it first.

Does fragrance play into how you step into a role, whether in any of your recent or upcoming projects, or all the way back to, say, Bubble Boy?

Wow, how did that smell? Plastic, there was a lot of plastic. I've never really used a specific fragrance, but I think memories are filled with fragrance, you know? And I think fragrance brings back memories. There are those memories I have, for instance — like the smell of my dad's beard soap and brush; that is a very strong memory for me.

For me, with us all, I think, our families mean so much to us, however we make them. And I think that I draw on those memories a lot for my work. So, I don't, like, spray bergamot for Bubble Boy, but it's a nice alliteration for the interview.

Jake Gyllenhaal
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Of course wardrobe has a lot to do with how you present a character or even a persona in real life. You've been taking some more bold fashion risks in your red carpet choices of late, tell us about that.

You know, I think I've just started to realize that I really do love expression through clothes, and there's a real opportunity to learn there, and learn from people who see things in a different way. My curiosity has led me to listen to people's ideas, and push my own, and move into places that I could learn from. The choices I've been making have been a lot about brightness and joy and just trying to have fun. And that's been really important to me.

Also, my sister has always been really, really fashionable and really bold, ever since we were kids. And I've really admired that. And so, I would say she's not a direct influence on it, but she is really an inspiration for me to push my boundaries in that space. And I guess there have been some bright colors, probably, that evoke smells, you know?

Jake Gyllenhaal
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The pink Prada tux you wore recently.

Right. Scratch-and-sniff. Yeah, there have been oranges and blues — it's been more about just things that bring joy, you know? And I think, just given the world, and what we've been through and what continues to go on, I think that's something I'd love to try and put out there.

Speaking of your sister and things that bring joy, when are the two of you going to work together again?

Oh, wow. I mean, I don't know. We actually talk about it more now than ever, and I would love to work with her. We are working together on something right now, just creatively, not as actors, which I'm enjoying so much.

What are you working on together?

I don't think I can say yet. But, she's an incredible writer, and she's an incredible filmmaker, and I've known that for a long time. And now the world knows it. And so I would love to work with her. I'd love to act in one of her films or wherever she needs me. Since we've been kids, I've been, basically, her assistant or whatever form she needs me to be in, so I will continue to be that. I'm her little brother, and if anyone's a younger sibling, they understand what I mean.

If you could bottle up a feeling to save for another time, what would it be?

Oh, wow. Bottle up a feeling. You know, let me tell you, I don't think we can bottle up a feeling because I think we shouldn't; I think we should have them and that's the great thing about them. They move through, and we hope for other ones that are joyous again, and then they keep going and more will come. They always change. So, I don't know if I have that desire. Sorry for such an abstract answer.

I was half expecting you to say the feeling of stepping into a room with Tom Holland. So that was better.

[Laughs] Not the feeling; the smell! This is the differentiation. But the feeling's pretty darn good, too, around him, so it's probably part of the whole thing.

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