Cult Actress and Fashion Muse Rossy de Palma Has Been "Badass Since the Beginning"
"For me, reality is a bit hard-core," admits Rossy de Palma, 57. "I prefer to ﬂow and to discover. I'm like a butterﬂy." The reoccurring star of director Pedro Almodóvar's ﬁlms and longtime runway model for Jean Paul Gaultier will cop to being a multidisciplinary artist and a mamá (to Luna, 22, and Gabriel, 23), but anything beyond that is considered too constricting. "I only believe in gastronomic boundaries," she jokes. "If I deﬁne myself, I limit myself."
De Palma's sense of individualism manifested at a young age. Born in Majorca, Spain, she confesses to feeling like she never really ﬁt in, nor did she particularly want to, preferring to channel her energies into poetry and ballet. "I was a badass from the beginning," she says. "I never needed anyone's approval. It's an attitude — to just pose and say, 'Look, this is what I am, and I don't give a shit if you don't like it. Or if you like it, I don't give a shit about that either.' In French they say, 'Ne te laisse pas faire,' which translates to 'Don't let them get you.' [Badass women] are allergic to bullshit."
When she moved to Madrid in the late '80s, de Palma dove headfirst into the counterculture crusade La Movida Madrileña — an era of artistic freedom following the death of Fascist dictator Francisco Franco. "We were not thinking about money or celebrity," she remembers. "We were expressing ourselves with total freedom. It was a very spontaneous and experimental intention of creating something funny and visionary." Almodóvar was also on the scene, and the two initially connected over de Palma's new wave band, Peor Impossible. The underground auteur then asked de Palma to help tailor costumes for his 1987 ﬁlm Law of Desire, and she also landed a bit part. That sparkled to an enduring partnership that has evolved over eight ﬁlms and nearly four decades — including two Goya Award nominations (Spain's version of the Oscars) for de Palma.
In Almodóvar's most recent release, the Golden Globe–nominated Parallel Mothers, de Palma plays Elena, a high-powered magazine editor and the best friend of Janis, a resilient single mother portrayed by Penélope Cruz. "Elena loves women and is secretly in love with Penélope's character," de Palma says. "She's emotional but tough — a woman who can handle her life with no problem, you know?"
While Almodóvar helped de Palma get her start in the acting world, she now has a proliﬁc portfolio that boasts ﬁlms with Robert Altman (Prêt-à-Porter, 1994) and Terry Gilliam (The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, 2018), among others. One of her recently wrapped projects is a modern-day remake of the opera Carmen, in which de Palma sang and danced up a storm for choreographer and ﬁrst-time director Benjamin Millepied.
In the fashion realm, de Palma became one of Gaultier's muses; he cast her repeatedly in his shows, including his ﬁnal spring 2020 couture collection. She developed creative bonds with other designers too, like Thierry Mugler, Alexander McQueen, and the late Azzedine Alaïa. "With Jean Paul, Alaïa, and others, like Christian Louboutin, [our connection] is more than just a fashion story," she says. "They, along with Pedro, of course, are my family. I admire them so much for their talent, but beyond that, I love them."
The aspirational and stylish images that are regularly shared to de Palma's Instagram account demonstrate that fashion is as much a part of her life force as anything else. "To me it is art," she says. "The designers who create with intention are artists. The way we dress is like an emotional language for communicating with others through our clothes."
Part of de Palma's global mystique is her ability to adapt wherever she goes. She is quadrilingual and keeps a home in Paris. Her relatives are from Spain's Basque country with Celtic ancestry ("I mean, this is a Celtic nose"), and she feels an affinity for both Andalusia in the south and Africa, speciﬁcally Senegal, where she also has family. Her vivaciousness has been rewarded beyond the typical industry accolades. In 2013 she was named a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture and in 2019 received the Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts from her mother country.
Lately, she says, what is keeping her most inspired is a sweeping social change and the surge of female power that has come with it. "I'm discovering a lot of women — screenwriters, directors — who are now waking up from some, I don't know, eternal nightmare," she says. "Before it was like, 'Oh my god, how can I deal with work, with kids, with the family, whatever?' Now there's not that guilt anymore. We are wide open to our future. Everything is happening for us."
Feeling a sense of appreciation for this time in her life and career comes easily to de Palma. One of her few rules is to stay positive as much as possible. "Complaining is a stupid waste of time and energy," she says. "The more gratitude you have, the more it grows, like when you pop open a bottle of Champagne. Gratitude has bubbles!"
Photography by: Pablo Sáez. Styled by: Alba Melendo Garciá. Hair: Yoann Fernandez for Artlist Paris. Makeup: Megumi Itano for Calliste Agency. Manicure: Eri Narita.
For more stories like this, pick up the February 2022 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Jan. 14th.