British actor Dame Helen Mirren recently walked the ramp during the ‘Le Défilé L’Oréal Paris — Walk Your Worth’ show as part of the Paris Fashion Week at the Eiffel Tower.
The Oscar winner, 78, is known for her iconic appearances on red carpets and fashion galas over the years; the star’s daring look at the Cannes Film Festival 2023 earlier this year especially came in for a lot of praise, as the Dame matched her hair to the blue Del Core gown she wore, and finished the look sporting a paper fan emblazoned with the hashtag #WorthIt (a nod to her role as a L’Oréal Paris ambassador).
Always the picture of ageless grace and elegance, Helen sits down to talk to us over a Zoom call from Paris, as she discusses her association with L’Oréal Paris, why the theme of this year’s Le Défilé event — Stand Up Against Street Harassment — strikes a chord with her, and how fashion can empower the women of today.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
Why do you think this year’s Le Défilé L’Oréal Paris’ theme of Stand Up Against Street Harassment is relevant today?
I think this is an incredibly important initiative; the world should be as available and accessible to women as it is to men. All the beauties and fascinations of the world should be equally enjoyed by men and women.
It’s ridiculous that for a long time, in certain cultures, there was a notion that women shouldn’t inhabit public spaces. Whoever came up with that idea, I don’t know. But in the world I grew up in, you took it for granted that women would be harassed if we stepped out on the street. All over Europe, this was a given, be it Italy, France, and certainly in England.
This is an education programme as much as anything else. To educate men that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable anymore; that street harassment should be culturally extinct. So just stop it, and let’s all live a more civilised life together.
You have been a strong advocate for several women’s issues over the years; how do you think fashion can make a difference and empower the women of today?
As actors, we have to pay a lot of attention to what we are wearing, always; costumes and clothing are important tools to express the character we are playing. But aside from that, my point of view is that anyone should be allowed to wear anything they like, without other people being judgemental about it.
In England now, there exists a big Muslim population, and several women wear the burqa; that is their choice and their freedom. Nobody should be forced into wearing what they don’t want to!
What does fashion mean to you? Does taking on the runway excite you?
The runway… is a bit of a foreign land for me. I’m an actress, not a model; so it’s always like visiting a foreign country each time I take on the ramp. It’s fun, but at the same time, I’m not altogether comfortable in that space. But being here in Paris — at the centre of understanding what fashion is — and to find myself in front of the Eiffel tower on the runway… it’s extraordinarily exciting, no doubt.
But I also love fashion, that artisanal side to it, and all the handiwork involved in the process. In India, for instance, I know that there are such amazing artisanal workers in fashion, and I’m so much in admiration of their contribution towards the industry. On that note, I’d love to visit India soon as well.
For several decades, you have been such a style icon inspiring women across generations; is there a red carpet look or dress you are particularly fond of?
Hmm… now that I think of it, I really liked my look at the Cannes Film Festival red carpet earlier this year. I had this beautiful blue dress designed by an up-and-coming young Italian designer, and it was such a gorgeous colour, that I thought, why not colour my hair blue as well? So I spoke to the brilliant Stéphane Lancien, the L’Oréal hair stylist, and everyone thought it was a great idea and immediately came up with different shades for me to choose. That was a really memorable experience for me.
Another incredible memory is from the Dolce & Gabbana fashion show in Venice and Sicily a couple of years ago. I was wearing this extraordinary, beautiful metal bustier with a huge, lovely skirt in Venice; it’s moments like that when you wonder if you’re in a dream! This can’t be happening because it’s all so wonderful and beautiful. And it’s also fleeting, which is great — the whole point is that you wake up in the morning and it’s all gone. I felt like Cinderella!