From a broad, gleaming white deck of a modern house perched in the Hollywood Hills, actor Lily Collins watched the clouds ramble through the vast sky, appearing over the ocean, moving across the flats of the city towards downtown, and disappearing over the horizon to the east.
“It was like schizophrenic mood lighting,” she says, recalling the unpredictable weather on the day of her BAZAAR shoot, which alternated between intense sun and driving rain, a challenge for photographer David Roemer and his crew. “It was guerrilla-warfare-style weather, which was kind of perfect with all of the Chanel clothing in the shoot. Each piece from this spring ’16 collection is so quirky. It’s such a work of art. Everything has this bizarre, alien quality. Nobody makes clothes like Chanel. And then to have that contrast with the white building gin the background, and that sky. It was incredible.”
Collins, 26, is now used to being in front of the camera in somewhat unconventional situations. She’s acted in nine films, from big-budget studio movies such as the Snow White revamp Mirror Mirror to the upcoming (and as yet untitled) Warren Beatty film based on the life of the Howard Hughes. She was recently cast in an Amazon television pilot, The Last Tycoon, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final, unfinished novel. She is also the face of Barrie knitwear, a line of chic cashmere separates (which Collins describes as “modern and otherworldly”) made in the Scottish Borders and owned by Chanel. Part of the job description includes appearing in the Barrie ad campaigns, which are shot by none other than Karl Lagerfeld.
“I’ve had the pleasure of shooting with him a couple of times now,” says Collins, who is soft-spoken and sweet, showing manners that reveal the side of that premiered as a debutante at the Crillon in Paris more than the side of her that guest-starred on MTV’s The Hills. “The first time was with Carine Roitfeld for BAZAAR about three years ago- it was maybe five minutes of shooting. He’s so specific about angles and lighting. He knows what he wants and he doesn’t mess about. I’ve done three Barrie campaigns with him in Paris at his studio and it’s the most amazing experience. He and I have a great connection and chemistry. Most recently when I shot with him, it was when I was in the [Chanel A/W 2015] haute couture show in Paris, which was one of my most exciting, proudest moments. He took four frames in 45 seconds. And he was like, ‘I got it. We’re done.’”
Though you’re just as likely to spot Collins in New York or London or Paris, she calls Los Angeles home. She knows very well the streets down the hillside in front of her carving the city into little jigsaw-puzzle chunks. She moved from England to LA with her mother, Jill Tavelman, a native and her father, Genesis frontman and ‘80s ballad champion Phil Collins, divorced. She went to high school here and then college, at the University of Southern California, to study broadcast journalism. Collins was just six when she left her father’s country home in Surrey for the States. It’s clear, though, that her time there as a young child and the holidays she spent there throughout her life have informed her style and demeanour. “I really do feel more European,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s because I travel so much, but I think I have a different perspective. I enjoy European culture, the fashion, being surrounded by old buildings and museums. My mum and dad wanted to make sure I felt at ease in different parts of the world.”
After just a few minutes speaking to her, it’s clear Collins is more than just Hollywood’s favourite pair of eyebrows, and has a maturity and perspective on her work that’s atypical for someone her age. Every move she makes, whether it’s choosing a film or role or selecting an edgy red-carpet look with her stylists, Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn (who also work with Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Lopez), or cutting her hair into a choppy bob with longtime hairstylist Mara Roszak, is very deliberate. It’s all part of shaping her narrative. “When I was younger, I always knew I wanted to tell stories,” she says. “I would imagine these worlds in my head – I always had a story. Then I started writing for magazines in England when I was 15. I wanted to reach people my age. I wanted to be a young talk-show host. I was auditioning for on-air jobs and people kept telling me no, that I wasn’t ready. I just kept pushing myself. Then I got my first movie [The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock], which is another way of telling stories… I get to have fun experimenting with different personalities.”
Though she hopes to return to writing one day, performing is part of her DNA. Few people remember that Phil Collins’s first passion was acting. His mother ran a stage school in London, and he performed in the theatre and in several movies, including Hook, directed by Steven Spielberg. Collins has two half siblings from her father’s first marriage, one of whom is an actor and the other a musician. And her maternal grandmother was a ballerina.
“It’s funny because I also have fashion in my blood,” she explains. “My mother’s family owned a shop called Tavelman’s on Wilshire Boulevard. They designed suits and clothing for so many actors here in town, starting in the 1930s. My mom would help out in the store when she was little. So it’s nice to share these passions with my family.”
And, of course, music is a passion as well. The younger Collins, who listens to music to help her get into character, veers more towards electronica-influenced alternative than ‘80s soft rock, and names two favourite Australian indie artists, Flume and Chet Faker, to prove it.
Despite her firm roots in Old Hollywood and her English performing pedigree, there’s nothing retro about Collins at all. To look at her sporting studded Birkenstock-inspired sandals and layers of Chanel, with ruffles and patterns and the most exquisitely weird details, it’s almost like peering into the future. And it’s plain to see that all of it, including the sprawling city below and the wide, moody sky above, belongs to her.
By Christine Lennon
Photographed by David Roemer
Styled by Thelma McQuillan
All clothes and accessories by Chanel