Chanel brand ambassador Keira Knightley was one of the stars at the opening party of “Mademoiselle Privé” in Shanghai in April. She gave Paul Dela Merced an exclusive interview.
Chanel’s exhibit “Mademoiselle Privé” has been travelling the globe since 2015. It began in London and went on to Seoul and Hong Kong. It arrived in Shanghai in April, where it went on view until June 2 at the West Bund Art Center. The show celebrates three of the brand’s “creative worlds”: Chanel No. 5, launched in 1921; Bijoux de Diamants, a jewellery collection designed by Gabrielle Chanel in 1932; and haute couture, as revitalised by the late Karl Lagerfeld.
Actresses Keira Knightly and Julianne Moore, singer Dua Lipa and model Liu Wen were among the guests at the opening party in Shanghai. Keira, 34, has been a face of Chanel since 2006. Hailing from Teddington, London, she began as a child actress. Her breakthrough came with the 2002 British film Bend It Like Beckham. She achieved international fame through playing Elizabeth Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. Her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice earned her a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards. Highlights of her interview with Prestige:
You are known to choose your roles with great care. Tell us about your new movie The Aftermath.
I found The Aftermath really interesting because I’ve seen a lot films about World War II and I’ve actually done films about World War II and when I read the script and I thought: Wow, it’s really fascinating. I’ve never thought about the repercussions, especially how you rebuild when it’s over. And I think that’s what the film is about: how you rebuild yourself emotionally, physically, and also how nations restore themselves and how you can possibly continue in peace after atrocities had happened. All of that felt like a really interesting thing to explore and I think I was fascinated in myself that I never thought about that, and how extraordinary was that we don’t teach that at schools. We don’t teach about the aftermath of conflict and how you build nations to go back up again. We teach about victory, we teach about losing, but we don’t actually go ‘Okay so after what happens? How do you do that?’ So I felt that was fascinating.
What’s your earliest memory of Chanel?
My grandmother wore Chanel N°5 and it was always the bottle of the house that nobody was allowed to play with, because it was a treasure. That would be my earliest memory of the brand. I have it completely linked to my grandmother.
I think the first piece of Chanel that I bought was a red lipstick when I was a teenager, which again was a treasure of mine and none of my friends were allowed to use it.
Chanel is all about female empowerment. How do you relate yourself with the brand?
I think I’ve always been interested in it because of the story of [Coco] Chanel herself and the fact that she created something at a time where there was no space for a woman to create a business. And the fact that she didn’t just create a living, but she has created a business that has long outlasted her life, that lasted throughout her life and beyond – it is an extraordinary thing.
I feel very fortunate to have been working for Chanel because I think that Coco Chanel is an inspiring woman. She broke rules, she rewrote the rules, she was a trailblazer and that’s what we all aspire to be.
Talking about aspiration, women of different ages look up to you. You’re not only a fashion figure but also a feminist. What’s your idea of feminism today?
It’s about women’s choices and their ability to earn the same amount as men. It’s about freedom. I think when we’re still in a world where, certainly in England or America, women earn about 17 percent less than men for doing the same job.
Until we have financial equality, until we have the rights over our bodies, until we have the rights where if somebody harassed us or assaulted us there can actually be legal consequences, then we don’t have equality. For me feminism is about equality. It’s not about being better than men but having the same rights as men.
You contributed an essay to Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies). For a mother raising a daughter and a new bundle of joy soon, what do you hope to teach them about equality?
To stand up and fight for their rights. Don’t accept it if it’s not fair, it’s really not fair. I think for many years women have been, in England we say it’s being gaslighted, which means somebody makes you think that you’re mad when you say that something isn’t right. If it’s not fair, you’re not mad for saying that it’s not fair. Therefore we have to continue the fight to make things fair. I am hoping to raise my daughter in a way that says ‘You can do anything if you put your mind to it. You should be able to do anything that you want to do. There will be barriers in your way and therefore you also have to ask yourself how are you going to get around those barriers. If you can’t, if you think legally and politically, there are things in your way, then how do you become part of the movement that can move things forward?’
How has motherhood affected your perspective on women’s issues?
In various periods it was much more difficult for women than it is today, particularly in health matters. I think there’s still, again I can only talk about England properly about this, as far as you look at maternal health I think one of the big feminist issues should be about continuity of care. At the moment we don’t have the same midwives before a woman gives birth, when they give birth and after they give birth. They’re dealing with strangers the entire time and I think that can cause them to feel very alone and that can cause major difficulties mentally and physically.
Tell us about the joys of raising a daughter.
I am just trying to get her to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ at the moment and to get to the table until the end of the meal. I haven’t achieved any of those things yet. So that’s the first hurdle, and then we’ll see after that
Are you the kind of mom who likes dressing up her little ones?
Oh, no, she doesn’t let me. She’s nearly four and I am not allowed to choose her clothes. The stuff that she’s wearing right now are completely extraordinary. It’s quite something. I can’t tell you the nice clothes that she has, that I have bought that I thought I’ll get to literally dress her like a doll, and she’s just, ‘Um, no, mum’ which I totally celebrate as well. It’s great!
ON THE FUTURE
What can we expect from Keira Knightley, OBE in the next five to 10 years – as a mom and as a Chanel ambassador?
As a mum I’d say, ‘Pleases’ and ‘Thank yous’ and being able to sit at the table until the end of the meal are my main goals in the next five years. [laughs] Yes, just that they’re all right, that they can speak their mind, and that they can remember to be polite. I’d think I’d done a great job.
For me, I feel very lucky in what I’ve had so far. I think to be able to continue making films or television or theatre and feel inspired by it. To enjoy the process in working with people who I like and respect. That’s what I’m betting at.