“I have a much deeper understanding of the power of dressing now,” says actress Hayley Atwell. Her most recent public appearance – at the London premiere of the new Mission Impossible movie in Leicester Square last night – confirms this; she walked the red carpet in an artistic, statement-making gown that made an impact for all the right reasons.
“There’s a simple elegance to this dress, yet is inherently sculptured and unusual – you can see similarities in a vase or sculpture,” she tells us. Her black Ashi Studio gown featured a heart-shaped balloon skirt, contrasted with a sleek body, which she wore with classic Jimmy Choo heels and Garrard jewelery. For her, it was the perfect bridge between the fashion and art world, something that the actress has been educating herself on.
“I’ve evolved my understanding and education of fashion,” she explains. “In the early stages of my career, I’d turn up to an award ceremony in a gypsy skirt I got from Portobello Market with a pair of ballet flats. At the time, I had no knowledge of wearing something like that in the context of an award ceremony.”
Here, Atwell shares with Bazaar the biggest fashion lesson she’s learned over the course of her career, how style relates to confidence and where she feels her most beautiful.
Let’s talk through your look for the Mission Impossible premiere – what drew you to this particular outfit?
“As we’re doing an international tour, it gave us lots of opportunities to have a variety of different kinds of looks. When I’m putting a look together for the red carpet, I’m thinking about location, what I’ve just worn and what I’m going to wear at the next one. It’s about having a moment for each, so this particular dress was perfect. It’s a real standout piece, quite unusual and beautifully constructed. It had simplicity on top, then a balloon-shaped skirt at the bottom. It gives me an opportunity to try these kinds of pieces and wear them as a character in a story themselves.”
How do you decide which brands you want to work with?
“It’s an evolving conversation, as each brand has its own set of philosophy, history and legacy. As an artist myself, I also have my own version of that, so it becomes a sort of courtship with different conversations between my stylist [Rose Forde] and the brands. It’s a really organic process. You could try something on in a cold studio in London when it’s raining in winter, but by the time you get to this hot destination, the outfit might feel or look very different. It’s more about how it makes you walk or feel; there are little details that go into the final product that tells a visual story.
“With brands, I always think about what the story is saying. What are the aesthetics communicating here? What are the qualities of this dress bringing out? Does this make me feel more fresh and light? Or does it make me feel strong and powerful and grounded?It’s similar to the costumes that I wear in films – for example, if I’m wearing a corset and feel constrained then that reflects the woman I’m playing in that era. Clothes represent so many different ideas politically, in terms of culture and time. All of this encompasses the story; anyone who understands a bit about the art world and fashion knows it. There’s so much more to clothes than draping fabric over a body, it’s communicating with the choices that you make.”
What makes Ashi Studio such a great fit for you and your personal style?
“There’s a simple elegance to that dress, yet is inherently sculptured and unusual – you can see similarities in a vase or sculpture. It feels like it’s not trying to objectify the woman wearing it, but it’s also not trying to reduce the size of the woman or over-sexualising her either. I think there’s a cool, chic, newness to it.”
How involved do you tend to be with the styling process?
“I’ve evolved my understanding and education of fashion; the composition of something, the quality of the fabric, how it moves on the body and works with shape, how you balance out a silhouette or accentuate an aspect of your own body through shapes and color.So for me, the more involvement I have with the styling process, the more I can articulate it.
“Before I had the education, it was much more instinctive. I’d throw on something if I felt good. In the early stages of my career, I’d turn up to an award ceremony in a gypsy skirt I got from Portobello Market with a pair of ballet flats. At the time, I had no knowledge of wearing something like that in the context of an award ceremony, with everyone else wearing different things. It became a sort of journey really, so now I have more understanding about the nuances of the fashion world and how connected it is to art, how it’s connected to public-facing industries, and then how it also tells a visual story.”
What kind of fashion makes you feel your most confident?
“I go through phases. At the moment, I’m enjoying loose tailoring that’s quite androgynous. Oversized feels really comfortable, relaxed and has an effortless coolness to it. I’m also loving the Nineties vibe – I spent a lot of last summer wearing crop tops, long baggy jeans and cargo trousers which reminded me of the days I was obsessed with All Saints and wearing silver Nike Air Max trainers.I picked up the cargo trousers from a military shop during a road trip with my dad in California and thought they were the coolest thing. I love that American workwear style, whether it’s overalls or cargo trousers from Carhart.”
How has your style evolved over the years?
“It’s hard to say, I never really like looking back too much. When I was starting out, the aesthetics weren’t my main focus. I was much more interested in psychology, philosophy, literature and language, and how to use my body to tell stories in that way. I was very intimidated by the fashion world, so it took me a little time to feel like I had a place within it. I then used clothes and fashion to tell a story to reflect either who I was, or the kind of characters I was playing.
“Fashion evolves so quickly, but it’s often reflecting a lot of our time in history. I’m navigating the path of finding my own way through this, while being aware of the ongoing conversation about what people are wearing at the moment, what people are into and what shapes we’re creating on the carpet.Also, what does this say about where women feel they are and how they’re represented?There’s so much more to style;I no longer see fashion as this entity you can only have if you have money, or that it makes you superficial if you’re into it, or that it feels reductive and generic to say that women like shopping all the time. I have a much deeper understanding of the power of dressing now.”
What has been your most memorable fashion moment in recent years and why?
“I loved my look last year for the Top Gun premieres. It was a black velvet crop top that went straight into a pair of gloves, designed for me by Sabina Belenko. I loved the mixture of drama and power – I felt very confident in it. I wasn’t scared of being bold on the red carpet. It didn’t feel like it was pretty or was trying to say too many things at the same time. This reflects how I feel about myself and how comfortable I feel about being visible in this way.”
Whose style have you always admired and why?
“Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, Charlotte Rampling and Julianne Moore – these incredibly elegant women who have an effortlessness, intelligence and sharpness to them. They seem to know themselves and the clothes they choose to wear are a reflection of the ease with which they walk through the world.”
What is your ideal getting-ready set-up?
“I like it really chilled. I’m not one for getting hyped up listening to crazy music and drinking copious amounts of champagne. I’m the opposite of that! I love making sure that the team that I’m working with are in an environment where they feel like they can do their best work – that tends to be what makes me feel relaxed. If everyone has a cup of tea and has everything they need, then that’s what makes me feel comfortable.”
When do you feel most beautiful?
“When my partner says I’m the most beautiful; it’s often when I’ve got no make-up on and I just smile. It’s when I’m having a wholesome moment with my god kids, or my dogs are making me laugh , and he’ll say, ‘You look so beautiful right now’. I think what he’s saying is that beauty comes from within and radiates out from an emotion I’m feeling, from the way that I’m connecting with people in me life. It means I’m not acting like I’m being watched, being self-conscious or trying to pose. He laughs at me when we’re about to leave the house and there’s slight pouting going on looking in the mirror. You ‘re most beautiful with a genuine smile or you’re connecting with someone. It reminded me of John Burgess’ brilliant book, Ways of Seeing, about representation throughout different mediums of art. He says that men are often depicted as watching, and women are often depicted as watching themselves being watched by men. I thought that was such a profound statement. So when I feel my most beautiful is when I’m not really feeling myself; instead when I’m looking at or engaging with something beautiful, then that’s lit up in my eyes or it generates a natural smile from within.”
Fashion has a reputation for being frivolous, but why does it matter what we wear?
“It’s part of so many bigger conversations than just aesthetics. It’s lots of conversations and work about the design and bigger things like sustainability, as well as culture. How is it made and where? What is it saying about how we regard women and men and gender roles? It’s also about celebrating new talent and emerging designers, who are in touch with the zeitgeist and the ultimate zenith of aesthetic expression of who we seem to be as people. These are very deep conversations, but I think what you realise is , clothes aren’t just things you put on yourself – they can be masks and armor, they can expose who we are, and be a form of resilience, and activism. It’s just the bigger part of the conversation.”
Photography: Miss Harriman
Styling: Rosa Forde
Make-up: Naoko Sofia Patrizia Scintu
Hair: Ruci’s Power