Hailee Steinfeld: Style Star

Hailee Steinfeld: Style Star

The actress and singer on the important role fashion plays in her life and work.

interview by Faith Cummings (@iam_faithc) / photos by Chad Moore (@chadmooreholla)

When you've starred in a Miu Miu campaign at age 14 and can call up celebrity stylist Karla Welch with an idea like most people call up their best friends, it's safe to say that fashion plays an important role in your life. We talked to Hailee Steinfeld about taking risks, looking to Rihanna as her ultimate style icon, learning from Taylor Swift's love of sequins and more.

How would you describe your style?

I love taking risks with [it]. Cool, casual, and comfortable is the way I'd define it at this moment because it's constantly evolving.

You work with stylist Karla Welch who also styles Justin Bieber. What's your process like with her?

I've been working with my stylist Karla Welch since I was 13, so she knows me, what I'm comfortable in, and what I love. It's become so much more of a collaborative effort when it comes to selecting or designing a new piece. We've had situations more recently when I won't have fittings until the day of or minutes before the event. I've become so trusting of her because she just gets me at this point. It's such an open process: I'm able to call her up and send her references.

You've worn a lot of amazing brands over the past couple of years: everyone from Versace to Peter Pilotto to Yeezy. Do you have any favorites?

Anything from Opening Ceremony and Miu Miu are pieces I'm sure to love. I'm also a huge fan of Tory Burch, Michael Kors, and Prabal Gurung, but there are honestly so many amazing designers. What's crazy is I never thought I'd be able to wear these brands, let alone meet them and have relationships with them.

And what has connecting with different designers and building those relationships with them been like?

That's been and continues to be one of the coolest parts of my career. I'll never forget my first fashion show which was for Miu Miu. I was so excited to be in Paris for the first time: I was literally beside myself. I sat down, it started, and boom -- it was over in like 10 minutes! I realized that these shows are such big productions and that so much goes into those clothes you see when you look into the windows of your favorite boutiques. I gained so much respect for designers in that moment because the brevity of the show doesn't equal the work put into everything. Mrs. Prada is someone who has shaped my outlook on fashion and I truly feel like my introduction to the fashion world was through her. I did the brand's campaign when I was 14, which was unbelievable. I really considered that my introduction to fashion.

Now that you're going back and forth between acting and music, has the meaning and purpose of Fashion Week changed for you?

I always feel extremely honored to be asked to represent a designer at her or his fashion show. I love experiencing that with them. I remember going to a Prabal [Gurung] show a while ago and going backstage to chat with him before it started. He was explaining the collection and its inspiration and it felt so fantastic to be there. His energy is so infectious. Being included in a moment that is such a vital part of his career was really something special.

In a previous interview you said that you've loved music and performing since you were five years old. What made you wait so long to jump into music?

I started doing music at the same time I got into acting, but the former became more of a side project as the latter took off and occupied all of my time. I remember distinctly the entire year of my life that was True Grit, then wrapping the movie and hitting the award circuit. It was so surreal and all everyone kept telling me was "Take it all in." I listened and did that for sure, but when I watch the Oscars now, I still can't even believe that I was there and did that. I realize that now more than ever. At 19, I now understand how special it was to be there and the fact that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm working to get back there. And it was always a matter of timing with me when it came to music. I wanted it to be organic. I realized it was something I needed to commit to and I wasn't going to do it if I couldn't give 110% of myself to it. There was no way to do it in the middle of making a movie, if I wanted to do it the right way. Making music -- recording and writing -- has always been a part of my plan. The one way I hoped it would always happen would be through a movie because that felt like the most natural way to transition.

I'm interested in hearing how you got signed. How did it go down?

So when Pitch Perfect 2 came around, I was in Atlanta for another movie and I got a call from my agent asking if I'd be interested. There wasn't a script or even a possible role for me, but I didn't care. I would have been an extra and done anything to get in that movie. I loved the first so much and knew it would be just right for me. I auditioned for it and sent them music I had recorded on my own beforehand, so they could hear me sing. It became the perfect segue. I met Charlie Wall from Republic Records after I shot the movie. No one had seen it yet and it was far from being finished at that point. Republic made the soundtrack for the first film and I was actually seated next to him at an event we were both attending. Neither one of us knew who the other person was initially, but we began talking. I played him music on my phone at the table: music that wasn't even mixed or fully produced. I was so nervous and truly hoped he was being genuine because he was so positive and great about what he was hearing. I met with him for a couple months, and then I signed to the label, and the first single "Love Myself" came from that.

Are there huge differences between how you approach music and acting?

There's a sense of always needing to be on when you're on set -- especially when the camera is rolling. With some directors, you may only get two or three takes and he or she will move on if you don't get it. And if you get distracted, you sometimes have to work really hard to get back into it. When you're going into the studio, it doesn't matter what you're wearing and how you look. It's just you and a microphone and people you love and trust who are willing to help you tell your story. It's way more intimate. I have so many moments when I'm acting when I feel super accomplished -- after a certain scene that I read in the script initially and knew it would be the hardest for me to get through. I get that same feeling in a different way in the studio in the sense that all of that suffering I had been through in that situation turned into this beautiful song. I get that almost instantaneously with music, but there are so many different layers and elements with a movie. In the studio, it's just me telling my story.

When it comes to your onstage style, you perform in high-fashion brands, which isn't always the norm. How do you decide what you're going to perform in?

When I'm thinking about what I'm going to wear onstage, comfort is a huge factor. Early on, I had an experience with how it feels to not be comfortable while performing and it was miserable. You gotta do what you gotta do, you know? But never again. I haven't had a ton of instances of being onstage and playing around with fashion in that regard yet, but I look to Rihanna as a huge style icon of mine in that vein and just in general as a reference. She can pull absolutely anything off and approaches style from so many angles. I have dancers and love dancing so any design with movement built into it is cool for me and honestly wasn't something I thought of or considered before. Pieces that stand out and that the whole audience can really see matter: I learned that from Taylor [Swift] and her love for sparkles and sequins onstage. It doesn't matter where you are in that stadium because she literally shines. And anything Beyoncé does makes me wonder, "Why can't I do that?" There's so much time and room for me to experiment with all of that and I'm looking forward to getting on the road again and playing shows so I can go to the next level.

How was it working with Joe Jonas and his new band, DNCE?

I'm so obsessed with them personally and [also with] their music. Joe and I were in the studio working with the same team around the same time, so he would be leaving a session and I would be coming in. I'd hear some of what the producers did with him and the same went for Joe and what I recorded. He loved "Rock Bottom" and wanted to record a verse on it. When I heard how Joe sounded on it for the first time, the song totally changed and the idea of it being a collaboration made so much more sense to me. I'm so obsessed with it and the way we all come together for the harmonies is beyond. We just performed it together for the first time which was incredible. I've known Joe and Nick closely for a while now, so it's incredible to see their trajectory.

And I have to ask about your famous group of friends. Did you guys set out to create a frenzy or did the whole #squadgoals thing happen organically?

I've never purposely set out to do anything when it comes to hanging out with my friends. Perception and reality are quite different when people look at my friendships with Taylor and all of those girls, but we do definitely have a pact. We all go through the same things and it's amazing to have a group of people -- both girls and guys -- who get it. It's rare that we're all together, so when we are, it kind of seems like an event.

It's rare to see a group of young people support each other the way that your friends seem to do. Where do you see this kind of support as well as your music -- like with songs like "Love Myself"-- fitting into conversations we're having in culture about feminism?

I'm so proud to be a part of feminism. "Love Myself" really came at such a perfect time. It's being able to accept who you are and your flaws and know that they're a part of your beauty. It took me a minute to realize that. It isn't easy growing up as a young woman in this world with all the judgment and negativity we have to handle on a daily basis. The song is a reminder for both me and the people who hear it. And I love Emma Watson and stand for so much of what she's speaking about now and bringing to the forefront.

What's next for you?

I have a movie coming out in the summer hopefully, which is currently titled The Edge of Seventeen and my album is coming very soon. I've been in the studio a few times over the last couple of weeks and I've really been tapping into my personal experiences more since I began writing. When things happen to me now, I'm eager to put them into my music in some way. I can't wait to put it out.

Stylist: Kevin Breen @kpbreen

Hair: Sarah Potempa @sarahpotempa at The Wall Group @thewallgroup

Makeup: Brigitte Reiss-Anderson @brigittemakeup at The Wall Group @thewallgroup

Location: Dune Studios @dunestudios

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