They were roughly the same age when he first spotted her in "Once upon a time in America," they grew up together. While Jennifer Connelly was establishing herself as a mesmerising actress making bold cinematographic choices, Nicolas Ghesquière was building a fashion reputation so strong that he was soon one of the most revered designers of the 21st century.
They were destined to cross paths and they've remain great friends since then. Then years of strong, loyal, rich friendship. Theirs is a friendship founded on creative ardour, on the will to push one even further, a place deep-seated in discipline. Forever binding this special relationship, Jennifer Connelly is now one of Louis Vuitton's muses.
If a move that makes complete sense and far more than a simple ambassadorial role for the brand, this is a true symbol of a strong, real bond, one founded upon the same artistic vocabulary. We caught up with them in Los Angeles. Both known for their discretion, the actress and the Louis Vuitton artistic director of women's collections agreed to meet us under the soft Californian sun and to tell us about their new project and their mutual affection for one another.
Tell us about your first meeting, how it came about and when?
Jennifer Connelly: It was in 2002, the year I was nominated for best supporting actress at the Academy Awards for my role in "A Beautiful Mind." I needed a dress for the event and that's how we met for the first time.
Nicolas Ghesquirère: Yes. It was in New York. But for me, I obviously felt like that I sort of knew her already. I had known her since "Once upon a time in America," and I had followed her career through other films I loved like "Requiem for a Dream." I was really very happy when I was told that we were going to meet.
Your relationship transcends the typical complicity often shared between a designer and an actress. Tell us about it.
N.G: Yes, because closeness soon grows. We start a project together, then we develop a common language, a sincere dialogue. You soon realise that, little by little, there's more than a simple dress between the two of you. This is what makes fashion so interesting. It unites values, creates strong links and rewarding relationships. Because deep down, wearing a dress is something very special, not a mundane act. A dress is nothing until the right person makes it something. Who shall embody this dress? This feeling was very strong with Jennifer as she made me truly understand this notion of embodiment. First of all, you asked to meet with me, which was quite unexpected. There are so many people who aren't even interested in the person who is going to create a piece for them. This chance to discuss and exchange idea for a certain project, it was a first for me and I felt very proud.
J.C: It was also a first for me, I was going to the Oscars. A very special moment indeed. I admired his aesthetics and where he wanted to take me with this dress. This sort of meeting and chance to share thoughts is really quite rare and I had never been in this position before. So yes, we became friends, thanks to a dress! When I discovered Nicolas' work, I found it very beautiful but there was something elese to it. There was a true and pure element, an intriguing mix of unprecedented design with a classic and timeless feel, as though one discovers something completely new yet comforting in its familiarity. I like this sort of brave behaviour, constantly going beyond expectations. I think we both share in this will to push our own limits.
Jennifer, over the years, has Nicolas had an impact on your style or have you discovered more about your own personal style through his garments?
J.C: Yes, absolutely. I see it as a gift, this chance to rub shoulders with a person you have such a special affinity with. With Nicolas I feel free. But my private life is one thing while attending events and being the centre of attention is another story! And it's a wonderful thing to feel comfortable in one's own skin and truly confident while being in the limelight; to feel perfectly at home while exposing oneself to the world. It is an incredibly lucky thing to wear a dress that rightly reflects your true feelings and I put this down to Nicolas and our close friendship. Yes, he'd had an impact on my style. It's as though he pushes you to your most daring of limits, while being careful to respect your personality. He works on you while keeping you within your innate framework, always with a fine balance of an intense yet tender vision. It's as though I'm discovering an exciting element hidden in the unknown, all the while within my comfort zone; it's a very charming feeling.
N.G: Yes you're right; there's this sort of tension.
J.C: Yes, a tension. And within this freedom to create there is something that almost frightens me. It's exciting. All of this creativity and acute attention to detail. I think that Nicolas is very precise when designing and forever pushing himself, and I like being part of this adventure, feeling involved.
Nicolas, tell us about what you often call the "comfort zone."
N.G: Yes, and I like this notion of pushing one's limit beyond their comfort zone; of going further. I have often done so in the past and I really enjoy this. But I now find it more interesting to play just within the frameowrk of these limits. To create something that you find accessible, familiar and maybe even feel you already know or have worn, and yet you will lust after this piece because it holds this je ne sais quoi feel of novelty, something foreign. I have toyed with experimentation in the past, pushing it far and I may do so again, but today I am happy where I am and of where I've positioned myself. I have no issues in changing my position to become very experimental or very explicit. I am in a postion that I granted myself and that I take pleasure in exploring. I was long in a niche, that of an experimental designer. Great. But I know I can do other things and I'm pleased to be able to show this today.
Jennifer, you were already Nicolas' muse, five years ago for his previous fashion house, and here you are again in this new role for Louis Vuitton. It's quite unique to be able to tell a new story with the same person!
J.C: When it comes down to it, it's similar to the twists and turns one goes through in a friendship and the way in which it evolves. The first time came almost purely by chance, we were chatting about "how interesting it would be! Oh yes, how fun!" This time round it was more thought out, much like how our relationship has strengthened over the years.
N.G: Yes. The first time was more so the result of a visual project. What's so propulsive at Louis Vuitton is the wealth of areas to cover and explore. And it's great to be able to have someone like Jennifer by my side as she's a real friend, she really knows me. She also understands the authentic aspect of my clothing and wears them in real situations. It's an honest story. There's loyalty in all of this but so much more too. It's an extraordinary reality.
For your second advertising campaign, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Juergen Teller and Bruce Weber, you "entrusted" Bruce with Jennifer, why?
N.G: Bruce is a sensual photographer who adds timelessness to all of his images. I like the way he tells stories that are both fanciful and realistic at the same time. Bruce may tell stories but he also wants you to live within these tales. He is probably the only photographer who instils this poetic feel into his work. I spoke about this with Jennifer and knew he had never photographed her; it was the first time.
J.C: I've known him for years but we had never worked together.
N.G: Jennifer and Bruce together, it was sort of a dream that I wanted to become reality. I'm building my dream. And I love watching it come to life! It's an amazing position to be in, I'm the designer, I set the creative motion in process, I shape it, and then I give it away. I have to take a step back, it's not my story, I've confided it to someone else. And I love seeing how a person can tell the second half of my story, of my work. I was very excited at the idea of their meeting and of the results it would give. Jennifer, I was amazed at how you embodied the clothes in your photos. You are very mysterious and through the poetic way in which Bruce works, it was as though he were trying to get underneath it all, to understand your mystery.
J.C: Bruce understood the meaning of Nicolas' work, this mix of intimacy and secrecy. Bruce creates an atmosphere that engulfs you. There's movement, music, conversation; he creates a unique moment in which he takes his photos.
N.G: I remember the eve of the shoot. Jennifer and I were together amongst all the clothes discussing what she would wear for the photo. Then Bruce walks in, which is again, pretty rare. The photographer normally builds his set and puts everything in place for the photo session. But he came to see us back in wardrobe, not to see what Jennifer would wear, but by the way in which he observed us and spoke with us, I understood that he wanted to learn of our relationship, of the realness between Jennifer and I. He wanted to understand our friendship.
J.C: That's true. Come to think of it, he even took a photo of that moment. He offered it to me. I'll have to send it to you Nicolas.