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“I Listened To The Beat, Told Myself ‘Don’t Smile’ And Walked Out” – Lena Dunham On Her LFW Debut

Lena Dunham, London Fashion Week

Lena Dunham. Photographed by Mitchell Sams

First day of London Fashion Week (LFW) and it feels as if one of the buzziest moments might have already happened. After announcing on Instagram on Tuesday that she would be undertaking a new life adventure by attending LFW for the first time, Lena Dunham stormed down the runway of 16Arlington’s debut AW20 show. The actress-writer-director-producer befriended the brand’s founding designers Marco Capaldo and Federica Cavenati after they dressed her for the London premiere of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood last July. On Friday she traded that asymmetric bronze sequin and feather-trimmed gown for a knee-length dress of contorted leather and fil-coupé organza.

Does this mean the 33-year-old might be adding another hyphen to her occupation? Not quite, but we found out it was a life-affirming experience nonetheless.

Why was this show the right time to make your runway debut?

“Marco and Federica have been really good to me, so when they asked me to walk in their show, I was like ‘of course, I’ll do anything for you!’. I’m definitely not a model; I don’t know how to do this, so I just tried to set it up as a challenge. I think exploring the unexplored is a great philosophy in life.

I love fashion and I love clothing that has a perspective, I always have. But there’s not often room for women who have curvy, non-traditional model bodies – there’s a very simple and clear idea of what a “fashionable” body is. Marco and Federica are open to all body types and we saw so many different faces in the show. It’s really nice when you don’t feel like high fashion excludes you, and to have the opportunity to do something like this.”

Lena Dunham

Photographed Lily McMurray

Why is it important to have better representation in the fashion industry and beyond?

“I learned so much making Girls because [it led to] a lot of conversation about [the lack of] diversity in casting. I feel this rush of confidence and joy when I see a curvy model on the runway. I think young people, young women especially, need to see themselves and see examples of people who look like them succeeding in their fields, so they know that that’s possible. One of the reasons I became a writer and a filmmaker was because I didn’t feel seen, so I’m definitely doing everything I can in my work as a producer – from the people I hire at my company, to the way that I cast and the way that I think – to ensure other people don’t feel unseen.”

Did you get any modelling tips before you walked the runway?

“My best friend [the gallerist and co-host of the C-Word podcast] Alissa Bennett was a model throughout the late 1990s and the 2000s. She worked with Hussein Chalayan and Ann Demeulemeester and has such a cool walk, so I asked her to tell me what to do. Then there was this one girl called Miranda backstage, who told me to tuck in my butt in and it changed the whole game. Marco and Federica gave me my heels on Tuesday so I could practise my walk up and down the hallway of my hotel – my two cats and dog have been watching me do that in my pyjamas. When it came to show day, I listened to the beat, told myself ‘don’t smile’ and walked out.”

You’re something of an honorary Brit having been based in the UK for a while now…

“I love Wales. It feels like a home away from home for me. I was living in a town called Cowbridge, just outside Cardiff, for five months last year. It’s a beautiful town, everyone is so kind and it has a beautiful antique jewellery store and a really great cheese shop, so I had everything I needed.

“I was there directing a pilot for a show called Industry, coming to HBO and BBC Two next year. It’s about young people working in finance and the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll aspect that we never know about and the madness and intensity of it all. It’s an honest and complex portrait of human behaviour.”

Photographed by Lily McMurray

Apart from taking the runways of LFW by storm, what are you working on in the capital?

“I’m going to be here for a year working on a film [adaptation of Karen Cushman’s] Catherine, Called Birdy, which starts shooting in April. I first read the book when I was about 10. It’s a story about a resilient, rebellious, amazing teenage girl in medieval England who is basically told she needs to have an arranged marriage and she fights back. This movie’s been in my heart and soul now for 23 years, so it feels like the perfect time in my life to express it. My costume designers were in the [fashion show] audience as were the producers – we are all female [with the exception of] Tim Bevan.”

Why was it important to you to have a predominantly female team?

“I really love – especially at this time in history – to surround myself with strong, powerful female energy. Of course, anyone who identifies as any gender is welcome, as long as they have positivity and joy and are supportive to the young actresses who are working on the film sets. The most important thing to me is that they feel safe.”

Has walking in the 16Arlington show made you think differently about clothes as a means of storytelling?

“What I love about watching Marco and Federica work is that they always give the clothes a story; they imagine where the person is going, what they’re doing. They dressed me for the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood premiere, they dressed me for the Jonathan Ross show, they dressed me for a dear friend’s 70th birthday party… Anywhere I go in their clothing I feel strong. When I first started getting styled in Hollywood, I feel like people didn’t know what to do with my body and I got put in clothes that were either bland or goofy because they couldn’t just think of me as like a strong, sexy female presence, but Marco and Federica are open to that.

“When I’m making a film I like to think ‘is this clothing going to allow this actor to feel like the character [they are meant to be playing]?’. During the making of Girls I always put Hannah in clothes that were one or two sizes too small because I wanted her to be tugging at them [as though] she wasn’t comfortable. But the characters in Industry, for example, need to feel powerful because they were walking into shark-infested waters at their office every day. So I just think about what each character needs and how they need to feel to do their best work.”

Photographed by Lily McMurray

And what do you need to feel for your best work?

“It depends on the day. As my friend [the actor] Ebon Moss-Bachrach [pointed out that] some days I come into work in a power suit, and the next day I’ll come in in a nightgown and slippers. For me, it’s about waking up every day and thinking about how my body feels. Do I want to feel tucked into my clothes and strong? Or do I want to feel like I can move and be loose, or be cosy? The freedom to just express – my mom really gave me that guiding principle.”

What’s going to be your pre-fashion show routine from now on?

“I was very happy when someone came [backstage] and asked if I’d had my arms moisturised yet, I was like ‘no, but I’d love that!’, so my arms had some delicious moisturiser and it was thrilling. So, when I get invited back to all of the major runways… Just kidding.”

Photographed by Lily McMurray

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