Alicia Keys is surrounded by well-wishers as she chats up Givenchy perfume expert Françoise Donche at a swish dinner in NYC to celebrate the launch of the French house’s latest eau, Dahlia Divin, an intoxicating white floral. In the scent’s glossy ad, the Grammy-winning balladeer, 33, is in full glamour mode, lounging seductively in a gold strapless Givenchy haute couture gown.
“Sorry to interrupt …” I say, to the nape of her neck. She whips around like she’s been pricked with a pin. “We are not saying sorry anymore!” she declares. I glance uncomfortably at a fellow Canadian editor, as if Keys has just announced we’re giving up the monarchy. Though our national lexicon may dictate otherwise, for Keys, “I am” + “sorry” = “limitation,” so on the advice of a guru, she has deemed the word forbidden (“if” has likewise been banished). Instead, Keys speaks the lingo of positive thinking: energy, goddess, thank you. Coming from a woman who has sold more than 30 million albums, it’s a philosophy worth considering.
“Representing Dahlia Divin, representing the modern-day goddess, I more than ever want us as women to embrace our spectacularness,” Keys says when we meet earlier that day for our interview. Dressed in a sheer Givenchy top adorned with a sequined Rottweiler—one of creative director Riccardo Tisci’s signature canine motifs—she broadcasts power, albeit softened by yogic peacefulness and maternal patience. (Two weeks later, she announces on Instagram that “another angel [is] on the way”—baby number two with husband Swizz Beatz.)
Keys declined beauty contracts for years until Tisci approached her to be the face of Dahlia Divin; the two had become fast friends when the designer created the couture costumes for her 2011 tour, which marked the 10th anniversary of Songs in A Minor. “There is a free-spiritedness about him that artists can relate to,” says Keys.
Tisci’s history of championing diversity—he catapulted Puerto Rican model Joan Smalls’ career—also put him in sync with Keys’ mission to expand notions of beauty. When she was growing up, the mostly white faces dominating Manhattan billboards suggested to Keys what pretty was supposed to look like. “But that’s not the truth,” she says.
Keys will be revisiting her Hell’s Kitchen youth on her upcoming album, reportedly due in early 2015. “It’s completely my roots in New York City,” she says. “It’s what you want from me but have never heard from me.” Expect a sound that’s empowering, uncompromising and, of course, unapologetic.
Alicia’s Favourite Five