Vanessa Paradis: Chanel’s Muse On Her Challenging New Role

The singer/model/actor on her powerful new film and her two decade reign as the face of Chanel.

Photo courtesy Alliance FIlms

Photo: © Emmanuele Scorcelletti

It’s been almost 20 years since French singer and actor Vanessa Paradis’ first campaign with Chanel. For the 1992 ad for the fragrance Coco, she learned trapeze, swinging the length of a bird cage in fishnet stockings. But if you only know the 38-year-old from her work on beauty campaigns, her heartbreaking performance in Café de Flore will be all the more extraordinary.

In the new film from Montreal auteur Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria), Paradis plays a working-class single mother of a child with Down’s Syndrome in 1969 Paris. Her story runs parallel to that of a recently divorced DJ in present day Montreal. When FLARE met with Paradis during the Toronto International Film Festival, the mother of two (Lily-Rose, 12, and Jack, 9, with her partner of 13 years, Johnny Depp) was eager to talk about two of her favourite people: Marin Gerrier, the child who played her son in Café, and the iconic Karl Lagerfeld.

FLARE: How natural was it to play this role?
Vanessa Paradis: Marin Gerrier made it easy because I liked him very much, and I think he liked me. I play a pretty rough mom – and that’s the part that wasn’t so easy because I was quite afraid of scaring that little boy. But it came natural because I was surrounded by great direction, and obviously, being a mom, my maternal instinct helped me.

F: As the face of Chanel for 20 years, how have you seen a role like that change?
VP: It’s not like it’s my permanent job, and so I leave it every day. I’m so blessed to have been chosen by Chanel, because working with them is just a dream. Anything they do is just magnificent. The smallest little ribbon they attach, there’s such an artisanal way of doing things. And then, you know… Karl Lagerfeld is just so amazing, so brilliant, so beautiful, in many, many different ways.

F: Is he a character in real life?
Oh yeah, yeah. But he’s divine. He’s such a beautiful, beautiful person – so full of culture. He knows everything about everything. You would be lucky to sit by him at a dinner–you’re going to have the time of your life. And so to answer your question, how does it change, I don’t really know, because they are little adventures on their own. Jean-Baptiste Mondino makes me sing putting on lipstick, and another time I’ll go and sing for Chanel in Shanghai. It’s not just beauty and fashion, but there’s a whole element of adventure that goes around the experiences.

Café de Flore is playing in Montreal and Toronto. It will open in Vancouver on December 2 and Ottawa on December 16.