Renata Litvinova – The Unwilling Icon

Fabien Montique
Yana McKillop
Katya Fedorova

It’s hard to describe Renata Litvinova – the icy golden era Hollywood beauty that’s been a constant presence in Russian cinema and theatre since the beginning of the 90s. The roles she played in life constantly evolved: a favourite actress of Russia’s most esteemed female director Kira Muratova, a talented screenwriter and director in her own right, a fashion designer and an editor,a mother and a muse. Ms. Litvinova is the most awaited guest at any party in Moscow. Renata was always prominent, but mysteriously elusive – seemingly too perfect to be human, too intimidating to get close to.

Balenciaga jacket, T-shirt, trousers & boots

Givenchy coat, shoes, bag, water bottle, necklace & earrings 

Katya Fedorova: You’ve had so many roles over the years. Who is Renata today – according to you?
Renata Litvinova: I would have to say – an author. I like coming up with ideas and concepts and then making them real, just the way I see them. It’s very hard for me to let them go into the hands and minds of someone else. I wouldn’t even call myself an actress. I do act, but only to show the viewer the most accurate representation of what I had in mind. You can say I am an actress out of necessity. 
KF: When I think of you the word ‘icon’ is the first thing that comes to mind.
RL: I don’t get that word. In real life, icons are always different from how you imagine them. I don’t feel like an icon. Sometimes I look at my photos and videos and go, ‘damn, why am I not like that in real life?’ There is this irresistible flair that the camera gives you. You can be imperfect but you still become a magnetic, unattainable image. It all falls apart immediately when this person becomes flesh and blood. The iconic me only exists in your imagination. 
KF: So you never had icons your- self? No one you looked up to when you were a kid? Put their posters on your bedroom walls?
RL: No posters. When I was at VGIK (Russian State University of Cinematography) I loved the women of Antonioni and Fellini. My grandma would ask my mother to sew dresses that would make her look like the curvy sensual women from Antonioni films, even though she had absolutely no waist to speak of. My grandfather was incredibly handsome. He had an affair with this glamorous next door neighbour who was suffering from tuberculosis. Me and my grandma would spy on her smoking on her balcony in a silk robe. Sometimes when I was playing outside she would sit down with me for a really nice chat and then she would give me love notes to pass to my grandpa. She died shortly after. Or I had this Garbo lookalike music teacher at the music school, who would constantly reprimand me while sinking her horrible, long, clawlike fingers stacked with rings into my shoulder. I never had idols, but I always absorbed real women around me.
KF: Wow! They sound like evil fairytale creatures and kind of remind me of some of the characters in your movie The North Wind. Is your writing an attempt to escape from reality into something more magical?
It’s my interpretation. I am not interested in showing reality. You can just go on the street on any given day to see that. I like creating my own worlds and it’s easy for me to find a door to these worlds in everything I do, even if it’s a commission. Although I have stopped writing for others a while ago, because in the end your story will always be distorted by different people’s visions. It’s very unrewarding to write for others, when you can just make the movie yourself. As an actress I also refuse to take part in mediocre projects for money or just to stay in the game. Why? I can write any part and then cast myself in it. Even festivals can be complicated. You send your movie and then the distributors start saying things like, ‘Can you cut this out?’, ‘Can you make it shorter?’ Don’t you think that if I could make it shorter I would? I’m my own toughest editor. 
KF: Did you ever think of taking your work international?
RL: Of course. I’m working in that direction. I have two finished scripts that I want to produce and I’m working on a play. It’s a one actor show with Fanny Aidan. It’s going be staged in Paris. But I’m a bit apprehensive that I won’t be given as much creative freedom. I’m pretty happy being pigeonholed into the arthouse genre. I don’t think I would want to steer into something very mass and commercial. 
KF: I heard you used to make your own costumes?
RL: Out of sheer desperation. On-set costume designers could never understand what I want, so I would go shopping with them and then we’d alter what we found. When I became a director I realised that it’s just easier for me to pick my own clothes for the movie. But even Kira Muratova would always tell me,‘Renata, just dress yourself for the role’. It’s this frustration and the constant searching for clothes for my projects that sparked my friendships with Gosha (Rubchinskiy) and Demna (Gvasalia). No one could ever give me anything better than Demna for my films and I’ve worked with the best people in the movie business.

Balenciaga coat & boots

KF: How did you first meet?
RL: It was in a cafe in Paris, when for some odd reason I accepted a job as the editor-in-chief of the Russian version of Numero magazine. For the first cover, we shot Zemfira (a prominent Russian sing- er and Renata’s long-time creative partner) in a Vetements look. So we met after that, when Demna was just a rising star with an office in a basement space in the 10th arrondissement, and he never stopped growing. He did this 90s aesthetic at the right time and then moved on to become this mature classic whose work is the closest I’ve seen to perfection. Take his couture show in the same hall where Cristóbal Balenciaga used to show his creations before shuttering his house and walking away. I believe Demna has avenged him. But he is more than a couturier. He is an artist! Look at the models he casts. They all have so much character and he has so much respect for it, for their age, for their wrinkles… 
KF: You walked in his show once. How did that happen?
RL: Demna often told me that he imagines me when working on a collection. He said, ‘There are muses and you can’t just pick them on purpose or appoint a new one’. Even after the couture show he asked me if I realised that one of the looks was inspired by an outfit I wore when we first met. And with the dress that I wore on the run- way, he said that he made it for me and just couldn’t imagine anyone else presenting it.
KF: Do you feel that this artist/ muse relationship is one-sided or do you also get inspiration from it?
RL: Of course I do! After all, he did my costumes for The North Wind and no one has ever created anything as perfect for me before. You know, from the moment we met it felt like we’ve known each other for ages and he quickly became one of my closest friends. I am mesmerised by his talent but also by his character and his love and interest in people that fuels that talent. And I can’t imagine creating my characters without him anymore. He was one of the first to read parts of my play and he says that he is waiting for more. It’s amazing how, even though I never impose anything on him, he just naturally manages to give me exactly what I need. It’s the same with Zemfira. I never interfere with her process, but the music she gives me is always just right. I guess you just have to find your people. People who know you to the point where they can understand what you need before even you do.
KF: Do you have a big wardrobe?
I did, before Ulyana (Renata’s daughter) got to it! I keep a lot of my evening gowns because I feel like they don’t make them as beautiful anymore. I have a bunch of tight dresses that I hope to fit into again one day and sometimes I do. I’m in a constant war for my body. I’m really happy that people have become more accepting of themselves but for my own self I have different standards. 
KF: I think most women in Russia are far from accepting themselves.
RL: Yes, because we have such a shortage of men who could be of any interest to a woman. 
KF: What do you think can be done about it?
RL: We should give birth to more boys and raise them right. I see a lot of single mothers who are bitter about the ways they have been treated by men in the past, but at the same time they raise their sons with disdain for other women. Teach them that a woman should be cherished and respected and then let them go!
KF: OK, but that’s gonna take a while. Any advice on what we can do right now?
RL: You know every human is born to be happy. But for some reason many of us forget about that and tolerate a lot of nasty things and people, thus taking away even the chance of being happy. You need to understand who you are and what your priorities are. It takes a lot of time. At least for me it did. And then learn how to be free, strong and independent, both mentally and financially. That’s the only chance we have to be happy with just ourselves. 

Commission dress, Ami Paris boots, Andy Wolf sunglasses, Renata’s own jewellery

Balenciaga jacket, jeans & boots

Prada coat & gloves

Photography: Fabien Montique
Styling: Yana McKillop
Makeup: Fabien Montique
Styling: Yana McKillop
Makeup: Tiziana Raimondo at The Wall Group
Hair: Jacob Kajrup at Castille
Nails: Jessica Malige
Photographer’s Assistant: Valentin Le Marc’h
Stylist’s Assistant: Liza Gusalova
Movement Director: Pierre Podevyn
Production: Montique & CoBillel Bensalem, Joans Farro, Clement Moisan, Adrien Sagnier
Order your copy of issue 14 here