Culture & Music
How does a Hollywood star with over five million Instagram followers celebrate her seventeenth birthday? Renting a hotel room with a couple of friends for the weekend, playing music and cooking dinner. “I shouldn’t say I cooked anything because I literally don’t know how to!” It’s 12 noon in LA and the actor and activist Rowan Blanchard is Skyping me from her bed in LA, a couple of days after her birthday celebrations.
Right: Chanel earrings, vintage headpiece
Left: Louis Vuitton top, vintage bodysuit & T-shirt,
Miu Miu shoes, Mounser earrings
Wolford bodysuit, Chanel earrings
At her hotel room party Rowan and her friends danced to a soundtrack of “old Rihanna,” Britney Spears and (previous PUSS PUSS cover star) Kelela. “I love her [Kelela] so much, I adore her. We met in Paris this year and we got to talk a little bit and she’s so lovely.” Rowan was in Paris for the Chloé and Margiela shows. A big factor that has contributed to her gigantic online following is how eloquent and uncompromising she has been speaking out about feminism, intersectionality and queer identities. One of her Instagram posts, currently with 50,000 likes, reads, “Can we start an international ‘share modern queer theory with your grandparents and help bridge communication gaps between generations’ day [rainbow emoji, rock and roll hand emoji, shock face emoji].” Does Rowan find it tricky navigating the fashion industry as a feminist?
“I guess I’ve always approached it in a way where I can acknowledge that fashion is an art form. I mean fashion is inherently political in the sense that it’s the clothes you put on your body, but I’ve been very lucky that I get to participate in it this way where it doesn’t feel all too serious.” Blanchard has modelled for Miu Miu and it was at a party thrown by Miuccia that she met her heroine (and our other cover star) director Agnès Varda. “I started sobbing, like shaking-sobbing, and I had a full on panic attack after I met her. She was just sitting with Mrs. Prada. She is just everything to me, I am just forever indebted to her work. That’s insane that she’s also on the cover, that makes me feel crazy!”
Fashion might be fun but Blanchard’s real love affair is with film. She runs a brilliant Instagram account @prunedroses celebrating films as diverse as Minhal Baig’s Hala, 60s Bollywood classic Kaajal and the animated canon of Studio Ghibli. “Discovering Audrey Hepburn movies when I was younger was like a really big deal for me. I’ve met quite a few people recently who have problems with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, who describe Audrey’s character as being un-feminist or something, because she completely needs a man… but I don’t know, that to me doesn’t feel like grounds to cancel that movie.” As well as the Hepburn classics, one of Rowan’s favourite films growing up was The Spirit of the Beehive. “It’s just so good and vivid and youthful.”
Right: Givenchy dress
Left: Versus Versace dress, Roxanne Assoulin earring (left), Mounser earring (right),
Pamela Love necklace, Catbird heart locket, photographer’s own cap
Chanel earrings, vintage T-shirt & headpiece
Rowan started acting aged five, with no formal training. She has appeared in Disney’s Dance-A- Lot Robot, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, Invisible Sister, A Wrinkle in Time and in 2013, Blanchard was cast as Riley Matthews in the hugely popular Disney Channel series Girl Meets World. What did it feel like, growing up working on these massive productions? “It definitely felt special. It doesn’t ever feel normal to me. Being on a set feels really normal to me because it’s what I know, but when I go back home I have to remind myself that it’s a very weird, science-fiction world, honestly. I didn’t go to public school for very long but I did go to regular school until sixth grade, so I still have friends that I made in elementary school.”
So what about the dreaded ‘Child Star’ badge that Rowan might have to wear for the rest of her adult career? “I feel very lucky that I’ve had a very strong community of women who acted as children, or acted as teenagers who are now famous on a level I couldn’t imagine, who I am intimate and close with, and that feels really good for me because I feel like there’s a very small sector of people who understand what it means to grow up as a child actor. It’s a very specific and very strange experience. I mean, there’s definitely always gonna be a connotation to those words, and I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to get out of that, but I also feel like I’m lucky to be a quote, unquote ‘child actor’ in the time of the internet, because it gave me an opportunity to speak my mind in a way that couldn’t be really appropriated by somebody else and so it gave me more autonomy.”
Along with actors like Amandla Stenberg, Rowan has used the internet as a tool for strengthening sisterhood and learning and sharing political points of view not necessarily represented in the mainstream media. “We weren’t just child actors, we were also weird child activists, and I don’t claim that moniker anymore.
I don’t claim activism as a personal thing for me anymore, but there was certainly a point when I did.” Currently Rowan feels “dysphoric” about Instagram. “I’m having a hard time with this one, because Instagram makes me spiral” she laughs, only partially joking. “I think the hard thing about being the first generation to grow up with the internet is that there’s nobody who has been through it before, so it’s really hard to gauge how much you wanna say about yourself on the internet. It kinda becomes a ‘guess and check’ situation. I have been reminded by lots of people that I would be able to make a lot of stuff easier if I didn’t really have opinions and if I was really quiet, but it’s that part of me that needs to direct and that needs to write that just can’t sacrifice that voice and creativity and creative control.”
Rowan feels like there are real changes happening in the Hollywood system. “There are specific people who are dedicating themselves to opening doors and putting money where their mouths are, and giving the money to people of colour and women and queer people to make things rather than just hiring them.” Is she optimistic about the future? “I feel like the world is very scary and I hesitate saying that, because I have been very lucky during all of this shit with Trump in that I have insurance, I’m white, I have a roof over my head. I’m pretty much fine. It’s the Kavanaugh stuff that actually triggers me. I’m pessimistic in the sense that it almost feels like a really cheap empowerment form of activism to be overly optimistic right now. I definitely catch myself being a combination of both. The way my friends and I are striving, and how I’ve been surviving in these past few weeks has been relying honestly on the basis of queer theory. Make your own reality because the world that we need it to be doesn’t exist. Try to implement everything that you want to see in your regular life. For me that has made the world feel a bit more malleable rather than just overrun by some prick.”
Left: Marni sweater, vintage T-shirt & headpiece, Chanel earrings
Right: Simone Rocha silk dress, Collina Strada shorts,
Wolford bodysuit, Givenchy trainers
“Make your own reality because the world that we need it to be doesn’t exist. Try to implement everything that you want to see in your regular life.”
Simone Rocha silk dress, Collina Strada shorts,
Wolford bodysuit, Marc Jacobs earrings