Margot Robbie: 'I share Gabrielle Chanel's ideas about breaking the norm, seeing and creating beauty in chaos'
Margot Robbie’s reputation as an actress has made her the choice of directors Scorsese and Tarantino, and now she’s the face of Chanel’s newest fragrance. Here, she talks signature scents, strong women and the allure of self-confidence with Sarah Cadenites
For every role she plays, says Margot Robbie, she wears a different fragrance. "I pick a fragrance for every character I play because I feel that certain smells can transport you to a time and place, or create a specific feeling," explains the Australian-born actress, currently starring in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as Sharon Tate. "I like to be able to differentiate my characters and place them in the timeline of my life. When I go on set and apply the fragrance, I find it's easier to get into character. It's a very powerful tool."
She is unlikely to have worn Gabrielle Chanel Essence for her role as the tragic American actress, as such a choice would have tied that scent to that character for Robbie. One waft of it and she'd be Sharon Tate again, when, in real life, the new Chanel fragrance is all about Robbie herself.
Fragrance is indeed a powerful tool and for Margot Robbie to have been chosen as the face of Gabrielle Chanel Essence is an indicator of her personal power.
The French fashion house chose her to front its autumn cosmetics launch last year. She is also an ambassador for the brand's clothes and wore a Chanel dress to last year's Oscars, when she was nominated for her role in I, Tonya.
To get the fragrance nod, however, is something else. The role of fragrance ambassador sees her joining the likes of Keira Knightley, Nicole Kidman and Kristen Stewart.
It says she has not only a global recognition factor but also a certain chic that allows a name that is the epitome of European elegance to opt for an Aussie as its ambassador. It's quite the stamp of approval for a girl from the Gold Coast, but Margot Robbie is a long way from the Gold Coast now.
Raised in rural Queensland, Robbie has said in the past that she doesn't like talking about her childhood because it encourages Australian stereotypes. There were kangaroos in the garden, she has admitted, but that's not every Australian garden. She's conscious that where she is now is very different to where she started, but she's wary of that turning into a comparison between Hollywood and Hicksville.
Acting was something her parents considered a passing fancy, a hobby, until she showed them a poster of herself, huge and imposing, in New York's Times Square. Robbie acted at school, but people didn't make a life out of it. It was a bit of foolishness. She left home at 17 to pursue her dream, however, and got the part of Donna Freedman in Neighbours soon after. She was nominated for two Logies - the Australian equivalent of a Bafta - for her role, and that's where she could have stayed.
A role in the much-hyped 2011 airline drama Pan Am, also starring Christina Ricci, brought her to America. Though that series was short-lived, it set Robbie on a path.
She got a movie role in Richard Curtis' About Time in 2013, followed by Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. Four years and several films later, her lead role in I, Tonya won her the Oscar nomination.
Hollywood has embraced her, and the Chanel association is very much an acknowledgment of that.
"I've been working with the Chanel family for a little while now," Robbie says of getting the call to be the Gabrielle Chanel Essence ambassador. "Everything's always been easy; the relationship has grown in an organic way, and I've loved our time together. It feels like a family. I was really happy when they asked to pursue our partnership in fragrance. And it was exciting because I knew it was going to be a new fragrance."
The new fragrance sees perfumer-creator Olivier Polge revisit the 2017 Gabrielle Chanel, which was a creamy white floral that was dreamy and airy. This 2019 reassessment is a fundamentally sexier affair, a deeper, richer gold in colour, with notes that are simultaneously velvety and earthy. Robbie is, without doubt, a suitable match, with her cool blonde delicacy that seems undercut with a firm strength.
Maybe it's the Australian in her, maybe it's the fact that this 29-year-old who started out in Neighbours didn't always move in such rarefied circles, but there is something about the ethereally beautiful Robbie that is, at the same time, quite relatable. And relatable trumps all these days.
"I think Gabrielle Chanel, the woman, means so many things to so many people," Robbie says. "The House (of Chanel) has explored different facets of her life and personality through fragrance but, to me, Gabrielle Chanel Essence feels like her truest self. The fragrance feels like it cuts to exactly who she was as a woman. It feels direct, but (has) a sense of effortless elegance. The scent feels vibrant, opulent, like it captures both the woman and the House in its entirety. It's very specific, inviting and warm. You instantly understand who Chanel is."
Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel once said: "I decided who I wanted to be and that is who I am." It is a quote with which Robbie, who has won great acclaim in such diverse films as Mary Queen of Scots and the aforementioned The Wolf of Wall Street, strongly identifies.
"I love that quote," Robbie says, "and I really believe that you determine your own destiny. That said, I don't know how I would describe myself. Ever since I was little, my mum has always described me as determined and independent. I feel like I share with Gabrielle Chanel ideas about breaking the norm, creating and seeing beauty in chaos. It's completely liberating: the world becomes your oyster.
"Someone is always going to break the rules. It might as well be you."
Robbie is still very young to have reached the great heights to which she has ascended. Just 29 in July, she has the air of someone who has an old head on young shoulders. She got married in 2016 to British film director Tom Ackerley, whom she met on a film set in 2014. Also in 2014, she founded her own production company, LuckyChap Entertainment.
As a producer, she has several projects lined up, but none more interesting in this day and age than the live-action Barbie film, in which Robbie is set to star as the micro-waisted doll, now as much loathed as she is loved. Robbie is a fan of Barbie. She played with her as a girl and defends her contribution as teaching children "confidence, curiosity and communication".
"I'm absolutely a feminist," she says. "When my friends and I founded our production company, the idea behind it was to tell stories with an organically and authentically female presence, whether through a female protagonist, women film-makers or creators.
"Before that, I would read a script and I always wanted to play the male characters, because the female ones just weren't as exciting. Today, we're really proud of what we've achieved so far: we work with a lot of emerging talents, first and second-time film-makers who are going to be the next generation of greats.
"We all know that women are incredibly strong, but I don't believe that it means you have to hide your femininity - I think that we can embrace femininity and still feel powerful."
Robbie talks about her association with the House of Chanel in terms of being embraced by something iconic. She grew up aware of it, as most people have. She felt its synonymity with "Luxury, elegance, timelessness".
"There was this sense of history," says Robbie. "Now that I know the House on a more personal level, it means something more intimate to me. But I also feel incredibly lucky to participate behind the scenes. I feel like I'm a part of the extended family.
"All over the world, people covet, admire and try to replicate French chic - and, it's true, the French do it best. I definitely appreciate the ease that comes with really knowing your style. When you look good in something, you know it - there's instant confidence.
"I don't really pay attention to specific trends - I am more interested in what I feel best in. Personally, I love beautiful things, but I'm also pragmatic: I look for freedom of movement. I love a silk suit, flats and the mix of masculine and feminine styles. That makes me feel powerful and feminine, comfortable but confident. I think nothing's more alluring than confidence."
To be comfortable but confident seems to be Margot Robbie's allure, that's for certain, and Chanel seems to have made a smart move in co-opting her as the modern-day Gabrielle.
She has that slightly rebellious spirit that could come of being an Australian rather than a European, and feeling, perhaps, a tiny amount of having something to prove.
This adds to her impact rather than takes away from it, which, again, ties in beautifully with Gabrielle Chanel Essence. It, too, has a warm sensuality and gracious femininity that invites you in and holds your attention, much like this Oscar nominee.
"In her day," Robbie says, "Gabrielle Chanel was an iconoclast: she could identify the things she loved in the world around her and also do things differently - and she wasn't going to let boundaries get in her way.
"I just want to be who I am and do what I want without waiting around for anyone's permission.
"I'd want to know at what moments in her life she (Gabrielle Chanel) may have had doubts and what made her forge ahead anyway.
"That's probably the secret behind her power."
- Gabrielle Chanel Essence is at Chanel counters now, from £85