Ava Phillippe's very deliberate path to fame

Carly Milne
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment & Lifestyle

With the release of Rodarte’s fall-winter 2018 collection came the excitement about actress Kristen Dunst’s official pregnancy reveal, but the campaign marks another big first: the official modeling debut of Ava Phillippe, daughter of actress Reese Witherspoon and actor Ryan Phillippe. And while many celebrity offspring find themselves thrust into the spotlight (ready or not!), the 18-year-old’s journey into the public eye has been a carefully curated path that has undoubtedly been orchestrated by her mother. (Would you expect anything less from someone whose production company used to be called Type A?)

Ava Phillippe posted photos from the Rodarte campaign, describing it as an “incredible opportunity”:

For a kid whose mom is one of the industry’s most high-profile actors, Phillippe largely stayed out of the spotlight while growing up, except for the occasional appearance at industry events honoring Reese. For instance, she — and her brother Deacon — added a whole lot of cute to Reese’s Hollywood Walk of Fame induction ceremony in 2010. (His dad is also Shooter star Ryan, whom Reese divorced in 2007.)

Reese Witherspoon with kids Ava and Deacon at the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star induction ceremony in 2010. (Photo: Getty Images)

Reese, who is remarried to Jim Toth, with a 5-year-old son, Tennessee, also brought her kids when she won the American Cinematheque Award in 2015 — another proud moment along her career path. By then, Ava had already embraced hair color.

Honoree Reese Witherspoon with kids Ava and Deacon at the American Cinematheque Awards in 2015. (Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Things changed in September 2016, however, when Ava stepped out of the shadows, making her solo red carpet debut at a Chanel dinner. Instead of “Here I am with my mom,” it was more like: “Here I am.” And the celebrity gossip world ate it up. There were news stories about the teen “nailing” her first appearance. “Looks like Ava Phillippe is ready to shine in the spotlight!” wrote the Huffington Post.

Ava Phillippe attends the Chanel dinner celebrating N 5 L’Eau in 2016. (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

It certainly seems like she’s ready to shine. From there she sort of became her mom’s red carpet sidekick — with all the look-alike headlines to prove it. And by February 2017, when they walked the carpet together for the premiere of HBO’s Big Little Lies, there was an air of presentation that followed the mother-daughter duo as they posed for pictures.

Later, Phillippe took to Instagram to gush to her then 239,000 Instagram followers (despite never having appeared in a film) about her mom’s accomplishments in taking the beloved book and turning it into a project for the small screen. “So proud of my awesome mama and her passion for this project. It is so nice to see these wonderful, talented women in roles just as dynamic as they are,” she wrote.

Even more red carpets followed from there, including Wall Street Journal’s Innovator Awards, and she was Reese’s partner in crime at the Emmys (where Big Little Lies was a big winner). She also showed up at the premiere for Witherspoon’s film Home Again, looking like her mother’s doppelgänger — even though the two insist they don’t look alike. By the time the fall rolled around, Phillippe looked — and acted — like a red carpet veteran.

But another big change came in the wake of Phillippe’s 18th birthday in September. The month following, it was reported the teen would make her grand debut at the 25th annual Bal des Debutantes in Paris, as one of 20 women being officially introduced to society. Phillippe and Witherspoon marked the momentous occasion over Thanksgiving weekend, kicking things off with a mother-daughter shopping trip, visits to local museums, and attending the ball’s “day-before” breakfast before Phillippe attended the prestigious event.

Decked out in a bold, voluminous gold ball gown from Giambattista Valli haute couture, Phillippe was escorted by Maharaja Padmanabh Singh of Jaipur (who is reportedly an acquaintance of Prince William). They danced to a song from La La Land, and Phillippe posed with her mom for pictures.

Later, Phillipe gushed about the experience on Instagram. “Wow! I am so thrilled to have had the opportunity to meet so many beautiful, kind, supportive, and passionate young women (and men!) at Le Bal,” she wrote, adding how honored she was to help raise money for the Seleni Institute and Enfants d’Asie. “Last week felt like a dream, and I am so grateful to have so many beautiful memories from this adventure. Thank you to all involved!”

It seems like as soon as the New Year kicked off, Phillippe was officially invited to every party — and showing up for numerous photo ops, all of which were on brand for the Witherspoon name. In mid-January, she attended the Stella McCartney autumn 2018 collection launch in L.A., looking like the spitting image of her mother’s iconic film character Elle Woods, decked out in hot pink. At the end of January, Phillippe made an appearance at an event celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March in West Hollywood, which also marked the launch of the book Together We Rise — and she wore head-to-toe black, a fitting tribute for the #TimesUp movement. And then, of course, she was at the Golden Globes with her mom and BFF the actress Rowan Blanchard. (The gal pals also attended the Women’s March event together.)

Ava Phillippe attends a Condé Nast event to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March and the publication of Together We Rise on Jan. 24. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Glamour)

Which brings us to her official modeling debut. Posing along with Black Panther star Danai Gurira, Gia Coppola, Grimes, Hong Chau, Joanna Newsom, Miranda July, Tessa Thompson, and others, Phillippe is officially making her mark on the fashion world — and it all seems like perfect timing.

Some more of the Rodarte modeling shots:

We’re sure no offense was meant on this one, which cut off her head. It was supposed to be about the clothes anyway, right?

As if that weren’t enough, Phillippe marked another first immediately afterward — modeling alongside her mom in a new campaign featuring the spring collection from Draper James, Witherspoon’s fashion line.

While it’s Phillipe’s first time modeling for her mom’s brand, she’s been supportive of Draper James. Just last year, she joined Witherspoon in a matching outfit for the launch of the company’s collaboration with fashion retailer Net-a-Porter. In December, Witherspoon told People that last fall’s black lace jumpsuit was inspired by Phillippe — and that she desperately wanted it for Christmas. So is Phillippe planning on adding designer to her list of accomplishments? “Well, she is a teenager, so obviously our styles are different,” Witherspoon said. “But she does love fashion, and we talk about it a lot.”

What makes Phillippe’s emergence so momentous is how her parents were somehow able to give her some semblance of a normal life — which likely helped lead to such a grounded debut. Phillippe is reportedly a hostess at a pizza restaurant, which her mother felt was important. “My mom worked, and I think it’s good for kids to see women working and being successful,” Witherspoon told InStyle. “I think it’s going to make them hard workers because they see that I don’t get much sleep.”

According to Us Weekly, Phillippe was given a used Volkswagen for her first car so she wouldn’t stand out among her friends. And even though she has more than a half million followers on Instagram now, her parents work to ensure she retains perspective on what social media is all about.

“Well, she has an incredibly famous mother and a moderately famous father, but that’s how that works,” her dad, Ryan, told People . “And also social media is largely driven by the youth and the associations made within that group. … The danger would be if you had a kid who didn’t have perspective and didn’t have an understanding of it. I don’t feel like our kids are as caught up in the value that some might place on those things. It’s a by-product of the life that they’ve been born into.”

Whatever her next steps are, no doubt she’ll have her parents’ guidance and support behind her. We can’t wait to see where she goes next.

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