Babe, can we do the interview now?’ Julia Fox asks, walking over to me from the other side of a small studio in downtown Manhattan. For the past six hours or so, I’ve listened to the actor-model 2022’s biggest celebrity fixture and her best friends, the photographer Richie Shazam and stylist Briana Andalore, call everyone babe. We’ve spent the day together on set for this photo shoot, shimmying Fox in and out of jellyfish-like bandeaux, patent leather Pleasers and latex gloves. Under the bright, multicoloured lights, we have all transformed into ‘babe’: the assistants, the set designers, Shazam’s boyfriend, Ben Draghi, who’s doing the videography. It’s as though the other-worldly fashion — picked out collaboratively by Andalore, Fox and Shazam, who were given creative carte blanche for ES’s Fashion Week issue — has morphed us from every - day humans into alien beauties.
The looks encapsulate a style that 32-year-old Fox has practically trade-marked, what she calls ‘dominatrix couture’ (see: latex, leather, laces, denim, bikinis, thigh-high boots, opera gloves arranged in chaotic harmony). She’s been photographed in variations of the look at the Vanity Fair post-Oscars party (wearing a leather, floor-length dress with a clawed hand attached to the top, clutching her neck); exiting a Broadway play during date night with Ye (black boots and a matching Balenciaga handbag); posing for the paparazzi on the sidewalks of Los Angeles (stiletto pumps and a latex miniskirt and tube top). Walking the line between real life and fantasy is how Fox has existed from day one. And she has spun that fantasy into a booming career, one in which she is both a nuanced auteur and a pop culture idol.
In the make-up chair, Fox looks exhausted after arriving home late the previous evening after a vacation in Mexico with Andalore, Shazam and Draghi. She remains composed while a cosmetics artist covers her eyebrows in skin-coloured make-up, a nail technician gives her a silvery manicure and two hairstylists spritz her in a halo of dry shampoo. She gamely drapes her body in a Marc Jacobs coat that resembles a duvet cover, and stands on top of buckets and plastic cubes, contorting her body while Shazam yells, ‘Yes!’ and ‘Stunning!’ and ‘Slay, mama!’ from behind the camera.
Once she has scrubbed her face clean of her theatrical beauty look, she curls up on a leather couch and beckons me over. She puffs alternatively on her weed pen and her flavoured tobacco vaporiser, taking selfies that will most likely soon pop up on her Instagram feed.
A large part of Fox’s celebrity hinges upon her unfiltered approach to being in the spotlight. She’s gone from New York City kid who ran the streets as a teenager to artist, to part-time dominatrix, to DIY designer, through to actor, starring in Josh and Benny Safdie’s 2019 A24 film, Uncut Gems, opposite Adam Sandler as his smart-mouthed, sultry mistress. But it wasn’t until Fox embarked on a whirlwind romance with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, from January to February this year, that she turned into the subject of intense fascination and scrutiny.
She has also harnessed the power of becoming a meme in ways her contemporaries have not. In an interview for the Call Her Daddy podcast, she insisted she was ‘Josh and Benny’s muse for “unkuh-jamz”’ which she pronounced exactly as it’s written here. The soundbite became a TikTok song, a sort of claim to fame, superseding her role in the movie she was referencing. She appears almost weekly in outlandish outfits while running errands. Her signature make-up look, dubbed the ‘Fox Eye’ — a smear of winged, black eyeshadow — was mocked, then praised. On the red carpet at the Vanity Fair Oscars after-party, she seemed as high as a kite. Her eyes bloodshot, she did an interview with reporters who inquired after her make-up, to which she replied: ‘I did it myself! Yaaaaaaaaa.’ Instantly, it became another meme. She tells me about her how-to videos, which have become something of a signature. In them, she describes how to recreate a look she wore while papped in LA, or a 15-minute long video in her bath - room that finds her describing, at length, how to do the Fox Eye.
‘I remember being young and poor and really loving fashion,’ she tells me. ‘I would steal the magazines from my lobby that would go to other neighbours who had subscriptions to Vogue or whatever, and I would cut them up and make collages. But it just seemed so inaccessible, so far away. Now that I have the stage, in terms of fashion, I want to show that you don’t need everything head-to-toe Balenciaga. And if anything, all those designers are ripping off the kids who are in their f***ing room cutting shit up and pasting it together.’ (It’s worth noting, of course, that Fox is now herself being dressed head-to-toe by some of these designers, Diesel and Schiaparelli among them.)
Personally, I am infinitely interested in those paparazzi photos, which depict her wearing truly wild ensembles while performing everyday tasks. (Fox once wore a bra and underwear beneath a denim trench coat, with matching denim boots and a slouchy denim bag, to the grocery store). I find it to be a genius, cheeky way to stay in the media while also solidifying her status as a fashion plate. And, at its core, it is incredibly funny. Is Fox in on the joke, I wonder? Is there comedy in her approach to being a celeb?
She answers with a statement that becomes a repeated refrain in our conversation. ‘If there is, it’s not intentional. It’s just who I am,’ she says. ‘My approach to being famous is not that serious. If you’re gonna be famous and be inauthentic, people are gonna see that. Right now, you have to be a real-ass bitch in a sea full of f***ing phony, social-climbing, clout chasers.’
I find it difficult to imagine there is no plan, no PR stunt behind the actions. But Fox maintains that she flies by the seat of her pants most days. Every choice is based upon what feels good, or what kind of mood she’s in. ‘I’m just doing what I want to do,’ she says. ‘That’s the thing: sometimes I’ll do something and it’ll go viral, and it’ll get picked up with outlets, and it’s like, really? That was so not even planned.’
Surely there is some amount of calculation to her existence in the public eye, I say to her. In hopes of catching her in a fib, I reword my question subtly. ‘You do such a good job of controlling the news cycle and keeping your hands on your own narrative,’ I start to say. But she picks up on my plot. ‘Like I said, I don’t think about it,’ she says, patiently. ‘I don’t see myself controlling it. If people want to write about me, I can’t stop that. But I also can’t make them, either.’
So what about the relationship with Ye? The pictures of them attending Paris Couture Week, hand in hand, sitting front row, with Fox’s leg draped over Ye’s lap; the multiple dispatches from intimate dates that were published in Interview magazine — there’s no way that wasn’t a ploy to remain in the limelight, a triumphant middle finger to the media’s prying eyes. ‘That’s such bullshit,’ Fox says, chuckling at the prospect of her dating life being orches - trated by a publicist. ‘He got my number through a mutual friend, period.’
In terms of a romantic spark between them, there was ‘a good amount’, she says. ‘I was just going day by day and seeing where it went. It was just like, he still wants to hang out with me today, let’s do it. And then real life set in and the lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. I couldn’t fly away once a week. And I tapped out at the first sign of a red flag.’
When I ask what, exactly, the red flag was, she pauses before answering, turning the words over in her mind — a rare occurrence for Fox, who’s a real fast-talker and very good at lip service. ‘The unresolved issues that he was dealing with,’ she says, finally settling on a response. ‘It just seems like he had a lot to work on, and I just don’t have time for it, or energy. I don’t have the bandwidth or emotional capacity for it. I’m proud of myself for that. Pre-Valentino Julia would have definitely stuck it out and been there for longer.’
At the mention of her one-and-a-half year-old son, Valentino, with whom Fox co-parents with her ex-husband, private pilot Peter Artemiev, the actor lights up. Motherhood, she explains, changed her life in ways she could have never imagined. Growing up in the city, she experienced total independence (she was born in Milan but lived with her American father in Manhattan from an early age, before moving in with her Italian mother for two years back in Milan. She then returned to New York). Her journey into adulthood was propelled by the intensity of NYC culture, its cut-throat approach to living. At 17, she had developed a heroin addiction and nearly overdosed. She hung out with graffiti art - ists, drug addicts and skaters. She says she lived like an overgrown teenager her whole life — that is, until Valentino was born at the beginning of 2021. ‘I went from going to sleep whenever I want, waking up when - ever I want, doing whatever I want, to, “Oh, no. That’s over,”’ she says. ‘Wake up at seven, strict schedules, feedings. But you just love your kid so much that you do it. And you’re happy to, in a weird way.’
Her protective disposition is palpable in person, especially when Shazam and Andalore tell me about the time Fox saved Shazam from drowning in Lake Como. The actor has spent years coaxing the photographer — who says she’s deathly afraid of large bodies of water — to conquer her fears and learn to swim. Together with Andalore one evening in Italy, the three held hands and ran into the lake, plunging themselves deep into the still waters. Shazam, gripped by anxiety, began to flail around. Fox immediately sprung into action, hoisting Shazam on to her shoulders and launching her on to a nearby dock. (It turns out, this sort of event has occurred on more than a few occasions: Fox has revived acquaintances from potentially lethal overdoses with the stab of a Narcan needle, and more times than she can count on both hands, she’s lent those in need a place to stay.)
Becoming a single mother also taught Fox a hard-earned lesson on something she had felt for decades before finally coming out and saying it: ‘I’m in my f*** men era,’ she says. ‘Or, f*** the patriarchy, rather. Because I know men are victims of the patriarchy as well. But I’ve realised since having Valentino that women really do get the shit end of the stick. That was a revelation for me. I always thought stay-at-home moms didn’t work. But it’s domestic labour that goes uncompensated and also never acknowledged. It’s a thankless position to be in. Women have always worked the most. Even when we were cavemen, most of the communities survived off 80 per cent of women’s foraging. The men would go out hunting, but rarely did they catch something. We’ve been carrying men for thousands of years. And that’s why now I’m saying, get off my f***ing back.
‘Men approach me all the time, like, famous men,’ she continues. ‘And there’s something in my head that’s like, don’t do it. Because there’s more for me. If I go down that route, I know where that goes: into submission, into surveillance, into jealousy and insecurity. I want to shine. And I know that most relationships I’ve gotten into, men have dimmed my shine, big time. I’m so susceptible to that, and I’m old enough now where I cannot repeat my mistakes over and over.’ She says she isn’t currently dating because ‘there’s just nothing for me there. Maybe in the future, if I want companionship.’
Fox remains frustrated with toxic mas culinity. ‘Usually abusive men are just sad, broken men, or closeted gay men. How sad it must be, to be in the closet and feel like you won’t be enough of a man if you’re gay! That’s the patriarchy, though. And I’m a boy mom, so I think about that all the time, 24/7. How am I going to teach my son that he can be dangerous? And that he’s super f***ing privileged?’
Days after our interview, Fox uploads a video on her TikTok in which she delivers a piece of advice for fellow parents: raise your child to be self-sufficient. Buy your kid ‘a little mini mop, a little mini broom, and start teaching them those life skills really young.’ The clip goes viral and a whole host of satirical comments and tweets follow. ‘I make my toddler file my taxes,’ one person says. ‘My baby carried his own bags home from the hospital after I gave birth,’ jokes another. But in the context of our conversation, Fox’s proclamations start to make more sense: she is obsessed with teaching her son responsibility, in the hope that he will not lean upon a woman to do the work for him.
As a child, Fox says her own fearlessness gave her mother anxiety. ‘When I was a toddler, I would just run into the ocean, or run into whatever,’ she says. Her father, she goes on, told her day in and day out that she should pursue a career in acting. ‘I was just very theatrical growing up,’ she says. ‘I would always put on performances in my living room, and have my brother and my neigh - bour be my back-up dancers.’
She compares her teenage years to the coming-of-age drama Thirteen: she drank on stoops and turned grimy subway stations into venues for parties. She was arrested multiple times. A former probation officer of hers, whom she calls Ms Cortez, told Fox: ‘I know you’re manipulative, and I know you’re a liar.’ ‘I was very wilful,’ she recalls. ‘I wanted to do what I wanted to do, and that was it. So I’ve been called selfish and stuff, but it’s just self-preservation.
Fox’s personality, it seems, has kept her as a subject of interest, even before she starred in Uncut Gems. But that film was certainly her gateway into the limelight, at least in the traditional sense. Then, the pandemic hit. Her trajectory was immediately derailed as parts dried up in Hollywood while sets closed down. (Still, she managed to film the Steven Soderbergh HBO Max crime film No Sudden Move with Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro during that time.) But once she made headlines again for the Ye romance, it appeared her glow-up was right back on track.
A superstar who makes their way into the limelight post-lockdown must navigate their fame differently than others. In America, the pandemic was an incredibly democratising time: people no longer wanted to see celebrities flexing their wealth. People began to look at famous people differently, want different things from them. Perhaps that’s why Fox knows she must present an ‘authentic life’, as she calls it. ‘If I pretend to be something I’m not, I’m just gonna attract people that are wack as well,’ she adds. ‘And I want better for myself.’
It’s also possible Fox has simply lived a curious life worth documenting from the beginning. ‘I always knew I was destined for something big,’ she says. ‘I could just feel it, and people around me could, too. I remember people making subtle comments here and there: you should write a book, or you should make a movie about your life.’ Now she’s doing just that. Fox is in the middle of a memoir, which she works on when Valentino is staying with his father. ‘I’ll just stay up all night writing,’ she says. She has also ‘written a lot of scripts’ and has completed a series she hopes to take to television.
Of course, acting is still happening: Fox recently wrapped filming The Trainer, a movie written by art-world heavyweight Vito Schnabel and directed by Tony Kaye. Meanwhile, the Hollywood rumour mill has been hard at work. Earlier this year, there were whispers Fox would play the role of Debi Mazar in Madonna’s biopic, which the Queen of Pop herself is helming. But she has ‘no idea’ about the status of the role. ‘I don’t want to ask, because I don’t want to be, like, you know…’ she trails off for a moment. ‘I love Madonna and obviously, whatever she chooses, I trust her vision.’
Some have also posited that Fox will be on the next season of The Real Housewives of New York, which she’s quick to dispel. ‘They called, but I told them, I’m just not really there yet right now,’ she says. ‘But maybe in the future.’ She smiles mischievously, her piercing, sky-blue eyes staring me down as if penetrating my soul. ‘I would only do it if it could be me and my friends on it,’ she adds. It makes sense that Fox would want her own reality show, one in which she could drop inconceivable anecdotes from her life, which has always been stranger than fiction.
Then she says something that surprises me. ‘I’m already losing interest in being famous, to be honest.’ In terms of all the press? I ask.
‘Yeah, the press, and just being famous,’ she says. ‘It just is getting old. It’s very intense, people stopping me all the time, people wanting photos, it’s like, ay yi yi, what did I get myself into? But for right now, I’m going to ride it out and see where it takes me. Either way, it’s a great position to be in. It’s a luxury problem. I’m not going to complain. I’ll show you, how about that? I’ll stop telling you and I’ll just show you.’