Emma for “Who What Wear”

Emma has been featured in the spring issue of Who What Wear! Check out the stunning photoshoot in the gallery, and the article below.

The Spring Issue

“There’s always a story behind my clothes.” — Emma Roberts

On the surface, this story starts with some King Kong–size Hollywood clichés. I’m meeting Emma Roberts in the garden of the Chateau Marmont on a sunny afternoon following her cover shoot for our Spring Issue. We’re sitting in a secluded corner, drinking Billecart-Salmon rosé champagne, and talking about fashion, parties, and hair color. (Roberts is a redhead at our meeting—a shade partially inspired by her aunt’s hair in My Best Friend’s Wedding, which is Emma’s favorite Julia Roberts movie—but will dye it dark the next day for a role). You’d be forgiven for thinking this sounds like every piece you’ve read about a young actress, but you’d be wrong.

Even better: She gives good story. Her adoration for clever anecdotes, novel narratives, and sagas alike permeates all aspects of her life and helps explain why she’s endlessly interesting and always entertaining. When you take this adoration literally, it reveals so much about Roberts, like why she’s an unabashed bibliophile, as evidenced by her new venture, a digital book club and community called Belletrist that’s dedicated to discovering and sharing literature.

It also explains why Roberts is a raconteur and always has a story worth sharing, like that time she was seated next to Drew Barrymore at a fashion show and nearly lost her mind. “I always try to keep my facial expressions in check, but I got so embarrassed when I sat next to Drew at the Coach show,” she says, referring to the brand’s Pre-Fall 17 reveal. “I’m the biggest Drew fan, so I looked at her and got so red; I was just in awe. My little sister, Grace, was there with me, and we just fangirled. I sat next to Drew at the next Coach show, and she was so personable and remembered me. I was glowing from that interaction.”

And of course there’s the storytelling Roberts does simply by getting dressed every day. Because here’s the thing: If fashion is a form of communication and self-expression—one that tells the world a story about who we are—then Roberts is not only completely fluent but in fact a masterful author drafting her own future best seller, one outfit at a time. That said, fashion fluency isn’t something you wake up with one morning. It’s much more considered, as Roberts learned at a very young age.

“Growing up—especially on the red carpet and doing photo shoots when I was so young—you’re put in all these different looks because everyone’s trying to find out who you are, and you’re trying to find out who you are,” Roberts says of these formative fashion lessons. “But now, I’m at the point where I think What do I feel good in? What feels true to me? and I go for that, whether it’s trendy or not.”

She admits, of course, that it’s not always quite that easy. One of the byproducts of being a young, successful, fashion-loving actress is knowing that if you’re in public, you’re probably on camera. And as anyone who’s ever taken a selfie knows, you can feel great in an outfit but dislike the story it tells in photos. Take Roberts’s relationship with bohemian dresses, for example. “I don’t do well with anything voluminous,” she says. “In my mind I do, and I’ll feel very confident, but then I see photos and it doesn’t look cute, which is something I unfortunately have to worry about. So when I have people over, I might wear something that’s not necessarily great in pictures, but I can enjoy it because I’m not leaving the house.”

The flip side of this is dressing for work, which means both on the red carpet and on set. When getting into character, Roberts makes mood boards using clippings from her magazines. “I probably buy 30 magazines a month, and I make a collage of everything that I love,” she says. “I have this huge bin with all my cutouts, so when I’m doing a new role, I’ll go through my cutouts and find stuff that inspires me for it. I always create mood boards like that for fashion and hair and makeup because it gets me in the zone, and it’s meditative as well. Then I’ll create a bookshelf for my character, also.” The bookshelf is simple, perhaps four of five titles she picks up at Book Soup in West Hollywood, and selected with her character in mind.

In addition to using mood boards and books to help her understand her characters’ stories, Roberts is starting to actively play a role in developing them, too. Starting with next year’s In a Relationship, she’s taking on the role of executive producer for the first time ever, which includes helping to cast a key role (Patrick Gibson, whose work Roberts noticed in The OA) and collaborating on her own wardrobe for the film. “I went into my closet, and I found all these things that I had never worn but loved and hadn’t wanted to get rid of,” she says. “They were such great pieces, but they weren’t me. So I put them all in the movie and wore them as my character.”

Having a “character” in mind is another tactic Roberts and her stylists—sisters Kara and Brit Smith use when creating red carpet looks. “If people overheard us, they would think that we were crazy,” Roberts laughs. “We’ll come up with a story—You’re a little Victorian doll baby meets Southern belle in the bayou—or talk about ‘moments’ we want to have, like the suit moment at the Chloé show.” Of course, even the best-laid outfit plans sometimes benefit from an impulsive addition, like the statement sunglasses Roberts picked up in Paris. “Normally I don’t wear round glasses like that, but it changed the look in such a cool way,” Roberts says. “Those are the best moments—when I’m walking out the door and just grab something at the last minute, or put on a swipe of lipstick or throw my hair up—because it’s genuine.”

While Roberts is all about an authentic moment, her life is also filled with over-the-top occurrences, the sort that out of anyone else’s mouth would seem like a tall tale. Consider the fact that she’s a regular attendee of fashion’s biggest night—the Met Gala, a party that looks flawless from the outside. “In my wildest dreams, as a kid reading Teen Vogue, I never thought I would be at the Met!” she says. But Roberts has rarely experienced the evening without a few bumps in the road, admitting that the event can be more stressful than even the Oscars.

“The Met is more pressure. It’s always daunting—just the arrival is so grand,” Roberts says, referring to the imposing set of stairs the attendees must climb. The fact that she’s had a fashion emergency or two en route to the party doesn’t help, either. “Every year I feel like something breaks,” she says. “Two years ago my belt broke, so we had to stop and get a new belt on the way. One year my strap broke. There’s always a wardrobe malfunction and the car ride is so long because of traffic, and I’m always lying in some weird way to not wrinkle my outfit. But I love going to the Met.”

As for Roberts’s non-fashion storytelling prospects, it’s safe to say her next chapters are going to be ambitious and interesting. She’s particularly inspired by women like Reese Witherspoon and Brit Marling, who both act and produce projects. “My dream girl to work with is Brit Marling,” Roberts says. “I just think she’s so smart, and The OA is one of the most original shows I’ve seen in forever. And someone like Reese Witherspoon, who’s producing so many things … I love seeing all these beautiful, powerful, smart women stepping behind the camera or into other creative roles.” Like Witherspoon—who famously produced Gone Girl but, in service of director David Fincher’s vision, didn’t take the film’s coveted lead role—Roberts wants to honor the story, first and foremost. “It’s more important to make the movie right, even if that means someone else being in it and me being behind the camera,” she says.

That sentiment really speaks to where Roberts is right now in her life, and her perspective after 17 years in the entertainment industry. “I’m so happy and grateful I still get to act and do movies and TV, but I’m realizing it’s important to have other interests and other things that make you happy,” she says. “I’m finding a sense of self not just in front of the camera, which is a very nice feeling. I don’t know about directing—I admire directors so much, but that’s not something I’m quite ready to do—but I would love to write and love to produce more. I’m really passionate about what we’re doing with Belletrist because I love the idea of finding things that people don’t know about and introducing them, like what you guys do with Who What Wear.”

It’s a brave and bold move, to be an actress turned entrepreneur who’s giving something old-fashioned—books—a modern twist through social media, namely creating a digital community for fellow bookworms. And coupled with her new executive-producer skills and beloved acting abilities, it’s setting the star up for some very intriguing next steps. Whatever the future holds for Roberts’s story, one thing’s for certain: It’s going to be a page-turner.

“I’m realizing that I am finding a sense of self not just in front of the camera, which is a very nice feeling.” — Emma Roberts

  • Story by Hillary Kerr
  • Styling By Doria Santlofer
  • Hair By Kylee Heath
  • Makeup By Kara Yoshimoto Bua
  • Set Design By Lizzie Lang
  • Location: Chateau Marmont
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