Actress, model and filmmaker Elisa Sednaoui lets her hair down in a private Paris pied-à-terre to talk about her upcoming documentary film, her instinctual perspective on style, and the virtues of having Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Louboutin on speed dial. Photographs by Dylan Don. Directed by Robert Rabensteiner.
“For me, fashion, as most things in my life, is really related to instinct,” says Elisa Sednaoui. And when you’re a successful model, actor, director, and producer—as she is—that’s easy to say. Whether she’s best known for gracing editorials across the pages of Italian Vogue, Italian Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Bazaar; serving as the face of Diane von Furstenberg, Giorgio Armani, and Roberto Cavalli; or acting in several international films, the 24-year-old Italian-born bombshell is blessed with beauty and brains—not to mention a venerable pedigree.
Born to an Italian former model and fashion editor mother and a French-Egyptian architect father, it would seem a sharp eye for style is in Sednaoui’s blood. (It doesn’t hurt, either, having Christian Louboutin as a godfather or legendary director and photographer Stéphane Sednaoui as an uncle, and often being referred to as one of Karl Lagerfeld’s muses.) Regardless, this inherent mix appears to have influenced her—from her hard-to-place accent to her professional dexterity and coveted fashion sense. “I wear designers who are from completely different worlds, but I make them me,” Sednaoui says. “You say the dress doesn’t make the monk, but at the same time, it is one of the first ways of introducing yourself—it’s an extension of yourself.”
These days Sednaoui undergoes many costume changes, so to speak. She’s just as at ease sitting front row at the Chanel show at the Grand Palais (or being the date of the Kaiser himself—the two often attend events together) as she is talking about the inspirations behind her latest film. Having already starred in the international movies Eastern Drift, Love Lasts Three Years, Bus Palladium and, most recently, The Legend of Kaspar Hauser with Vincent Gallo, this multilingual talent has gone behind the lens as producer and
codirector for her newest project, Kullu Tamam (“Everything Is Good” in Arabic). Inspired by the events of the Arab Spring, the documentary focuses on how villagers in southern Egypt have been coping with the uprisings in the Middle East.
But the film isn’t the only way Sednaoui hopes to share information about what’s happening abroad. Indeed, she has been known to use social media to spread news. “I find it a very interesting way of transmitting information,” she says of Twitter, where her handle is @eli_sednaoui. “It was important for me to use it to make people aware of what’s happening in Egypt.”
Although she spent her childhood in France and Italy after her parents divorce, Sednaoui’s connection to Egypt still remains strong. “I love being in Luxor,” she says. “The moment the airplane opens and I can smell the spices in the air and I see the light and I see the people, I say, ‘OK, I’m home.’”
And though Sednaoui lives very much in the present, she also enjoys harking back to the past for inspiration. “I wish I had experienced the ’50s and the ’60s—even the ’70s,” she explains. “There is something about those women, you know, Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall, Monica Vitti…. There was a strength, there was a personality, and there was a daring—daring to be themselves.” Sednaoui, however, hardly needs to be from their era to live up to their standards. —Sasha Levine