Up Close and Personal with Elisa Sednaoui

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To meet Elisa Sednaoui, or see her in one of her many critically acclaimed French films, or spot her in ad for a major brand like Chanel, or catch her walking down the street with her son Jack, is to become instantly intrigued by her. On the surface, she is a quiet beauty of Italian, Egyptian, and French descent with an inimitable sense of personal style, but underneath her fascinating facade, she is a humanitarian, philanthropist, model,  film director, mother, and so much more. Sednaoui possesses the kind of self-assured grace that makes her the envy of all who are fortunate enough to cross paths with her. As the latest star of MyTheresa.com’s ‘Women’ series, Sednaoui represents strong women everywhere by defying the notion that they can’t “have it all” by leading an extraordinary, unpredictable, multi-faceted life.

In this exclusive interview with Savoir Flair, Sednaoui opens up about her passion for humanitarian causes, her frustrations with fame, and her role as the bold new face featured in MyTheresa.com’s intimate web series.

What was your first reaction when MyTheresa.com approached you with this opportunity?
I guess it was perfect timing. I had started collaborating with Burberry last year. During their last fashion show, I fell in love with the collection, the clothing, and the rucksacks! Coincidentally, last year was the year I bought my first Dries Van Noten dress, which I couldn’t find anywhere else, except on MyTheresa.com. So when Burberry and MyTheresa.com reached out about this project it felt absolutely natural to say yes!

What are you looking forward to most in contributing to the project?
Of course it’s exciting and flattering the same time! It just feels great to be in line with all these amazing women like Diane Kruger and Victoria Beckham.

You come from a family of strong women. What are the most important lessons they’ve imparted to you over your lifetime?
I think women today, trying to have it all, are on a very difficult path because we’re doing something that hasn’t really been done this way. There have been women who have worked and been mothers for a long time but we’re in a very particular moment plus trying to educate our kids in this tough world that we’re in today. But you can manage everything through organization and you do it with passion by the things you love, plus being surrounded by a husband or partner, family members or friends that support you – that is most important. Once you hear yourself clearly you can organize yourself to make everything happen and you learn from that. But you have to allow yourself some spontaneous time… without that you can lose your mind. I am not perfect, I struggle all the time, but it’s still the most incredible thing as well being an example to my son and to show what women can be. I am maybe not the mother who’s there at home just taking care of him but I’m there and I’m also a fulfilled person because of all that I do – I have passion for what I do and I’m driven and I work hard and I think it’s very important to show your kids that you work and fight for what you want.

I am maybe not the mother who’s there at home just taking care of him but I’m there and I’m also a fulfilled person because of all that I do.

Christian Louboutin is your “spiritual godfather,” you are a muse to Karl Lagerfeld, and Diane von Furstenberg was your mentor when you moved to New York City. What is it like being so close to fashion royalty? What traits or lessons of theirs have inspired you?
I am extremely grateful. Karl Lagerfeld and his team, for example, have taught me so much in terms of culture, life, people, fashion, fame, and ways of working. Talitha Getty is one of my favorite style muses, but the biggest fashion influence is certainly my mother. She was a model and a fashion editor. She taught me the taste for timeless, quality pieces, and we both love to mix items with more mainstream pieces. She was kind of brave, even when she’s very Italian, there was always a line of minimalism mixed with a special edge. Today, I really respect her for her great fashion sense.

At Savoir Flair, we champion strong women and causes that encourage and help younger generations of women to succeed. Tell us more about the Elisa Sednaoui Foundation.
With the ESF Foundation, we want to create opportunities for children and adults for creative learning and to be exposed to arts and fashion. It allows us to create a safe space where kids and adults can express their feelings and learn to know themselves better. In practice, we want to create a model for cultural centers that would provide after-school programs focusing on the arts. Many, many brands have shown immense support from the beginning when it comes to donating items for our auctions. I have also collaborated with a brand to design children’s clothing, whose proceeds go to the foundation. Actually now I’m quite excited as I am working with a jewelry brand on a special collection which will also benefit the foundation and which will be produced in Egypt. In particular, I should mention Christian Louboutin and Diane von Furstenberg, who have been so very generous with their time. One of the ways we have raised money so far is also through the selling of “experiences.” For example, meeting Christian at his studio, or having lunch with Diane and I. We are working with Burberry towards a fundraising event in Dubai in March. We’re having a fundraising auction gala dinner in Knokke during the first Knokke fashion weekend, which will take place also in March. And for sure I would like to bring some designer or other fashion “artist” as a Visiting Artist in our projects in Egypt and Italy. I’m also thinking of some long-term socially responsible business project… Let’s see!

How would you define your personal sense of style?
When people ask me about my style, I always say it’s versatile. I think if I had to give specifics, I’m more in the bohemian-meets-feminine/masculine game, but I like to be open. I never wanted to be placed only in one specific style category. I like to play with the universe of a designer but then make it mine in many ways. Fashion is fun, so I don’t take it too seriously.

The world needs more, different examples of womanhood!

What is your morning routine?
My favorite morning song is ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers. If I have time for an elaborate breakfast, I will go for a Middle Eastern version: beans, bread with thyme, yogurt, honey – a good balance of salty and sweet. If I have a little time, I usually have sourdough toast with salty butter. As far as my beauty routine goes, I thought I would never say this as I used to be really minimal about skincare, but it’s a face cleanser. In summer, the Lemon Cleanser by Eminéscence, and in winter to avoid that “gray” effect on the skin, the Bright Cleanser by the same brand. Then, the routine must be followed with a toner and moisturizer. I personally love the Environ products with Vitamin A, which I discovered in the great London spa by Yvonne Martin.

Is there anything that frustrates you about the fashion world and/or the film world?
Your instrument is your body and you’re being judged with weird scales. I think it’s a really challenging lifestyle for a healthy love life and family life because of its strenuous rhythms. It’s also sad how important fame is in the choice of people chosen for advertisements and covers — it’s slavery to a destructive system. The world needs more, different examples of womanhood!

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