“I woke up this morning, and I was thinking about coral, because my dog has eaten all my coral,” begins actor-slash-artist-slash-fashion designer Zoe Bleu. I meet her as requested outside Necromance, a boho Westside, Los Angeles curiosity shop with a zombified “mermaid” ($500), a necklace made of what looks like real bones and coral skeletons in its window display. “I was like, ‘Ugh, I just want to wear this colour all the time,’ and I was looking through my closet and I was kind of at the point where I was sick of everything in my closet and like, ‘Ugh, I’ve worn everything so many times, and what can I do?’” That’s why we’re here to buy some coral, and also why she’s chosen today’s vintage outfit in shades of orangey pink. She looks like a young hippy siren – and that’s kind of what she is.
Bleu, 21, is Young Hollywood royalty: as the daughter of Rosanna Arquette and John Sidel she grew up between Laurel Canyon and Big Sur; she spends a lot of time hanging out with fellow Los Angeles cool kids including Jack Kilmer, Lily-Rose Depp, Lauren Alice Avery; and she has just finished filming James Franco’s lesbian vampire movie Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? Less predictably, she dates Lias from Fat White Family. Zoe also spends a lot of time in New York, and is friends with the city’s new wave of fashion designers. She recently walked the catwalk nearly naked (“it was terrifying, I was shaking”) for her friend David Moses’s label Moses Gauntlett Cheng. That’s not all. She has her own incredibly weird and watery fashion collective Nautae (a Latin term used to describe “a group of sailors”) with her close friends Arielle Chiara and Darius Khonsary. The three of them are planning something very unusual for the next New York Fashion Week, of which more later. Before we get into that, I’ll need to know…
Wonderland: Why did you own so much coral?
Zoe Bleu: So I attached all these small branches together and made a peacock-sort-of shape with them. I like to have little altars next to my bed. My mum always had altars in the house when I was growing up: there’s actually a picture of me as a small child making an altar, I’m wearing two different coloured slippers and two different coloured socks and I’m holding two giant candles that are bigger than my head. I’m not religious, and my mum’s not religious, but she always liked to make little sanctuaries for herself to go back to and breathe. Kind of like meditation spots. I took it to the next level and mine are a little more ornate. I love the colour of coral and all that, then I have my crystals and I have a bunch of trinkets from the 20s, like I have little compacts with old powder in them, and poems that my friends have written me or that I have written, and lots of shells. I used to collect snails when I was younger – I guess nothing has really changed. I was an only child and my mum wouldn’t let me have many play dates for some weird reason. So I collected all the bugs I would find outside and put them under my bed so I could play with them. I love snails, but they would all die under my bed and it would smell awful and my mum would go: “What is going on in my house, why does it smell terrible?” There would be like this cemetery under my bed, but I still have all the snail shells. It’s just a funny little thing I like to do for myself.
W: That sounds like a Brothers Grimm fairy-tale. What was it like growing up in Big Sur?
Z: You should go, it’s the most beautiful place on Earth. It smells amazing, people are lovely, it’s very much been kept in a time capsule since the 60s, the 70s, all auburn wood and glass, it’s really cool up there. There’s a place called Esalen there which is like a transcendental point, I guess you could say, and everyone is naked and there’re hot springs and all of that — they grow their own food and it’s a nourishing place. So yeah, I pretty much was chasing goats and eating berries. I was very much a hippy kid. Always covered in mud and paint.
W: So that brings us nicely to your collective Nautae, which reminds me of Renaissance paintings of classical mythology, of drapery and drinking and people coming out of the water and dancing around in the forest. How did that all come about?
Z: Arielle and Darius and I, we will never ever be out of each other’s lives, and we always had a goal of making something beautiful together. Once they came to stay with me in Williamsburg and I had this giant sheepskin rug and I was like, “I fucking hate that rug, I need to get it out of here.” “Nooo that’s a waste…” “Fuck that rug, I hate that rug, where are the scissors?” We just started making these shapes out of it, we were envisioning Darius as this sort of, sort of ram-like creature crouched in a secluded, dusty space wearing the skin of a lamb. And I don’t know, we were all smoking a lot of weed and somehow we just started making these pieces and were like, “Oh what do we call it?”
W: You’re working on your first proper collection – tell us about it.
Z: But the way we’re going to approach fashion is not through its traditional form. Because we were all negatively affected by how beauty is portrayed in the fashion realm, like in magazines et cetera. I struggled with an eating disorder from a very young age because I thought I had to look a certain way. We’re doing things differently: we’re going to have unconventional models and we’re doing a play. It’ll be a three part show and all of the looks will be characters, and we’re casting for the characters; we’re not looking for nice cheekbones, we’re looking for personality. I’m really excited about all of this. I love to write and I haven’t shown anything of my work, this will be the first thing I’ve actually presented. Really, I think it should be about the story you’re trying to tell!
With that, we part ways. Zoe’s off to buy some coral that hopefully her dog won’t eat, and then to see Fat White Family play a show. She seems like a character from the past – writing plays, playing vampires, making shrines, starting an esoteric fashion collective soaked in antiquity – but she’s pushing Young Hollywood towards a most unusual future.