When images of Julia Fox’s makeover, care of boyfriend Kanye West, went viral last week the internet couldn’t get enough of them. Mainly, because it’s clear that West has a heavy hand in his girlfriend’s new look. But is there really a danger in allowing your partner to dress you, asks Sarah Macken
If last week belonged to anyone, it was actress Julia Fox who has been peacocking around the couture shows in Paris with new boyfriend Kanye West. Speaking about her experience of Paris fashion week, which includes a highlights reel of custom Schiaparelli fittings (as well as front row seats at Kenzo), Fox told British Vogue, “Sometimes I’m like, how is this even my life? Like what glitch in the matrix caused this?”
Fox, an on the rise actress-slash-writer best known for her role as Adam Sandler’s girlfriend in 2019’s Uncut Gems, has cachet since going public with West, who she met on New Year’s Eve. The brouhaha since the couple jetted to Paris for the couture shows has been, as one headline called it, both “sensational and surreal”. The fascinating part? Fox isn’t disputing that, either.
She’s openly admitted that this new life is as much a surprise to her as anyone else – but that she’s more than willing to go along for the ride. “After meeting him [Kanye], a couple days later, all my shit was in boxes, gone. It was so cathartic. It wasn’t like I was just packing up my old clothes, it was like I was packing up my old life,” Fox told Interview magazine.
This is where things get a bit – for want of a better phrase – icky. It’s clear that West has had a hand in Julia Fox 2.0. Trompe-L’oeil thigh-high boots by Margiela, Matrix black leather coats and corsets fit for science fiction are all part of a new Fox brought to life by stylists Peri Rosenzweig and Briana Andalore. Feeding our current thirst for nostalgia, West and Fox even served us double denim matching outfits, in the vein of Justin and Britney – a harbinger perhaps of the ill-fated destiny that awaits them? But, I digress.
A recent date night saw Fox step out in a pair of thigh-high metallic boots by Balenciaga. In a not uncanny turn of events it turns out – whaddayaknow – West’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian owns the exact. Same. Pair. She wore them in 2016 and there’s even an image of North West (yes, someone think of the children) posing in them on Instagram.
It would be less unsettling if it weren’t so achingly familiar. Kanye meets a woman. Woman undergoes a total aesthetic transformation. And, well, you know the rest …
The idea of West ‘creating’ a new Fox (if that is what’s happening) has more than a whisper of golden era Hollywood to it. In 1920s and 1930s Hollywood, it was best practice for women to be rescued by men. Namely, men who were an access point to a better life; more money and unfettered fame and success. It was a time where gender inequality was rife and the treatment of women was, to put it mildly, the pits.
As well as subjecting women to morality clauses in contracts, studio bigwigs regularly ‘made’ actresses into starlets by transforming them. After a dye-job and some electrolysis to raise her hairline Margarita Cansino became Rita Hayworth. (The fact that Hayworth’s glow-up included erasing her Latina identity adds another layer of repugnance to the situation.) Similarly, Lucille LeSueur was rebranded as Joan Crawford when a publicity man at MGM expressed distaste at her surname. By 2022, we’d hope these toxic gender and power dynamics are obsolete. Modern rhetoric – and a successful relationship – requires, to quote Pretty Woman’s Vivian Ward, that the woman “rescues him right back”.
Celebrity couples turning into lookalikes isn’t anything new. We dined out on Tom Hiddleston and Taylor Swift, we came of age in the era of Brangelina, we remember a time when Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow were zygotes with matching blonde crops; all is fair in love and wardrobe choices.
Perhaps what’s unsettling for some is Fox’s apparent compliancy in the whole spectacle. She wouldn’t be the first, either. A serial chameleon, Jennifer Lopez famously switched from matching leathers with P-Diddy to matching greyscale ensembles with Ben Affleck. Kourtney Kardashian’s sudden love of artfully distressed Guns N’Roses T-shirts is not unrelated to her recent engagement to musician Travis Barker. Critically, however, Kardashian and Barker have similar earnings and levels of fame – the balance of power is different to that of West and Fox.
On the flip side, women have been shaping men for years. Are there any of us who haven’t tried to, ahem, influence our other half’s sense of dress? When I pose the question on Instagram, the responses are a veritable mixed bag. “I hated my boyfriend’s Sketchers so much I started buying him new runners,” to, “He lets me, thank god, because he cares so little about what he wears,” and the best, “My boyfriend now wears necklaces because of a certain Harry Styles.”
It’s not like we’re immune to the approval of others. We’d be aliens if we were. “That photo is nice,” my husband said over my shoulder one evening. It was a selfie I took one afternoon in mid-January when I’d actually done my makeup and gone to a meeting in a fancy hotel. With just one comment, a photo I had reserved for Stories swiftly got upgraded to grid status. Does that make me a bad feminist? Answers on a postcard. However, the majority of us would be lying if we claimed indifference to praise.
In the extreme, it begs the question: can dressing for your partner’s approval ever be a genuine expression of creativity or are you unknowingly feeding into a toxic power dynamic?
According to relationships expert Dr Nikki Goldstein, harmonious dressing in a relationship is harmless. As humans, it’s natural that we want to conform to the environment we’re in. “We tend to want to fit in with the person we are dating. Yes, we are all unique but we want to, as a couple, look united and as if we ‘fit’,” Goldstein says.
It’s not exclusive to romantic relationships. For instance, how many times have you found yourself dressing like your work colleagues? I still recall the day when three workers on my bay (I was one) arrived at the office in identical Breton tops, Mom jeans and the same low-heel ankle boot.
At what point does it become sinister? Crucially, the thing about syncing with your partner is that it’s more like osmosis. Quite often it’s only noticeable after the fact – for instance, when you look back on photos. It’s subconscious, after all. If the change is being driven in a more intentional way (at either end) then it might be cause for concern.
“If it gets to the point where you have lost your sense of identity, then you have to wonder whether you are you taking on these attributes because you’re really great as a couple, or because you want so desperately for the relationship to work that you need to change everything about yourself to fit in so it does,” Goldstein says.
There is a scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo where Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak are in an upscale department store. Amidst the plush chandeliers and glossy sales assistants Stewart obsessively rejects grey suit after grey suit – not for himself, rather for his paramour, played by Novak, as none of them are the ‘perfect’ one, just like his former lover used to wear. His belligerence eventually drives Novak’s character to tears, imploring, “Couldn’t you like me, just me, the way I am?” (The irony of this statement given Hitchcock’s tyrannical obsession with blondes and notorious onset conduct is not lost here.)
Fox is empathetic to the plight of women at that time. In Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move she played a 1950s housewife who hits back. “It was hard to be a woman then,” she told the New Yorker, speaking of her character. “She’s always going to be someone’s wife or girlfriend.”
This isn’t the first crisis of identity a relationship has brought Fox, either. “I used to pray all the time that a guy would come in and take me away, and then it happened,” she told the New Yorker. The man was a wealthy, older client when Fox worked as a dominatrix. “We were together for five years. He wanted me to marry him, and I loved him so much, but he wanted me to wear, like, Ralph Lauren Purple Label and Tory Burch. I felt like I was always playing a part.”
Let’s hope this time around Fox is valued for who she is. Or if, as some people believe, Kanye West has finally met his match, that she’s getting what she wants from the deal.
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