Certain girls just have It. You may not be able to name them off the top of your head, but as soon as you see them gracing the front rows at fashion shows, the party pages of style glossies and the most glamorous bashes in town, you can tell right away that they’re not your average PYTs.
Good looks and lithe figures notwithstanding, there’s much more to the so-called It factor: a certain nonchalance, ease with clothes and effortless je ne sais quoi that can turn a mere girl about town into a bona-fide style setter. Add to that a jet-set upbringing, a multi-ethnic background and friends in high places, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for what makes an It girl.
Elisa Sednaoui, the half-Italian, half-Egyptian model and actress who grew up between Paris and Cairo, is the embodiment of the multi-hyphenate talented girl with impeccable style to match and a prime spot on the European social circuit. Sednaoui, whose godfather is none other than shoe master Christian Louboutin – for whom her father, an architect, designed a house in Luxor – has recently taken a break from the party scene to look after her newborn child (her partner, Alex Dellal, brother of Alice and Charlotte, also hails from a family that has spawned its fair share of It girls) and to focus on her film career.
She recently directed a poignant documentary about her Egyptian homeland, Kullu Taman (Everything is Good), her first endeavour behind the camera. At an outing during this year’s Venice Film Festival, which she attended to present a film in which she starred, Sednaoui, who’s close to Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre, the festival’s main sponsor, sat down for a chat before getting ready for a glamorous premiere at the famous Lido.
Model, actress and now director. What do you like the most?
I wouldn’t be satisfied doing only one thing and I love each for different reasons. Directing the documentary was the strongest thing I’ve ever done because I was involved from a personal point of view, since Egypt is a very important country for me and because I was behind the camera.
What was the main challenge?
It’s already hard to shoot a regular film with all the last-minute changes, but with a documentary there are even more unexpected things because you’re filming reality, so you don’t know what’s going to happen.
What’s your opinion about the current situation there?
Egypt is a very important part of my life. It’s now undergoing a process towards what is going to be their kind of democracy, which will never be a Western one. We can’t impose our canons of democracy on a country that is trying to find its own space. To achieve the goal, there will be many mistakes, but they will learn from them. I’m hopeful that something good will happen. You can’t create a democracy in one day. After the revolution started, the people learned a lot and formed a political opinion, which never existed before. It’s what happened in France. How long did it take before France got liberté, egalité and fraternité?
You grew up in France but your background is also Italian and Egyptian. Where do you feel more at home?
I’m a mixture of all three, because I lived in all three and I’m very close to each culture, so I’m kind of an amalgam. The hot blood and the romanticism of the Mediterranean are mixed with a certain French cynicism, which you always need.
How important is fashion to you and what do you make of the phenomenon of the red carpet?
It’s an important element of my job and thanks to that I can concentrate on more serious projects like the documentary and my foundation. In the end, I believe that the way you dress, both in private and in public, is an extension of who you are. I know that your personality and your brain are more important but the way you appear is what people see first and influences the way they perceive you. However, when I’m in situations in which a dress doesn’t show up or needs a last-minute alteration and so on, I always try to take it easy and not to turn it into a big drama. When people get stressed about such things, I realise that it’s not worth it, especially after you have a child.
Were you always into fashion, even as a child?
When I was a teenager in Egypt I used to go to markets to buy yards of fabrics and imitate my mother, who was a designer. I would ask my neighbour to sew them into clothes. Christian would tell my dad, joking, “Your daughter is so glamorous,” but I never did it with that intention. I just had fun trying different things. I was mainly looking at my mum, who instinctively loved classic and timeless pieces and was never obsessed with buying too much.
What about your personal style?
I love buying pieces that, when you wear them in the morning, you know it works and you don’t have to think too much about them. I’m quite repetitive: when I like something, like a song, I keep playing it over again and it’s the same with clothes.
How did your relationship with Jaeger-LeCoultre start and develop?
The relationship started with my first film and I developed it here in Venice over many years. They always support artists and filmmakers, talented people. I feel that creative people inspire others and vice versa. Everywhere you go, things are changing. With the Internet and social media, people can finance movies in different ways. There’s so much stuff out there that is bad quality, so it’s important to support talent and creativity.
Finally, can you tell me about your foundation?
During my pregnancy I decided to establish a foundation that focuses on extracurricular education like music, acting, crafts…It’s a way for children to learn having fun and dreaming. I want to create a branch in Luxor because children there start working when they’re very young and they shouldn’t worry about money at such a young age. This generation will change Egypt, so I want to open their mind. I don’t want them all to be artists but it’s great for them to be exposed to this kind of thing. They’re going to be agents of change so I want to contribute to that.