Zoe Bleu Sidel’s Digital Baroque
The Actress-Turned-Stylist Brings Antiquity into a Post-Internet Orbit
- Interview: Rebecca Storm
- Photography: James Chester
“I think honestly I’d much rather be in the 1800s or the 1920s or the 1500s,” says Zoe Bleu Sidel. Descending from the Arquette family—Hollywood fixtures who already have a solid footing in the industry—it is no great surprise that Sidel would prefer to remain a few paces out of the limelight. That’s not to say there’s nothing to see here—coalescing between acting, designing, and styling, her work is evidence that a discerning eye for antiquated details is integral to developing a new aesthetic. Edwardian silk velvet is equally as important as the myth it perpetuates. In a digital sphere, the appeal of the pre-modern has renewed. It has even become uncanny and avant-garde through its new uses. Hardly classifiable as merely vintage, Sidel’s use of archaic luxuries in a post-internet age treads the line between IRL and fantasy. This a phenomenon we are all at the mercy of, and as Sidel says, “The internet can be a very dark place.” In an intensely eclectic social climate, Zoe Bleu Sidel is mythologizing her environment.
Zoe Bleu Sidel
So where are you right now, what city?
In London. I live here now.
Do you feel like your creative energy changes depending on what city you’re in? What’s the most inspiring place to be?
Oh my God, being in London has been incredible for me. L.A. has always been claustrophobic in a way—even though you’re so spread out and you have to drive everywhere. You don’t know your neighbours. Everyone has a crazy alarm system. Everyone seems fake. In London, if someone doesn’t like you, they’ll tell you. There’s no bullshit! And the history is amazing. I love the weather here. I love the rain and fog. And I love being able to sit by a pond with some swans.
That’s the thing I love most about wearing clothing, the escapism.
I wanted to talk a bit about labels, not that they’re necessary, but your work avoids easy categorization. How would you describe what you’re doing right now?
Honestly I’ve been doing a lot of styling, I think that’s what I want to do. I’m 22, kind of at that age where I’m leaning towards a certain direction. I made two movies this year—one is being announced next month—and I enjoy acting, but I’m really not into that whole world. I don’t love myself enough to be in that industry. You have to be really strong because you have to take a lot of criticism. People are judging you on your looks, your attitude, your speech, your overall mannerisms, everything. I’d rather be behind the scenes, so that’s why I’ve taken up styling.
Styling is kind of performative in itself, too. If you’re not so into acting, it’s a comfortable alternative. Your aesthetic is distinct, so styling seems like a natural progression for you.
I love a more theatrical look. I love to play dress-up. I collect antiques, so most of the pieces I’ve been really into recently have been old opera house pieces from the 20s, or old circus outfits, mostly theatre costumes that replicate the Renaissance era.
In your day-to-day do you feel like you’re role playing through your clothing choices or is it more about living out a fantasy?
Absolutely! I feel like I always escape to my own world through the way I dress. It makes me feel much better about everything that’s going on—that’s the thing I love most about wearing clothing, the escapism.
So I’m guessing you probably don’t feel pressured to conform to the American masses through the way that you dress?
Not at all, I couldn’t give a shit. I don’t care what anyone else is doing! Everyone should encourage each other to do their own thing and not judge anyone. I’m sick of seeing the same thing everywhere. I really appreciate when people step outside of the box and just wear what makes sense for them.
Some of your aesthetics take cues from mythology. Is that an interest of yours?
I studied a lot of Renaissance and Baroque art history, as well as Medieval art history in college at Sarah Lawrence and a lot of those artworks reference mythology, magic, and the occult.
I feel like as a society we’ve evolved to a level where there’s a real overlap between what’s a fantasy and what’s reality, and that can be facilitated and challenged more easily. But in a lot of ways we’re also regressing as a society. How do you feel about living through this evolution?
I hate this era. I think honestly I’d much rather be in the 1800s or the 1920s or the 1500s for the clothing, but we definitely wouldn’t have women’s rights or even human rights—a huge regression in itself. But if I could take the essence of that period in terms of the art and the detail in everything, I would go back. This era is really cool in some ways because we have access to all this information and we can create our own world using the internet. It’s a nourishing world in terms of information, you can learn about anything you want to, but it can also destroy people’s lives. It’s a really scary time, and the internet can be a very dark place. But I think that when everything falls apart, something good always has to come out of it. People really have to hit rock bottom to wake up, and I feel because we have all been living in this fantasy realm through the internet that we’ve lost track of what’s important in the real world and that’s why there’s all of this craziness happening. We need a big wake-up call, and it’s slowly happening. Maybe there’ll be some kind of revolution where people get their heads on straight and take their eyes off the screen for a second.
Can you talk a little about your design label, Nautae?
Yeah, Nautae is resting at the moment. Me, Arielle, and Darius, my best friends, we’re all at different places in the world. It’s been harder to see each other and plan. But we’re not in a rush to do anything. We have a lot of things in store that are going to happen when we have the time to do it, to make it what it should be and needs to be, and the money—we need a lot of money to do it because we have big plans and we’re only students. But, Nautae is like a collaboration. It’s kind of a funny story. We all had the same dream a few years ago, about this woman, so it started from that. We’re like, “Wow we need to make something that represents this woman,” so we developed this character called Nautae who we wanted to write plays for and make clothing for. We have a play that we've written that we designed costumes for and that’s what’s on hold, because that’s a long process. Arielle and Darius are my best friends forever and Nautae is mostly a physical representation of our friendship, I’d like to say.
So it’s sort of like you’re creating your own mythology?
Did you all grow up together?
We did in L.A., in the Westside.
As someone with several creative outlets and projects on the go, and with an audience, do you feel pressure to be more outspoken on political issues?
There’s definitely an unspoken sort of pressure, some of my friends get really involved politically on social media and that’s amazing. I say this with shame, but I don’t read the news all the time. It’s really heartbreaking for me. I feel like I am not as informed as I should be, so putting my opinion in everyone’s face if I don’t even know all the facts doesn’t seem right. But I mean, I wish I did, especially with what’s going on right now. I have a lot of friends who are Muslim, and they are all having a really hard time right now, and I do know a lot about that. So, if I’m going to make a post it’s going to be something that I’m equipped to discuss, I don’t want to say anything without knowing everything.
I know you are an advocate for transgender rights, and that is something that’s definitely personally significant to you.
Absolutely. My uncle who died this year was transgender and a really big activist for the transgender community. I have so many gender-fluid and trans friends and I love them and I want to support them, especially in honor of my uncle Alexis, who decided to die as a male, but was my aunt my whole life. My mom started a foundation called the Alexis Arquette Foundation, so I’m on the board of that, and we’re working to put on different classes and workshops and centers where we can cater to the needs of people in the trans community.
I think that when everything falls apart, something good always has to come out of it. People really have to hit rock bottom to wake up.
Do you work with your family a lot? Coming from an acting family, and acting being something you’re unsure about totally pursuing…
My family and I have become much closer now, ever since Alexis passed and I’ve gotten to know them all much better and they’re all so amazing. But this business has definitely taken a toll on all of them, as with anyone I know in the business, it’s pretty brutal. They are each so special and really incredible individuals, and I’m really proud to be a part of my family. Acting is something I really enjoy, and of course if I get an amazing opportunity, I’ll do it, but I’m not going out looking for auditions. I’m not doing any of that.
As a stylist, do you think there’s an ongoing evolution of what’s accepted to be conventionally attractive?
Beauty has changed for the better. I remember when I was growing up it was heroine chic, collar bones, being anorexic was cool—that was really hard for me. Feeling pressured to aspire to that as someone who is curvy and not at all built to look like that is upsetting when you’re young. But now, I don’t give a shit. I think beauty is more about character these days. I feel like the fashion industry is embracing that much more than before, so that’s a progression, but it’s still not perfect. Beauty to me is someone who feels beautiful to be around. There’s nothing uglier than a pretty girl who is a nightmare to be around. It’s about personality.
You combine classic, older pieces with more contemporary ones, which evokes a sort of timeless aura—do you feel humans can be timeless? How do you feel about aging and how it’s been stigmatized?
Oh my God, there’s nothing more beautiful to me than a wrinkly old woman. My mom is probably one of the only women in Hollywood who has not had anything done and she’s like, no spring chicken, but she looks great. I think it’s really important for women to be proud of their age and honor it in all senses. In terms of eras, I like to encompass a whole lot of everything—recognize the now and recognize the before.
- Interview: Rebecca Storm
- Photography: James Chester