Actor and filmmaker, Oscar winner and activist Natalie Portman covers the September 2019 issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK. Leith Clark styles the Dior ambassador in images by Pamela Hanson.
Justine Picardie sits down with Portman at Hollywood’s legendary Villa Carlotta, operating now as an upscale Airbnb-style home away from home. Their focus initially is Christian Dior’s sister Catherine, who was the inspiration for his first perfume, Miss Dior.
Natalie Portman has been the face of Miss Dior since 2010, and her activist Israeli background is curious about Catherine Dior’s history as a member of the French Resistance before being deported to a concentration camp in Germany in 1944.
Unlike so many of her colleagues, Catherine returned to Paris at war’s end in 1945, where she began exporting flowers and tending her rose fields in Provence. Those rose petals were used for Dior perfumes.
An only child, Portman’s own family has experienced the horrors of the holocaust. "My great-grandparents were killed in the camps, and my grandfather’s younger brother was shot in Poland during the war," she tells Picardle . She is referring to her father’s family; her maternal grandparents came as Jewish immigrants to the United States before the war. They were among the lucky ones.
With Austrian, Russian, Polish and Romanian relatives displaced from their homelands by pogroms and anti-Semitism, Portman has an inside view of the violent convulsions that swept through Europe in the 20th century.
Reflecting on the rise again of anti-Semitism in the US and Europe, Natalie Portman offers a unique perspective on the renewal of hatred toward “the other’. "This also has to do with our mistaken belief in progress,’ she says. ‘Life is not like a novel..."
“I think it’s a mistake to think of humanity as evolving,” the intellectually-accomplished Portman explains. You want to believe it, for sure, but it’s more like cycles of violence. Yet we’ve had an extraordinary lifetime of peace, too, so it’s allowed us to live in this belief that progress is being made.”
Her ability to face the dark side of life is enhanced by her love of beauty and glamour. It’s a tonic of sorts, who understands the dark underbelly of human existence.
Reflecting on Dior’s women’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri, Portman says she’s a huge fan.
"It’s wonderful to have a woman designing for other women, someone who understands us, and knows that maybe we might want to wear a T-shirt with a skirt and flats, or have pockets in our dresses." And she admires Chiuri for her exceptional collaborations with female artists, and for her ability to create beautiful clothes that allow women to feel free, rather than constrained. "If a woman can’t breathe in her dress, what does that mean? It’s the most literal symbol of oppression that you could possibly have – it’s so political."
Portman is deeply embedded in LA’s Time’s Up culture, as a founding member of the organization. Her latest project ‘Lucy in the Sky’ is produced by Reese Witherspoon, another founding member of Time’s Up.
The film will release later this year. Portman plays an astronaut who spins out of control when she returns to Earth after an extended space mission.
In another new project not discussed in the Bazaar interview, the actor is returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, directed by Taika Waititi as the Mighty Thor in ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’. Millions of Marvel fans are so excited to see a woman front a ‘Thor’ movie.