With a little help from her friends
Supermodel Irina Lazareanu, pal of Kate Moss and Pete Doherty, is recording with Sean Lennon
ANNE KINGSTON | June 25, 2007 |
Irina Lazareanu is sweetly trying to explain why she can't sit down for the interview arranged by her New York agent. A car is sitting in the street below her SoHo apartment to take her to a midtown Manhattan recording studio where Sean Lennon is waiting. The last five days have been gruelling, she says. Thursday she was in the Hamptons shooting for American Vogue, distinguishing only as a fashion insider would between that and all the other Vogues for which she has been photographed. That night, June 8, she celebrated her 25th birthday, then travelled to Los Angeles for a fashion shoot with the arty British publication Another Magazine before returning on the red-eye. Sunday and Monday she was in the studio laying down vocal tracks for her debut album, Some Place Along the Way, which Lennon is producing. "I was recording until one in the morning," she says. "And I just got my period; it's a girl thing."
For Lazareanu's time, there is a long line. Vanity Fair is angling for an interview. Hollywood directors are throwing scripts her way. TV producers are bidding to build shows around her. Ralph Lauren asked her to design with him. Still, she wants to be accommodating, she says, in a soft rasp with a Continental lilt: "You're Canadian." Born in Romania, Lazareanu emigrated to Canada at age five with her family and was raised in the Montreal suburb of St-Hubert.
She was anointed "it girl" at the fall collections in the spring of 2006. The gamine model with the mod bangs, haunting eyes, pale skin and prominent nose spoke to a moment in want of shift. Her moonbeam radiance offered an antidote to the bronzed Brazilian glamazons that dominated the scene.
Now she's Irina, a one-name runway marathoner, walking that model pony trot for everyone from Alexander McQueen to Zac Posen. Last fall, Lazareanu walked runways at a record 76 shows. Designers love her because she's up, says Cheri Bowen, Lazareanu's New York agent. "After 60 shows most girls are tired and grumpy and want to go home. Irina's dancing and singing. She's the consummate entertainer. You never see her complain; it's not in her genetic makeup."
It's telling of the fashion moment that Lazareanu's appeal lies in her ability to transcend it. "She's a model for a new age," says Jeanne Beker, host of Fashion Television. "She could have walked out of a Paul Poiret studio or Chanel or a happening from the '60s. She's every era and she's very now too. It's a strange quality." Lazareanu's mutable essence has made her the poster girl for a wide range of brands -- Just Cavalli, Mulberry, Anna Molinari, Hugo Boss, Balenciaga and Chanel.
Lazareanu's off-the-runway style -- a grunge- chic mix of dandy menswear, vintage and rocker chick inspired by '60s and '70s London -- is equally influential. At a Chanel party in May, Lazareanu, dressed in a dark oversized suit and fedora, was photographed next to Lindsay Lohan; the actress looked like an orange plastic inflatable doll by comparison. Vogue editor Anna Wintour is devoting a big spread to the model in the September issue, the contents of which remain hush-hush. Ralph Lauren told Lazareanu, who didn't have time to help him design, that she reminded him of Diane Keaton, a roundabout self-compliment given that he dressed Keaton for Woody Allen's 1977 movie Annie Hall. Her following in Japan and Korea is so avid, Bowen reports, that items she wears offstage sell out instantly.
The fact Lazareanu reads Turgenev and writes poetry in a notepad she carries everywhere has not gone unnoticed in an industry whose most famous literary star is Naomi Campbell, author of the ghostwritten novel Swan. "She's an artiste, a Renaissance woman," Beker says of Irina. Modelling is not art -- "it's a job, like working at McDonald's," Lazareanu says. "The art when you wear couture is that women worked for six months on a dress; it's their sweat and blood. It's not about you. I'm just walking, one foot in front of the other."
The William Blake-quoting model once linked to the now notoriously drug-addicted musician Pete Doherty quickly assumed muse status. "Irina is the Juliette Gréco of our times," says Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel via email, referring to the dark-haired French bohemian singer and inspiration to many St-Germain des Prés denizens, including Jean-Paul Sartre. Lagerfeld has also called her a "mix of Coco Chanel and Anna de Noailles," the French-Romanian poetess and intellectual. His new collection, Paris-Monte Carlo, was designed specifically with Lazareanu in mind.
Lazareanu's ambitions have always veered toward the artistic. At 13, she went to London to study ballet until she was derailed by a broken knee. At age 15, she met Doherty, who had just formed the band the Libertines. "We looked alike," she says. "It was almost freaky. He had bangs. I had bangs." The two connected over writers -- Leonard Cohen, Oscar Wilde, Maupassant. They became lovers and musical collaborators. The summer of 2004 she toured with Doherty's band, Babyshambles, in the notorious "Shamble Mobile." Lazareanu is often described as having been a drummer in the band, a false mythology she laughs off. "We were all part of making something," she says. "I like to say my first instrument was a pen." Together they co-wrote La Belle et la Bête on which the model Kate Moss, by then Doherty's girlfriend, warbled backup: I'll tell you a story but you won't listen / It's about a nightmare steeped in tradition / It's the story of a coked-up pansy / Who spends his nights in flights of fancy.
At 17, Lazareanu signed with the modelling agency Giovanni in Montreal, hoping it might help pay the rent. "I loved everything about her," says Giovanni's director, Jean-François Leroux. "I loved the way she looked but more, I loved her personality; she is so vivacious, so intelligent, so witty, the whole package." Her career didn't take off initially. "People locally didn't understand her," he says. She did the usual rounds of London and Milan. But it wasn't until Moss, as guest editor at French Vogue in December 2005, cast her in a fashion editorial, "Extravagance de plumes," that the fashionistas took notice. A January 2006 Italian Vogue cover shot by the famed photographer Steven Meisel launched her career.
Lazareanu remains close to both Doherty and Moss.(Moss, who she calls "a sister," asked her to promote her recently released clothing collection for British fashion store Topshop.)Yet she expresses frustration with the media's fixation on the connection. She has moved on, co-writing an acclaimed score for the 2005 film The Passenger, directed by the Canadian photographer François Rotger, her former boyfriend. Yet there's little doubt her Babyshambles insider cred feeds into the buzz surrounding her upcoming CD, due for a fall release. So does her stature in the fashion world. The music-fashion symbosis is acute these days, with Sean "Diddy" Combs, Gwen Stefani, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez all designing clothing lines. This week it was announced that Doherty and Moss will separately grace Roberto Cavalli's men's and women's fall ad campaigns.
Those who have heard Lazareanu's music call it soft, lyric, folky. Her musical references hark back to Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young. She recites the first few choruses of Bob Dylan's A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, her favourite song. "It's a dialogue in three parts," she says.
She is protective of the collaborative nature of the musical process. An interview at the studio is out of the question, she says firmly. She doesn't want to disrupt her band. Plus Lennon is off journalists right now, she says. "Sean's hypersensitive after the press took something his mom said out of proportion." The two have been friends for years.
The album is like a book, she explains, each song a chapter. She shares the lyrics of The Fountain, a song about walking and falling, quoting Wilde about how wisdom is based in pain. She speaks from experience. "I've made some bad decisions -- I've fallen a couple of times but got up," she says. Another song, Dead Man Walking, references Armani and her recent work with Amnesty International.
Lazareanu is a musician magnet. Mick Jones, formerly of the Clash, is teaching her to play guitar. Joni Mitchell expressed interest in her lyrics.(Lazareanu quotes Mitchell on why she stopped making music: "They took the muse out of music; now there's just the ick.")Cat Power will be dropping by the studio next week. "She is really real," Lazareanu enthuses. "So genuine."
As for the future, the world is her oyster, pardon the cliché, says her agent Bowen, who, as agents will, predicts a major breakout. "Irina is that memorable model who will go down in history like the Twiggys," Jeanne Beker predicts. "Will she be modelling in another five years? Likely not. Three years from now she won't be as hot but I don't worry about her the way I worry about some of the others." Models don't have careers that last 20 years any more like the Claudia Schiffers or Linda Evangelistas, says Leroux. Her music will extend her career, he believes. "She will be seen as a personality, a star more than just a model."
What will sustain Lazareanu, say some, is her gift for intimacy. "I have a special relationship with her," says Beker, "but maybe she's the kind of girl who makes everybody feel that." After a day in the studio, back at home after 11, she is weary but willing to field questions over the phone. "Say hello to Canada," she says on her way to sleep. And then she hangs up.