LIV IN THE MOMENT
by Tom Shone
This season’s chicest ’60s-inspired pieces could have been fashioned with Liv Tyler in mind. The actress talks to Tom Shone about her independent life choices, the importance of good manners and why she is really an old-fashioned girl at heart.
I’m very unfashionable at the moment,” says Liv Tyler apologetically, over brunch at one of her favorite haunts in Manhattan’s West Village. “I go through periods where I pay a tremendous amount of attention to fashion, then I get mad at it and don’t read magazines, don’t look at the collections. I’m in one of those moments right now,” she smiles. “And then I get mad at myself because I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t have anything new.”
The actress’s version of “nothing new” may not be quite as impressive as her friend Helena Christensen’s (“She has a closet to die for”), but she still turns heads in a floral Marni dress (“My only summer purchase”), worn with a Chloé cardigan and Lanvin flats. On the table between us sits a Stella McCartney faux-croc Grace shoulder bag – her one indispensible item with which she recently shared “a Brokeback Mountain moment. I was like: ‘I cannot quit you!'”
Inside the bag are some credit cards and loose cash, two Chanel lipsticks, one iPhone and one BlackBerry, with which she has a tortured, ambivalent relationship. “I can’t quit this baby, either,” she says, fishing it out. “Someone’s always trying to find you. I’ve just started to go, ‘F*** all of you, I’m not going to be on your schedule. I don’t want to be reached every second.’ People want immediate answers. It’s nice to really think about things…” – she searches for the right word – “…digest them.”
Tyler has an air of dreamy abstraction, with just a hint of the melancholy that sometimes attends great beauties, as if she alone has seen through a trick that still entrances the rest of the world. She talks about herself the way men talk about their cars: it’s just mechanics, maintenance. “I do have quite an old-fashioned body, the shape of it,” she says. “Corseted, pulled in, little waist, pointy boobs – that look actually really suits me, because there’s some construction to it. I always go back to the classic images; I can’t help but be influenced by Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, and the Kennedys.
“I find myself inspired all the time by my mother and my grandmother and their innate natural elegance, much more than fashion or trends that are hot right now. It’s strange: I’m very independent and quite modern as a woman in many ways, but I’m also quite old-fashioned.”
That modern/old-fashioned mix was reflected in Tyler’s childhood, which was divided between living in the Maine countryside with her mother, former model and infamous rock-star girlfriend Bebe Buell, and Washington, where her maternal grandmother, Dorothea, taught etiquette to diplomats. “I was raised by the women in my life,” Tyler says. “That’s made me incredibly strong and resilient. I’ve always been able to support myself and my family on my own. Men are a bit of a mystery to me in a way. They are visitors. They visit my life. I am always surprised when there is one around.”
The tangled roots of Tyler’s paternity are well known. She was raised believing her father to be Buell’s then-partner, rock singer Todd Rundgren, until the age of 11 when she attended an Aerosmith concert with her mother. Spotting the striking similarity she bore to lead singer Steven Tyler’s daughter, Mia, she worked out that Tyler, not Rundgren, was actually her father. She remembers being with Mia, and how they scrutinized every inch of each other’s faces, taking each other in.
Neither father was what you would call hands-on, both being “very creative, very magical artists who were on totally different schedules to everyone. We had to do our own thing,” says Tyler. Just the other day, she and Mia were talking about “love and boyfriends, and Mia said, ‘Let love be like dessert. Enjoy it when it’s there, but you don’t want to eat dessert at every meal, all day long.’ I thought, yeah, yeah, that makes so much sense. And then I thought, wow, that’s so interesting: both Mia and I [have that view] of what a man in our life is like.”
Tyler’s screen career has followed a similarly creative, magical course, marked by collaborations with several Puckish lords of misrule: Bernardo Bertolucci (Stealing Beauty); Robert Altman (Cookie’s Fortune, Dr. T & The Women); and Peter Jackson (The Lord Of The Rings trilogy), in whose artistic slipstreams she nestled comfortably. But for all her on-screen ethereality, Tyler, now 36, registers a surprising substantiality, with her broad shoulders (“Like a linebacker”), penetrating gaze and familiar breathy cadence seasoned, these days, with the unimpeachable wisdom of the newly divorced. In 2009, her marriage to English musician Royston Langdon ended, and she hunkered down in her West Village house, bought when she was 20 with money made from modeling, to concentrate on raising their son, Milo, now eight.
“[Milo] just wants me to make him breakfast and walk him to school and read to him at night and help him with his homework – all the basic things that any child would want,” Tyler says. “He couldn’t give a rat’s *** about me being famous or a movie star or anything. I learn so much from him. To have a son was huge for me, because it’s been the most solid, healthy, consistent relationship I’ve ever had with a male in my whole life.”
Recently, Milo has been asking to move to the countryside. “He says, ‘I’m tired of the city and these people. I just want to be free, I just want to run around’.” She takes a sharp breath: “It pulls at my heartstrings because I would love to give him that. That’s how I grew up.” But Tyler is torn; the city is where work is. “I’m in a moment right now where I am trying to figure out what I want, what I want phase two to be like,” she adds.
To this end, Tyler is currently working on the foreword to Modern Manners, an etiquette book written by her grandmother – “Basic please and thank yous, looking someone in the eye, really listening, not being distracted on your phone all the time” – and wants to write a book containing all the beauty tips passed onto her by her mother. “She always smelled so good,” she says, recalling watching Buell put on her makeup in five minutes as a child – “So fast and so beautifully and so thoroughly.” Tyler has even had thoughts of starting her own line of clothing: the perfect black dress, black pants, undergarments, the basics. “Pipe dreams,” she says, laughing. “I have to get on it.”
As for acting, she went to the cinema last night to see The Hangover Part III, and there were three trailers for movies of scripts she had been sent, two of which her agent had pushed her to audition for. “I just didn’t love them. And then when I watched the trailers, I didn’t even like the movies,” she confides. “I can only follow my heart.” Modern Manners: Tools To Take You To The Top (Potter Style) is out in October.