Lily James on Why She'll Never Be a Skinny-Jean Girl
When it comes to fashion, if there were ever an actress that we couldn't be more jealous of, it's Lily James. The star played Lady Rose in Downton Abbey where incredible '20s outfits were the norm, moving on to wear the most breathtaking princess dresses in 2015's Cinderella, and then appeared as Natasha Rostova in the 2016 mini-series War & Peace on BBC, whereupon which she wore some of the most jaw-dropping ensembles from 1800s Russia. And now, James is in Burberry's latest Christmas campaign: The Tale of Thomas Burberry. She plays the fictional character Betty Dawson (based on the female record-breaking pilot Betty Kirby-Green) and got to dress up in the UK's most iconic brand for the role.
The three-minute film, which also stars Domhnall Gleeson as Thomas Burberry and Sienna Miller as his love interest, is an epic story of Burberry and the clothes created for the likes of the British army and polar explorer Ernest Shackleton (who is played by Dominic West). On the day of the beautifully directed mini movie's release, we sat down with James to find out everything she thinks about British fashion, who she likes to borrow clothes from, and what she feels about leggings being bigger than denim. Keep scrolling to read our interview with James and watch the video below.
David M. Benett/Getty Images
Who What Wear: Tell us about the stylish women that influence you?
Lily James: My grandmother was really stylish. She was an actress and really cool. [Fun fact: James's grandmother Helen Horton was the voice of Mother in Alien.] She used to wear her glasses on chains and was really elegant. When I worked with Cate Blanchett in Cinderella, she was just so beautiful and classy. And Helena Bonham Carter is so mad and sexy. I like people that use dress as a form of expression.
WWW: What’s the one item of clothing you couldn’t do without?
LJ: To be honest, it is my Burberry trench coat. They make every outfit look chic and make me feel good. On the film, I got to wear some great cashmere jumpers.
WWW: You've been able to wear some incredible outfits in many of your roles, such as in Downton Abbey, Cinderella, and War & Peace. Do you have any favourites?
LJ: I’ve been so lucky. I’ve had some incredible dresses with my work. Rose [Downton Abbey] had some great beaded flapper dresses that really influenced me. I’m more curvy than I am straight down, but Lady Rose’s wardrobe didn’t accentuate that. It was all part of the movement at the time. But Lady Mary also had some killer outfits— Michelle [Dockery] wears a dress very well. There was also a great moment early on when Jessica Brown Findlay [who played Lady Sybil] had on those trousers. I always feel when I’m in an interview and I’m wearing trousers, I give a much better interview, I don’t know what that’s about. I think, perhaps, I feel more comfortable and you can move without having to worry about flashing your knickers or anything [laughs]. I find it really impacts me in my confidence. If you're feeling a little self-conscious… Maybe that’s because I’m really vain [laughs a lot].
WWW: Do you ever borrow clothes from anyone?
LJ: I haven’t lived with a girl for a while, which sucks because I used to borrow clothes all the time when I lived with girls in drama school. I think I still have plenty of clothes from my first flatmate! I used to wear my mum’s clothes a lot. She had this really cool old denim jacket that she had in the ’80s and then I left it on a plane—I've still not forgiven myself. It was baggy, in a faded denim, and I'd wear it with the sleeves pushed up.
WWW: How would you describe British style?
LJ: British style seems to be quite bold. But within London, there seems to be different trends in different parts of the city. For me, I like to mix it up. For example, I like a biker jacket with a floral dress.
WWW: If we told you that leggings are more popular than jeans, what would you say?
LJ: That’s never going to happen. On certain body shapes, it's fine. But me going out in exercise leggings? I’m deffo more a tracksuit bottoms and wide-legged jean than a skinny-jeans girl.
Love James' attitude toward style? Check out fellow It Brit and fashion girl Alexa Chung's predictions for next year's biggest trends and then shop some new season Burberry.
Opening Image: David M. Benett/Getty Images