Yara Shahidi on feminism, body image, and being the face of Jean Paul Gaultier’s new fragrance

16 October 2023
By Fashion Quarterly

Sweet, floral, and irresistibly bold, Jean Paul Gaultier’s Divine Eau de Parfum is for women who want to make an impression. Just ask the face of the fragrance.

Thirty years after the launch of their first women’s fragrance ‘Classique’, the house of Jean Paul Gaultier has unveiled ‘Gaultier Divine’, a new eau de parfum that serves as an ode to the powerful modern woman and a celebration of femininity in all of its diverse forms. Fronting as the ambassador and face for this iconic fragrance is actress Yara Shahidi, whose efforts as a social justice advocate and feminist render her the perfect person to represent such an empowering scent. 

Created by master perfumer Quentin Bisch, the fragrance harnesses dominant notes of lily, jasmine, bergamot and meringue – giving it a sweet, floral profile with just a hint of the salty sea. Much like Classique, Gaultier Divine is encapsulated within a curvaceous bottle which represents the female form – setting itself apart from earlier iterations through its gold, Madonna-like silhouette. 

In celebration of Gaultier Divine’s global launch this October, Shahidi, as the face of the fragrance, shares her earliest memories of scent, what makes her feel powerful, and what it means to represent the house of Gaultier.

Q&A with Yara Shahidi, the face of Gaultier Divine EDP

How did you start your career?

At first, it started really more as a hobby. My mom was a commercial actress at the time, and I did a lot of work with her growing up. After school, I’d go and film a commercial. It was just that fun thing that we did as a family. At seven, I was sent to my first film script. At first, I had said no, because I loved commercials so much, but I ended up reading the script and loving it. Imagine That was my first movie, it started my love of TV and film. 

At 13, I did Blackish which was my next big thing and now Grown-ish; the spinoff is coming to a close, but I’ll have played the same character for the last 10 years, Zoe Johnson. It’s been beautiful to grow up in the Blackish universe and Grown-ish was my first time as a lead on a show. I became a producer, and it has really seen me through all major milestones. 

What’s your everyday life like? What do you like most about it?

I live in Los Angeles but I don’t know if there’s anything routine about my life. I graduated from school last year and with that, the last ounce of routine also left, in a good way. Now, it’s a lot of travelling for work, which I’ve been loving. Everyday is different and I love that! 

How do you like to spend your free time? 

I love concerts, I think that’s my favourite thing to do. There’s something so grounding and refreshing about live music. Oftentimes when I travel, the one thing I’m looking for is who’s performing in the area.

Yara Shahidi on feminism:

Do you consider yourself an activist? When did you start using your platform to raise awareness? 

I use the very clunky term ‘socially engaged’ because I have friends and family that are community organisers, or are in the political sphere and dedicate 24/7, their entire life is helping and making sure these movements for equity move forward and I reserve the term ‘activist’ for them. 

I was recently talking to Jamila Jamil who uses the term ‘advocate’, which I quite like because so much of our work, especially when we’re entertainers, is to use our platform to advocate for the work that’s already being done and just being a voice. The term ‘advocate’ really lines up with what I do. At the largest level, I advocate for equity and equality, but I think particularly my focuses have been on voting rights, on BIPOC rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

It started really when Blackish started. I come from a very socially engaged family; I have a lot of educators and teachers in my family. Conversations about our different communities and equality were things I was very familiar with growing up. Once Blackish started, being on a show that intentionally tried to cover these issues, where I was on panels at a young age and was asked questions about politics and the state of the world, made me realise that people were really paying attention to what I said and that the private conversations that were already happening at home, were worthwhile having publicly. 

That’s where it really kicked off for me. As Blackish continued, I realised I didn’t have to just talk about the themes of the show, but was able to start conversations and engage on anything that really engaged my interest. This is how I started a lot of my voting work; use the platform that I’d had from the shows to start other conversations. 

Which women are your role models? 

As a history nerd, I think some of the first powerful women I learned about were Joan of Arc, Queen Nzinga: people who really represented the power that women have held to make change. And so that always interested me, because I had always learned about how women from the beginning of time helped shape our society. 

Fast forward to now, there are so many people like Shirley Chisholm (American politician) and Sherrilyn Ifill (American lawyer) who inspire me. It’s also extremely impressive to think that I’m only some years apart from a woman like Malala; growing up with her as an example, in a time in which there were a lot of young people to turn to as examples of powerful women, continues to inspire me. It means that there’s no excuse because people my age are doing this incredible work. But it also meant that I wasn’t alone, and that I’m surrounded by people that have a shared sense of mission.

Yara Shahidi on body image:

What’s the biggest lesson that you think you’ve learned working in this industry? 

One thing I’ve grown up around are the The Four Agreements books by Don Miguel Ruiz, and one of the four agreements is “don’t accept criticism or praise”. The latter is a little harder: it’s easy to dismiss criticism, but praise is interesting. Growing up in this industry as somebody that was the traditional sample size is definitely a privilege: I’ve never experienced having to worry about clothes fitting. But it also means that there’s still a lot of comments made all the time and it can create a lot of anxiety. 

The lesson that I’ve learned in my 20s is the importance of defining what my own idea of me is. I feel less swayed by what other people think, even if it’s positive. I realised sometimes that I was still holding on to and obsessing over image and how I showed up in the world. 

What makes you proud to be a woman today? 

Other women make me proud to be a woman. Every woman I’m surrounded by gives womanhood a new meaning. To be born into a community of women that are not only making the world a better place but constantly expanding what we think is possible, is what makes being one so exciting. 

What are the smells and scents you grew up with? 

A lot of the scents that I recognise from my childhood surround food and my favourite meals, coming from backgrounds with really culturally rich scents and flavours. There are certain spices that automatically feel like home to me. I’ve always loved the smell of jasmine because it grows in the neighbourhoods that I know. I remember taking night time walks and smelling it, knowing that spring had arrived. Scents of Persian new year, there are smells from the nutmeg of sweet potato pies that I just absolutely love. 

What vision of beauty did the women in your family pass on to you? 

I think the women in my family really helped define my sense of what’s beautiful. Not only did I grow up with them as my examples and my role models, but in terms of understanding women’s beauty as the power that we hold, our ability to make big change, our ability to bring a community together. I’ve always grown up with that sense of how incredible women are. In terms of aesthetic beauty practices, it was always about taking care of ourselves. The women in my family really had a basic idea of beauty as just pouring into yourself, making sure your body has what it needs. It was less about make-up per se, more about “are you hydrated?”, “are you moisturised?”. 

What do you wear when you want to feel powerful? 

Honestly, rangers. I was also recently at the MET Gala in which I felt very powerful in that archive Jean Paul Gaultier corset. And, sometimes, it’s my big, bulky suits. I love a great suit; one of my favourites is from the brand Noah that I just live in, it’s a men’s suit. So, there is really no one thing that I feel powerful in. I think it has everything to do with my comfort: when I feel comfortable, I feel powerful.  

Yara Shahidi on the House of Jean Paul Gaultier: 

Jean Paul Gaultier has been an advocate for the plurality of bodies and gender identities and pride in being radically yourself as a woman for decades now. How do you relate to these values?

I think that’s why there was such a beautiful alignment for this campaign because not only was the creativity of the campaign really exciting, but I really related to the core values. Gaultier has always been very forward and progressive, in thinking about not only dressing women in things that are aesthetically beautiful, but really using dressing as a way of self-expression and as a form of empowerment. A way of saying: how can we use fashion as a tool to show up in the world as we want? To be working alongside a brand where that’s always been a core value, and to get to execute that so creatively is really a blessing. 

Divine is all about celebrating femininity, not through stereotypical visions to which we should conform, but in the celebration of plurality. Does this vision of femininity match yours? 

Yes, I think what made me so excited to join forces with the Gaultier family is that Divine is about womanhood being very wide, expansive and inclusive. I think it is a call to this really large and plural community, and I love for femininity to be something that we get to make our absolute own. 

Define a Gaultier Divine woman in three words: 

Comfortable, powerful, unique. 

Gaultier Divine is available for pruchase now at jeanpaulgaultier.com

Interview and imagery supplied.


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