Topshop in Oxford Circus, London, is a vast, crowded, chaotic nexus of moms, teenagers, working girls, and, above all, stuff. There are piles of handbags and baubles and socks and hair doodads, and everywhere Kate Moss hovers gigantically. Just when you think you’ve found the aforementioned supermodel’s panther-clawed tunic in the right size, some Camden hipsteress with cherry hair and Siouxsie Sioux eyes is grabbing it by the other sleeve. Into this fast fashion fray, one day last October, steps Anne Hathaway, the movie star. Speaking of fashion with speed, Hathaway is wearing a nifty, nipped tweed blazer from Et Vous; a vintage Fred Perry tennis sweater; an Elizabeth and James plaid shirt; natural-waisted J Brand jeans; and slip-on Keds with rabbits drawn on the front. This is a girl who could teach even an NW1 punkette a thing or two about Lower East Side layering.
“Look, she’s buying cheap knickers!” somebody says. And, indeed, Hathaway is in the lingerie department, surveying the three-for-£7 panties in polka dots and funny florals—girly things. She’s also interested in camisoles, jumpsuits (she tries on a strapless black corseted romper), and things that in her mind fall into the “lounge around” category. “No one lounges around cuter than Kate Hudson,” she says. Hudson is her costar and a producer of Bride Wars, which opens this month. (Hudson says, “Annie would show up to work in the indie-mod thing that is her go-to. My go-to is jeans, Rick Owens, a blazer, and lots of bracelets. Hers is red sunglasses, tight black skinny jeans, shirt off the shoulder, cute beanie.”) Hathaway leaves lingerie for trendier pastures. She tries on a black T-shirt dress adorned with swirling zippers and says, “I want to buy it and give it to Sienna Miller.” Nothing of Kate Moss’s works for her, not the tiny purple floral frock with the bell sleeves (“Can’t do them; will catch fire”) nor the delicate mushroom-and-scarlet Ossie Clark-inspired number (“I think she only designs for blondes”). A beaded cardigan by Emma Cook is ruled out because, at nearly £100, it’s just too much money. But a fair-trade knit cap is a must-get, as are stacks of slouchy cashmere socks, a Lanvin-esque navy tee edged in black ribbon (“Love it. I’m going to live my life in it”), and a gamine stripey minidress in gray cotton jersey. The cashier is a scruffy, multipierced chick who rings up Hathaway’s stack without a glimmer of recognition. Then, all London deadpan, she says, “I know this is going to sound queer, but I love you.”
We’re back to knickers for one last look. It’s a psychologically charged moment. For the truth is that Hathaway recently split up with Raffaello Follieri, her boyfriend of four years, and is trying to replace all the clothes and underpinnings she associates with that relationship and that she has since tossed out—i.e., domestic apparel, those sweatpants and T-shirts and his/her sweaters in which you tackle crosswords and struggle for the remote control. “This is harder than I thought,” she suddenly confesses. “I haven’t done this yet. I don’t know how I want to look when I lounge around.”
Meanwhile, her ex is in the process of having his forthcoming look decided for him. The very next day, in fact, he will be sentenced to four and a half years in prison for conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering. He can expect a lot of lounging around in orange jumpsuits or gray scrubs. Hathaway is not interested in rehashing this chapter of her romantic life; she made light of it on Saturday Night Live, and that was all the public catharsis she needed. “I was a 21-year-old kid when I met him,” she says. “It wasn’t a huge, dramatic breakup. We were in the process of winding it down when he was arrested. I don’t talk about this, except when I’m asked. It’s not a part of my life anymore.” She adds, “It’s a complicated situation that has the ability to define me in ways I am not comfortable with.”
Like pretty much anyone who emerges from a long relationship, Hathaway is in the process of redefining who she is. In the past few months (the split occurred last June), the actress has quite self-consciously sought to reimagine almost every aspect of her 26-year-old self. There’s her new, stringier physique, achieved through strength training (“I’m proud of myself when I’m deep in a squat, pulling from my core”), dietary supplements, and kickboxing with David Kirsch, the maestro of celebrity slimness. There’s her rediscovered commitment to vegetarianism—”I don’t eat anything with a face” is her way of putting it—a pre-Raffaelloite choice she ditched because it was “easier for the lifestyle at that time.” There’s her new love of live music and festival-centric bands such as Death Cab for Cutie and TV on the Radio (“After my breakup happened, I thought, Concerts until the end of the year”). And there’s her new quest for a better understanding of what is valuable: “I realized that the past five years of my life had been spent accumulating things I like but never asked if I love.” Although she’s referring specifically to her wardrobe, Hathaway exemplifies the notion that the material and the spiritual are far from distinct. What we buy and what we wear express otherwise intangible states of mind. “I’m looking for a pared-down truth,” the actress says apropos of her wardrobe, and she’s fully aware that her words have a wider resonance.
When Hathaway talks, her face talks as well. She has startlingly expressive eyes and an XXL mouth that flitters between the comic and the tragic in a single utterance. Jonathan Demme, who directed Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married, her most compelling dramatic performance, says, “She’s like a human lava lamp. She makes you stay in touch with what’s in her mind by what’s on her face.” Meryl Streep, her costar in The Devil Wears Prada, is “surprised that anyone was surprised by Annie [in Rachel]. To me, the immediacy and the freshness and the special quality of being reactive to all stimuli, blushes to bruises, was apparent in Prada, also in the Princess movies. She is also maybe the most beautiful creature on film right now. That’s not her fault or her doing, but she does seem uncannily unaware of the fact, and you never catch her working it. That’s just perfectly disarming and rare.”
Hathaway herself is increasingly confident in her abilities on-screen. “Somewhere between Brokeback [Mountain] and Bride Wars, my learning curve became quite sharp.” In Rachel Getting Married, she plays Kym, a charming, drug-addicted narcissist who almost derails her sister’s wedding. The movie is an extraordinary ensemble piece stuffed with music, a brilliant cast, and a low-budget integrity. Producer Neda Armian says, “The mandate came from Jonathan that she had to cut her hair. It was non-negotiable. I think he didn’t want any traces of Anne Hathaway.” It seems that this has had a real-life effect, too: The actress walked off the set almost as transformed as her character. “Kym was earth-shattering to me. The lesson was the most profound in my life.” Her brother Michael, who works as her assistant, says, “She started dressing differently—sort of the way Kym would. She started wearing biker boots, ripped T-shirts. Subtle changes. Starting to think about it.”
Thus a hugely promising but romantically awry young star—”There’s this teenager, and she’s every bit as good as Julie Andrews,” recalls an awed Demme on seeing The Princess Diaries—is now turning into the “real deal,” as Gary Winick, her director on Bride Wars, puts it. That movie concerns a struggle between two friends for the right to have the perfect wedding at the Plaza. It’s a broad comedy for people who like movies about bridezillas and wedding planners and Big Day high jinks. Hudson picked Hathaway as her matrimonial rival and BFF. “Annie walks this fine line between being unbelievably intelligent and well read in her manner and being this wild little girl,” she says. “She’s a mix between a thoroughbred—totally focused, on it, and in it—and a platypus, this quirky, funny, simple animal.”
This hugely appealing duality (think Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts) stems from the fact that, unlike Hudson, Hathaway was not to glamour born. From a secure New Jersey family—her parents, a lawyer and a stage actress, have been married 28 years, and she has a second brother currently at Oxford University—she grew up playing soccer and putting on little plays at home. As a teenager she landed a role on a short-lived TV show and moved briefly to Los Angeles to film it. She returned to the East Coast and attended Vassar for three semesters, and when Princess Diaries hit everything was turned upside down. Even so, Hathaway transferred to NYU because “there is something to be said about having a canon to study and the discussion that comes from shared knowledge.” After one semester, she landed The Devil Wears Prada.
As with her character’s family in that film, “spending a lot of money on clothes was not respected in my household.” The perks of fame were also suspect: “For years my dad would say, When was the last time you took a subway?” It’s hard to imagine that such a family could be accepting of Follieri, whose main distinction seems to have been a desire to ape the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Pre-Follieri, Hathaway’s boyfriend was a famous New York club promoter who later dated an Olsen twin. The question for Hathaway and family is, When will she finally fall for a suitable guy? “I’m a very loyal person to everyone,” she says, “and it’s one of my most defining traits.” The tricky part about this, of course, is figuring out who is deserving of this gift, and not bouncing from Follieri to Blake Fielder-Civil, the famous parolee. You live and you learn. Last spring, Hathaway bought branches of cherry blossom at the Union Square Greenmarket. “They lasted a month and were beautiful even as they died.” She came back from a weekend to find that Follieri, who always liked things “fancier and perfect,” had instructed the maid to throw the branches out. This was the moment when she knew that “we saw things differently.”
After Topshop, it’s off to Dover Street Market. Hathaway loves London, where she once spent a summer and “discovered the wonderful country of Mango.” But Dover Street Market is new to her. It’s the Comme des Garçons-owned, hypercurated acme of high fashion and high miscellanea. Hathaway is blown away: “I am really going to embarrass myself today! I’m treating myself to something I should have treated myself to a year ago.” The salespeople want her to try on a high-collared, full-skirted leather Alaïa coat: “Meryl would love this,” Hathaway says, grinning hugely. A vintage Alaïa dress is deemed exquisite for Rosemarie DeWitt, her luminous (and lead title) costar in Rachel. A Vicky Tiel cocktail number from the eighties is “perfect, but it’s a society dress.” Then everything starts to click. There’s a swirling Lanvin gray sweater with three-quarter-length sleeves she can’t bear to take off (“I don’t see the point unless it is like…exactly!”). There’s a book about the Talking Heads she picks up as a gift for Demme, who also directed the seminal concert film Stop Making Sense. There’s a whole stack of silk and cashmere slip dresses, tap pants, bras, and teddies from Luck, the super-well-priced underpinnings line by Japanese designer Sacai. When paired with Topshop slouchy socks? Presto, the what-to-wear-lounging-around dilemma is solved!
Then we come to a vintage Diane von Furstenberg sleeveless wrap dress in aqua jersey with shoulder ties and fluttery edges; it and she look adorable and flirty. “I can go on a date in this,” says Hathaway, giving a little twirl. “Oh, my God. That’s such a weird thought.”
“The Awakening” has been edited for Style.com; the complete story appears in the January 2009 issue of Vogue.