I’m tired of talking about me.

Giuliana Matarrese in conversation with Rossy De Palma
Photography Gorka Postigo Stlyling Nono Vasquez

“I’m tired of talking about me.” A sentence that Rossy de Palma utters moments after the start of our conversation. Emerging from a series of interviews while on set, the Palma de Mallorca actress, however, proves to be very generous in recounting a career that is 40 years long and which is deeply intertwined with the history of post-Francoist Spain. Her story is also tethered to the recent history of fashion, which from the 1980s onwards, celebrated her atypical beauty and shameless attitude toward classic beauty standards. While this mindset is easier in 2022, now that the path to collective awareness had led even the entertainment world to broaden its perspectives, in the 1980s, when hedonism was rampant and perfection was pursued obsessively, the atmosphere was quite different. Yet Rossy de Palma, having been born under the Virgo sign, with her systematic rigour and intellectual honesty, never seemed shaken by doubts: and she did well. Her “cubist beauty,” as Pedro Almodóvar called it, has conquered not only the silver screen but also the beauty department (she did a collab with Mac Cosmetics in 2017) and perfumery (in 2009, she launched her perfume, Eau de Protection with French brand Etat Libre d’Orange). One also can’t forget the music scene, as she started as a singer—a siren of Homeric memory who occasionally calls her back to herself—for example, in 2018, when Rosalía wanted her in her song Preso – Ch. 6 La Clausura, on the album El Mal Querer. 

Rossy de Palma wears VALENTINO Haute Couture fall/winter 2022-23

Giuliana Matarrese: Is it true that as soon as you arrived in Madrid from the Balearic Islands, you founded a female-led music group called Peor Impossible and that your stage name was Rossy Peor?

Rossy De Palma : That’s correct. I had done several years of ballet, but we knew little or nothing about music. Some of the girls in the group had musician boyfriends who helped us, and we made a few music videos that can still be found on YouTube. Those were the years when people were starting to use Chroma Key (a tool used to superimpose images and videos on a green background without having to leave the studio, giving the illusion, for example, of being on an island, as in the video of Sussurrando, the group’s 1984 song, ed.) We had a lot of fun, but then again, it has never been about making money. Our only goal was expressing ourselves and enjoying that creative freedom that was thriving in post-Franco years in Spain. The band name Peores, the Worsts, was a kind of insurance: we were not prodigies, we said so from the start, so if someone was disappointed, they could not say they were not warned in time!

G.M. : And that’s how the newspaper reports say you met Pedro Almodóvar…

R.d.P: Yes, but although the newspapers report that we met by chance, it wasn’t by chance at all. Pedro already knew us. He used to come to see our concerts and loved what we did. In those days, the Movida animated much of the cultural debate.

G.M. : When he offered you a role in the film La ley del Deseo, how did it go?

R.d.P: Actually, I already wanted to be in the cast of Matador, the film Pedro had made the year before, in 1986. I wanted to audition, but I had already arranged a concert with the band that night, so I missed that opportunity. Then, before we started shooting La ley del Deseo, Pedro came to the rockabilly bar where I was working at the time and loved how I was dressed. As he wanted this kind of character for his movie, he asked me if I could play the role in my own clothing. 

G.M. : That was the beginning of an artistic partnership that went down in history…

R.d.P: Yes, but I certainly didn’t feel like a real actress during that first film. I was myself, wearing the clothes I actually wore in my day-to-day life. 

Then, at some point, Pedro promised me he’d write a character that had nothing to do with me and the way I dressed. And that’s how Marisa, the distant, aristocratic virgin in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, came about.

G.M. : Online, it also says you worked with Lina Wertmuller on the film The Blue Collar Worker and the Hairdresser in a Whirl of Sex and Politics. Are we sure?

R.d.P: In fact, it’s a film I’ve never done, don’t ask me why it says something like that (laughs, ed.). I have, however, also worked with several other Italian directors, including Marcella Cesena (Peggio di così si muore, from 1995, with Maurizio Crozza and Carla Signoris) and Jerry Calà (Chicken Park, a parody of Jurassic Park, from 1994). Films that not everyone would call masterpieces, but the reality is that I have never felt like an ‘actress-actress’; I am a performer. And then, thanks to these films, I had the opportunity to meet wonderful people, insiders who had been Costume Designers in Pasolini and Rossellini’s movies, masterpieces of neo-realism. Priceless experiences. And in fact, if you think about it, Pedro Almodóvar may have also been influenced by it; if you look at What Have I Done To Deserve This? (a film that tells the story of a family divided between addictions, economic problems, prostitution and melancholy towards past loves, ed.) it has many of the themes dear to neo-realism…

G.M. : The wardrobe has always seemed very important in your career for building characters. What is your relationship with fashion?

R.d.P: A splendid relationship, actually. In addition to having taken part in iconic films in that sense (such as Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter, an irreverent parody of the fashion System, ed.) I have an inordinate love for film costumes. I was in Rome recently, and in the archives of Maison Valentino, I saw again the dresses that the founder, Valentino Garavani, had made for Audrey Hepburn and Liz Taylor, both for movies and red carpets. The beauty enraptured me, and I thought: “I need a dress like that.” Last year, however, I saw a fantastic exhibition in Paris, Cinémode, curated by Jean-Paul Gaultier, with a selection of 250 stage dresses tracing the profound relationship between cinema and fashion: there were the costumes from Pasolini’s Medea, the uniform of Alex and the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange, and even some that came from Pedro’s films (the exhibition featured the sequined dress worn by Gael Garcia Bernal in La mala educación and those of Victoria Abril and Rossy de Palma herself in Kika – a body on loan, ed.). In a broader sense, though, I am a great fashion lover. I have my own archive that I will have to make sense of one day. There are pieces by Alaia, Mugler, and of course, Gaultier, who I’m friends with; they were spontaneous people who, like me, in the 1980s, didn’t think as much about the financial results of their work as they did about expressing themselves…

G.M. : And in fact, you also collaborated with Mugler for a music video for which he did the costumes: one that went down in music and fashion history, Too Funky, by George Michael…

R.d.P: Yes, the video was art directed by Thierry and him and George Michael got into an argument on set, but then we managed to finish the recording (the video features models such as Linda Evangelista, Nadja Auermann and Eva Herzigova wearing iconic Mugler garments, ed.). At the time, who knew what this man would become? Years ago, when George Michael was still alive, I went to one of his concerts in Paris with Jean-Paul (Gaultier, ed.). When we went to the dressing rooms after the performance to say hello and have a chat, George himself remembered that moment and said: “But do you realise how important that video still is today?” He was amazed, too, at how it had gone… 

G.M. : Your friendship with Gaultier is long-standing, and in fact, in 2019, you took part with him in the advertising promo for Scandal in Paris, the brand’s main fragrance. What other creatives of today do you feel close to?

R.d.P: Definitely to Pierpaolo Piccioli. When I go to him in Rome, I feel at home. I recently wore one of his dresses at the Sustainability Awards ceremony at La Scala in Milan. It was an evening full of emotion…

G.M. : Why is that?

R.d.P: It was the 25th of September, the night of the general elections in Italy. I sensed concern in the air. I was standing at the precise spot on the stage where Callas liked to stand, and I wished Pedro well on his birthday, remembering how much he also always loved freedom and democracy. I get goosebumps when I think of what is happening today in politics.

Rossy de Palma wears VALENTINO Haute Couture fall/winter 2022-23

G.M. : Do you feel the desire to get involved in social work as well?

R.d.P: This year, I was appointed by UNESCO as a Goodwill Ambassador for Cultural Diversity. Next year, I want to devote myself to helping build a greater understanding of cultural diversity. Between environmental issues, the tragedy in the Mediterranean and the tense climate today, contemporary society is going through an extraordinary phase. I wonder how we lost our memory; dictatorships have harmed Spain and Italy so much, yet we never seem to learn. The reality is that I love humanity, but I detest the tyranny of the majority: it seems to me that when there are so many of us together, we lose our minds a bit…if we were more dedicated to art, maybe some things wouldn’t happen.

G.M. : What is art for you?

R.d.P: A magical place where there is no time, no gender, only freedom. My dream to go into art began at a young age. I started with dance. The reality is that art helps you be resilient and gives you imagination, something that we need a lot in these hardcore, merciless times.

G.M. : What film would you never tire of watching?

R.d.P: Rossellini’s Roma città aperta. The moment in which Magnani runs to try to save the father of her son, who was loaded onto the truck of the fascists, is still tremendously moving today how she moves, how she falls…pure cinema history.

G.M. : And what’s your favourite fashion film?

R.d.P: There are many, but one of the most sensational is: Who are you, Polly Maggoo? Directed by the great photographer William Klein, who, unfortunately, we lost this year.

G.M. : Fashion, film, music, but you are also a painter, sculptor, and filmmaker. Do you ever relax?

R.d.P: I don’t, actually (laughs, ed.). Actually, I don’t even like to stress myself. Stress produces cortisone which is not good for the organs and the skin. I detest distress but am in a constant state of creative effervescence. My purpose is to serve those who have a vision. In the end, artists are only vehicles for art, and I try to be one myself for what I can. On the other hand, I spent much of my life thinking about what others wanted from me; now, I focus on stories I want to tell. In 2015, I created a Dadaist monologue for Teatro Piccolo in Milan, Resilience of Love. Poetry is the mother of all arts, and I like the risk of interpretation. I couldn’t live without it.

G.M. : And how much time did you spend questioning the judgement of others early in your career? Your atypical beauty is celebrated today, but in the 1980s, there was a very different degree of sensitivity…

R.d.P: Do you want to know the truth? For me, my nose has never been an issue. I never gave it much thought. Recently, conversations of mine in which I talk about my nose have been caught on Instagram, and it seems crazy to me how people can ‘blame’ you or criticise you for something you didn’t choose. This nose has also given me wisdom and depth, and if people stop at that, then it’s pretty indicative of their depth…

G.M. : And today, compared to yesterday, where do we stand regarding sensitivity? Could we still learn something from Almodóvar’s women in a society that seems to disallow fragility?

R.d.P: Of course. His women were always extremely determined and courageous but not afraid to be vulnerable. They suffered, but then they turned the page, picked up what was left, continued on their path, and took risks again. The beauty of Almodóvar’s women is that they are free from guilt, the guilt that has hurt women so much. So often, when we suffer, we think that we deserve it in the end. We do not. It’s just the lottery of life. If we stop being vulnerable, exposed to pain, and therefore also curious, we become cynical. And you age faster if you are cynical.

G.M. : These days, when you wake up, what is your first thought?

R.d.P: A thought of gratitude, basically. My parents are fine, and my children are too. Being grateful is a form of meditation. It leaves you with a profound sense of tranquillity. And then, I start the day.

Rossy de Palma wears VALENTINO Haute Couture fall/winter 2022-23

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