Writer: Dana Poblete // Photographer: John Paul Pietrus // Fashion Director: Kenneth Goh
There is a look in Michelle Dockery’s eyes when you first meet her. It’s full of fascination, as if you are the one she is captivated by despite the fact that she’s the Emmy Award–nominated actress on one of the most globally followed and acclaimed television dramas in recent years, Downton Abbey. Right away disarming, the girl from Essex shows no trace of Lady Mary Crawley, her snobbish, albeit loyal aristocrat counterpart on the series. She blends beautifully into the brisk morning in North Kensington, simply chic in her wool coat, Stetson hat, and alabaster complexion. But it’s not long before she turns up from hair and makeup as a 21st-century version of her character, whom Dockery believes would favour Armani if she were a modern London girl (naturally, she wears Armani for the cover look).
In front of the camera, Dockery is confident in a way that is almost more striking than the fictional, fabulously fancy Lady Mary. The 30-year-old actress has garnered the attention of designers, editors, and fashionable fans as one of the leads in the stylish, obsessed-over period drama, though she will admit that she is quite a newcomer to the formidable world of high fashion. Her vocabulary is still being honed, yet she seems quite refined in front of John Paul Pietrus’ lens, moving with the grace of a dancer and the subtly expressive facial expressions of a supermodel. It’s like watching an old pro, commanding every frame, every flash, even though this is her first ever solo international magazine cover outside of the UK, where she was born and bred.
Perhaps her confidence comes from finding her path early in life. As a child and through her teens, Dockery went to a dance school three times a week, as well as drama class and singing class once a week, respectively. “My parents were very encouraging,” she says. The youngest of three daughters in a very close-knit family, is Dockery a bit more of a Lady Sybil? She admits, “There’s a free-spirited sort of nature that [Sybil] has that I recognize. She believes in something in spite of what the family thinks—her political actions and marrying the chauffeur—she just goes with her gut. I was like that, and I still am.” But there is no sibling rivalry as the one that persists between Mary and her spiteful sister Lady Edith. “My sisters and I are very close, we’re like best friends really,” says the actress. The day of our shoot, she plans to rush over to the South Bank to watch her sister perform in a play.
Before Dockery decided upon acting, dancing was really her first love. You can see it, in the way she moves in front of the camera, an Atelier Versace couture gown wafting gloriously as she glides into frame. She has become quite comfortable in fancy clothes. The tall and demurely thin beauty carries off Chanel, McQueen, Lanvin, and Armani Prive with poise and chic that rival that of her now iconic alter ego (the Dowager Countess of Grantham would be proud). No doubt, her style aptitude is a product of her experience being dressed in the creations of costume designers Susannah Buxton and Caroline McCall on Downton Abbey. Dockery attributes a major part of her sense of fashion to their influence. Her style evolution somewhat parallels Mary’s own enviable fashion journey through the early decades of the 20th century. She talks of McCall’s interpretation of Parisian fashion’s influence on Mary upon arriving home from her honeymoon in France. “She’s wearing this stunning, very French kind of outfit with a beautiful short mink,” Dockery describes. “She’s certainly more stylish in this [third] series, I think.” And now as the actress is courted by major brands such as Nina Ricci and Louis Vuitton – who dressed her in a custom gown for the Emmy Awards (the brand rarely dresses television stars) – Dockery has blown up to become an international icon of ingenue, and she’s wearing it quite effortlessly. Just like Lady Mary, she’s softening to her ever-changing role, growing into her unsolicited label of fashion darling.
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