Fashionably KateBy Tracey Llewellyn
Flicking through September 2015’s issue of Revolution UK, Kate Winslet suddenly stops and emits a squeal of delight as she recognises the smiling face of her friend, hair and make-up artist Ivana Primorac. In the picture, Primorac is wearing a Longines chronograph that Winslet gave her during the filming of 2013’s Labor Day. “I bought it for her because she loved mine so much,” Winslet says. She reaches into her bag and pulls out a watch roll and, pointing at one particular piece, continues: “Today I am wearing a cocktail watch, but this… this is my bad boy.”
“Bad boy” is a term she uses several times during our interview to describe the Longines Flagship that has been her constant companion since 2010 when she first became a brand ambassador. The watch she chose for herself almost six years ago is still her favourite and she smiles as she strokes it announcing: “This was my first one. I love it – I really do – the fact that it’s technically a man’s watch suits me. I am really functional and practical so my go-to watch is always this one. It’s like a person, like a friend. It talks to me and it’s saying, ‘let’s hit this life together’. There’s something substantial and unbreakable about it that I love.”
For Winslet, a mother of three children aged between 15 and two who has had five films recently released in quick succession, “hitting life” at full speed is par for the course. “Between spring 2014 and spring 2015 was particularly busy,” she confides. “As well as Insurgent, I was working on Triple 9. Then I did The Dressmaker and Steve Jobs back-to-back, which I’ve only ever done once before, so it was a little intense. And I also did a movie called A Little Chaos, which was filmed while I was pregnant with my youngest child but it came out really late.
“So there has been a lot going on in the past two years. Splitting time between work and home. It’s always a real juggle and everything is done on a case-by-case basis. We don’t have a perfect setup that works automatically or is fully functioning all the time – we just don’t. And every job is different, depending on where I have to go, the time I am needed for, things like that. The main consideration is what’s going on with the kids, but we manage.”
And the person Winslet credits most for helping the family to “manage” is her husband of three years, Ned Rocknroll. “Having Ned makes a huge difference because he’s in the home for the majority of the time so it makes it possible for us to stay in a tight little unit. It also means that I don’t have that mother guilt that we all suffer from as much as I used to because Ned’s always holding the fort and making fun for everybody. That genuinely makes a huge difference.”
A very English actress
Sitting in a room with Winslet, it is immediately striking just how normal she is. Although one would be hard pressed to describe her as girl-next-door – her perfect hair, designer dress and flawless, but almost make-up free, complexion contradicting this – she is surprisingly open and candid as she talks about her life, family and watches, while pouring me water and tea. When talk turns to the Academy Award that she won in 2008 for her portrayal of Nazi concentration camp guard Hanna Schmitz in The Reader, her excitement reaches fever pitch.
“It was absolutely amazing. I thought I was going to be sick I was so overwhelmed. There are lots of awards out there but an Oscar is the top. The best thing about winning is that I actually felt like I’d earned it. I really did. And not just because of that film. Having been in the game for so many years and having been nominated six times before and getting really good at losing, when that moment came round it was like an out-of-body experience.
“I am so glad that Hanna is the role I won for because it was a bloody hard role and I was very proud of it. I think I was always meant to play Hanna – I had been asked just before we started shooting Revolutionary Road in 2007 and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it because the filming was too close. Revolutionary Road was a real labour of love and a very intense shoot so I knew I wouldn’t have the ‘stuff’ to be able to do two films like that in such quick succession. And so the film went away. Then on New Year’s Day – three months after filming was originally going to start – the phone rang. It was my agent in LA, which meant it was about 5 o’clock in the morning so it made no sense at all. I remember saying: ‘This is about The Reader.’ I answered the phone and my agent said: ‘You’re on.’ They gave me six weeks to prepare and then ‘BANG’, we were off to Görlitz on the German/Polish border, Dresden, Berlin, the Czech Republic – it was really a great adventure.”
I point out that it’s hard to imagine any other actress as Schmitz but Winslet just shrugs. “It happens all the time,” she says. “I know that in likelihood I am always second, third or fourth choice for a role. It’s just the way it works. Sometimes you know parts are coming up for grabs and because you’ve heard through a contact that someone is writing it and they are going to be releasing the script soon, and if you’ve got a way in you take it. It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then.”
It is no secret that Winslet has a complicated relationship with airbrushing – some UK media outlets have even reported that she has a “no retouching” clause written into her contracts. She laughs at this suggestion. “No-one would ever let me do that. That part is definitely not true, but I do have a lovely relationship with the companies I am affiliated with, and they are extremely respectful of how I feel about telling the truth about who I am to younger generations. I also choose to work with brands that appreciate how important that message is.”
I suggest that it is probably easy to make the stand on no re-touching when you look like her, but Winslet shakes her head. “I really have no issues with ageing,” she says. “You know, everything on my face is me and it has been hard work getting it there. All the lines are part of my life – my laughter, my tears, my children.”
It is also refreshing to hear that age has not affected her career. “I’ve been very fortunate,’ she shrugs. “There have been shifts and changes, but that’s the industry in general. There are times when writers are creating incredible scripts – last year, for example, was amazing, there were so many great roles for women, as well as men. Lots of new talent as well – Brie Larson [star of 2015’s Room] for example, she’s not really ‘new’ but her career has finally gone ‘POW’ and it’s so exciting. It’s hard not to become downhearted if you don’t get that break. It’s a funny business, the trick is to stay awake and let it do its thing in terms of ebb and flow.”
In fact, Winslet relishes the possibilities that will come in the years to follow. “I love older actors and actresses because I look at them and see how much more life than me they have lived. Not only do they bring the experiences they have had into the characters they play, but also the knowledge and skill, and I just love being in the company of those people – they always have remarkable stories to tell. I would love to work with Charlotte Rampling, I think she’s amazing. And Toni Collette – she makes such bold choices and never does the same thing twice, plus I’m pretty sure she’s a lovely person, although I’ve only met her a few times.”
Winslet has also been lucky in the diversity of roles that she has been offered, ranging from Hamlet’s Ophelia in 1996 to Jeanine in 2014’s sci-fi action film Divergent. “It’s definitely when I find my job most exciting,” she says. “When I’m playing a character who’s completely out of my comfort zone, one I never would have imagined myself playing, when I have to go through several different stages of understanding that character in order to fill my boots – whether it’s learning an accent, or physically changing myself.” Joanna Hoffman, Steve Jobs’ right-hand woman at Apple and the character Winslet plays in the 2015 biopic about the computer genius is one such role – a role that has won her a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.
Right on time
Since becoming a Longines ambassador almost six years ago, Winslet has built quite a collection of watches for herself and developed strong ideas on what she likes. When I meet her she was wearing a diamond-set Symphonette.
But, despite admiring the contemporary take on the diamond-set steel case and bracelet of the quartz-powered Symphonette, Winslet’s attention continually turns back to her “bad boy”: the Longines Flagship. “It’s mechanical and that is important to me,” she says of the automatic chronograph with stainless-steel case and brown leather strap. “The size at 40mm feels right and I love the offset date. There’s something old-fashioned and tactile about setting a watch, I think – the sound of it is so special. It reminds me of childhood, my grandparents and the sound of their watches.”
Our talk of certain objects and memories of lost times continues and Winslet smiles as she says she has something I must see. She reaches into her watch roll (which also contains a Longines Primaluna) and pulls out a gorgeous 1930s tonneau-shaped watch. “This one I bought for myself,” she says with pride. “I got it from a wonderful old watch dealer on King’s Road. I was walking past, saw it in the window and it stopped me in my tracks – I couldn’t believe it was a Longines. I thought, ‘OK, I’m allowed to get this’. It is so beautiful. People always comment on it and once, I was so animated showing it to a friend, that I hit it with my ring. Because the glass was paper-thin, it just shattered. I was heartbroken but it’s been repaired now and you would never know.”
And thanks to her relationship with the brand, Winslet has been able to identify her find as a gold wristwatch, fitted with a Longines manual-wind Calibre 9.47NN. The piece was invoiced on 9 December 1933 to the company Baume, which was, at that time, a Longines agent in the UK.
A long-standing Longines tagline is “Elegance is an Attitude” and “elegance” is a word that can certainly be applied to Kate Winslet. As the brand’s Vice President and Head of International Marketing Juan-Carlos Capelli explains: “Elegance is in our DNA, but what does it mean? We did a survey 25 years ago and, of course, the answers that came back were different for the US, Asia, UK, Australia. In some places it was fashion, for some it was beauty – but everywhere it was seen as an attitude. And that is where our tagline was born and we tried to find ambassadors with an elegant attitude.
“Our ambassadors do not need to be the most beautiful – although Kate certainly is – or the most fashion forward. Longines does not change its watch models every couple of years – when you buy one it lasts from generation to generation and you pass the watch on. So we needed a person with the same spirit and values. A long time ago we had Audrey Hepburn and today Kate is the perfect partner.”
Following this, I feel I have to ask Winslet the obvious question: as an international A-lister she must have brands knocking down her door to work with her, so why Longines? “I’m asked this a lot,” she says, “and I find myself returning to the phrase ‘a sense of tradition’, as well as the capacity it has as a brand to celebrate the highest forms of human achievement and expression, which is why the company is supporting my charity.”
Winslet founded the Golden Hat Foundation with Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir in 2009, after she narrated the documentary A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism, which focused on Ericsdottir’s son Keli Thorsteinsson, who is autistic and unable to speak. The Foundation – which aims to “change the way people on the autism spectrum are perceived, by emphasising their great potential” – is named after a magical talking hat in a poem written by Thorsteinsson.
“Philanthropy has always been important to Longines,” Capelli adds. “Today everyone is doing it but social responsibility for us is a long tradition going back to our work with Audrey Hepburn’s Foundation for Children. The point of our relationship with the Golden Hat Foundation is not so much to give money but more to promote the association. The more people who know about it, the more attention the cause will get. We are hoping that soon Kate will come to St Imier and meet our designer – or rather our designer will get the chance to meet Kate – and hopefully they will create something very special that we can release as a limited edition for the Foundation.”
So, more than half a decade after Winslet’s first outing as a Longines ambassador, the relationship is stronger than ever. “And long may it continue,” smiles Capelli. “Most importantly, Kate is so easy to work with. Whenever we meet, her first questions are always about my children and how they are. And that is the Longines way – when we start an association we plan for it to last and try to have a real partnership, a friendship. And beyond that, her look, her talent and her attitude all make Kate the perfect ambassador of elegance and the perfect partner for Longines.”