Rose Leslie has a soft spot for florals. It was nearing 7 p.m. on a dreary Sunday evening, and a pair of Joseph Altuzarra’s flower-adorned frocks hung on a rack nearby as a team of hair and makeup artists descended on Leslie to put the finishing touches on her look. In just an hour, the actress, best known for her role as the eminently quotable wildling Ygritte on Game of Thrones, would make her New York Fashion Week debut, sitting front-row at Altuzarra’s Fall 2017 show, and she already had an ensemble in mind: a soft lilac dress with half sleeves and tiny, delicate flowers weaving up and over, a pair of matching boots, and a grey wool overcoat.
“I’m just a bit of a sucker for flowers,” Leslie says as a makeup artist daubed lilac shimmer into her crease. “It’s very floral, elegant, just rather fun and light and flowing. I rather loved the contrast of the heavy, grey overcoat I’m going to wear with it.”
Though a veteran of the front row at London Fashion Week, where she’s supported designers like Emilia Wickstead, Erdem, and Christopher Kane, this season, she’s found herself on the other side of the pond for fashion month. Four months ago, Leslie landed the lead role in The Good Fight, the much-anticipated follow-up to The Good Wife which premieres on February 19th. An avid fan of the original, Julianna Margulies-starring series, Leslie leapt at the opportunity, departing her familiar London for Brooklyn. There are some parallels between the North London neighborhood she left behind and her adopted Williamsburg—the tree-lined streets, the sense of neighborhood in the middle of a big city— but she won’t deny Brooklyn has had some small influences on her personal style. (She bought a fedora, and she’s quite pleased with it; next up, a pair of Doc Martens.)
“At this point in time,” she says, deadpan, “I’m a complete phony, because I’m trying very hard to blend in with the Williamsburg approach to everyday wear.”
While we spoke, Leslie’s mother and sister, visiting from the U.K. for the week, curled up on a leather couch nearby. The previous day, they’d done a bit of a museum tour, stopping at the Whitney; the next day, they planned to make the rounds of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. But Leslie herself, having spent Sunday on set for a photo shoot, had to be back on set the next morning, ready to enter the law office once more.
The Good Fight opens with Leslie’s character Maia Rindell, an aspiring lawyer and the goddaughter of The Good Wife’s Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), about to take her bar exam. It also opens with Lockhart, herself a key character in the spinoff, watching the inauguration of Donald Trump. It wasn’t always so: When production began in October, the showrunners anticipated a different outcome to the Nov. 8 election. After Hillary Clinton’s Electoral College loss, the show’s trajectory shifted.
“It is an important issue to highlight,” Leslie said, “and possibly also a duty just to present it to the audience, rather than sway it one way or another.”
Like The Good Wife before it, The Good Fight blends high drama with an eye for contemporary sociopolitical issues; where the former tackled abortion rights, gun control, and political sex scandals, the latter’s first season addresses “fake news” and centers on a Ponzi scheme.
It also looks beyond the “cliché of what a young lawyer might be,” Leslie explained—and this, she said, is assisted in part by the deft costuming of Daniel Lawson, whose designs are an indispensable mode of expression for her character, translating what it means to be a young woman working in law.
At its best, fashion is about power. This was the thesis statement of Altuzarra’s Fall 2017 collection, where his stated inspirations—Lady Macbeth and northern Renaissance art — examine the relationship between power, money and the status it bestows, ambition, and femininity. It’s also the thesis statement of some of the strongest costuming moments in cinema. Rose Leslie was seven when she first saw Gone with the Wind. More than 20 years later, there’s an image from the film that’s still indelibly inked in her memory: Vivien Leigh, playing Scarlett O’Hara, resplendent in an emerald-green velvet gown.
“She had her battle armor on,” Leslie said. “You couldn’t mess with her — she was just so powerful in that moment.” It was her first brush with the transformative power of costume — and of fashion, more broadly — and one that’s stuck with her throughout her film career. (For streetwear, on the other hand, her go-to look involves a combination of flat-pressed hair, distressed jeans, and a slouchy sweater. “I am innately lazy,” she told me. “I’m bad, man.”)
That distinct hybrid of power dressing and classical femininity has long been the purview of Altuzarra’s eponymous brand. “He dresses women,” Leslie said, emphasizing the word. “His design comes up as so effortless, but it just embraces the female form, it really does, and I think that is a powerful thing to wear.”
With that, she slipped into her lilac Altuzarra dress with its matching stiletto boots. Outside, it was a frosty 30-something degrees, the air still hanging damp with rain; Leslie and her sister ducked into an SUV to drive several blocks down to the show. The flashbulbs of paparazzi cameras started bursting the moment they stepped out of the van, as they were ushered in to the venue. In clear view of the mossy green hills that rose up as the centerpiece of the set, Leslie took her seat next to Christina Ricci. Moments later, the lights dimmed.
“Sensational,” she says, moments after the show. “It took me back to the Tudor era.” She ducked backstage to congratulate the designer, who, yes, like you, is a giant Game of Thrones fan. Then, her sister by her side, she headed home for that glass of wine. Her 5:30 a.m. call time was approaching.
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