Halfway through my lunch with Gwen Stefani, she does something that I never thought Iâ€™d see her do in public: She shuffles her feet under the table and kicks off her shoesâ€”peep-toe stiletto ankle booties. â€œOh, whatâ€™s the point?â€ she says in her distinctive Southern California drawl. â€œYou canâ€™t see â€˜em anyway.â€ For a girl whose personal style has been deftly calculated and copied for two decadesâ€”trends she can take responsibility for include belly shirts, bindis, and even adult braces because â€œI always told myself when I got rich, thatâ€™s the first thing Iâ€™d doâ€â€”this was an unexpected moment of fashion fatigue.
When she divulges her dayâ€™s schedule, however, itâ€™s clear why her booties were benched. Before meeting me for lunch, sheâ€™d dropped off her older son, Kingston, six, at school and reviewed mixes for No Doubtâ€™s latest album, Push and Shove. After weâ€™re done talking (and after she chats with Charlize Theron on her way out of the restaurant about the benefits of bald heads, which Iâ€™ll get to later), she collects Kingston and takes him to a costume shop to create a Spider-Man wardrobe. â€œHe just discovered superheroes, and heâ€™s obsessed,â€ Gwen says. â€œIt was like when I discovered Marilyn Monroe: ob-sess-ed.â€ Next she has a fitting, will put her kids to bed, and then head to a night shoot for the video for â€œSettle Down,â€ the first single off the new album. Thatâ€™s just Monday. On Thursday, her husband, Bush front man Gavin Rossdale, comes home from an East Coast tour and plays the Staples Center in Los Angeles; then theyâ€™ll pack up Kingston and his younger brother, Zuma, four, and board Rossdaleâ€™s tour bus for a family road trip to Las Vegas.
â€œItâ€™s, like, the real deal, dude,â€ she says. â€œItâ€™s superfun being a mom, but itâ€™s hard too. Finding that balance between work and family is the hardest thing Iâ€™ve ever doneâ€”by far.â€ But to be perfectly clear, those bare feet are no indication that sheâ€™s slipping in the sartorial department. (The toes are perfectly manicured in a fire-engine red polish.) In fact, the 42-year-old is still fit, fabulous, and glamorous, boldly sporting her signature accessories: platinum hair and scarlet lips.
â€œIâ€™ve always been a girl who loves to dress up,â€ says Gwen. â€œI already put my makeup on twice today: I put it on to take my kid to school, and then I went home, washed my face, and put it on again to have lunch with you.â€ She even wears it at home because â€œI like to make my husband like me more,â€ she says, laughing, â€œand he likes it when Iâ€™m wearing makeup.â€
Gwen recalls how she felt when, at the age of 25, she spent eight hours in a hair salon in Long Beach getting her coveted white-blonde locks. â€œIt was like Iâ€™d unlocked the key. I remember feeling like, â€˜I have arrived. This is me. Finally.â€™â€ The red lip came when her grandmother gave her a crimson lipstick when she was in high school. â€œI remember sitting in my ghetto, beat-up Honda Prelude and putting on that lipstick in the rearview mirror and being like, â€˜Uh-huh, I like that. Thatâ€™s the shit right there.â€™ I never stopped after that.â€
Earlier this year, Gwen arrived at a party at Stella McCartneyâ€™s L.A. store wearing a killer black sheer-paneled jumpsuit. Of that particular ensemble, she says, â€œI came home and it was hanging in my bathroom, and I was like, â€˜Yes.â€™ I wondered if it was going to be too much, but when I put it on, it was the perfect amount.â€
While she is (no pun intended) no doubt proud of her physique, itâ€™s not Gwenâ€™s favorite topic of conversation. â€œI hate talking about my body [all the time]; itâ€™s ridiculous,â€ she says, referring to the number of times someone has asked how to get her six-pack abs. â€œThere is no secret: You just have to eat healthy, work out, and torture yourself!â€ Jumping around onstage for a few hours for thousands of screaming fans is great cardio, and she says she hits the gym when her hectic mother-of-two schedule allows. â€œBut itâ€™s more for my brain than it is for my body.â€ Not that itâ€™s all about mental health. On how she stays sample-size: â€œI like to wear clothes too much, so I try to keep focused.â€
Other questions sheâ€™s tired of fielding are those about hair maintenance. â€œDo you think Marilyn Monroe had to talk about this?â€ she asks, smiling. â€œWell, I heard she did hers with a Q-tip every 10 days, so I try to follow Marilynâ€™s rule.â€ I mention that sheâ€™s never been photographed with dark roots, and she points to the houndstooth fedora she is wearing. â€œAnd youâ€™ll never see me with roots either.â€
When No Doubt was just starting out in the late â€™80s, rehearsing in a studio that Gwen and her brother built in their grandparentsâ€™ house with bandmates, she wasnâ€™t able to spend much time on girly stuff. She was one of the boys, taking shifts driving their first tour busâ€”a vehicle that got so greasy from the guysâ€™ unwashed hair, she couldnâ€™t see out of the windows. â€œI did my own makeup, my own costumes; I did everything myself. I didnâ€™t even know there were stylists.â€ She made many of her now iconic music-video outfits, though she admits that she used a glue gun as much as a sewing machine. â€œI remember there was a point when all the guys were sitting around eating pizza, and I finally said I needed some help. So I got an assistant, but guess who he was? A roadie. He took my first Prada dress, which Gavin had bought for me, the first designer piece I ever owned, and he washed it, and it came back this big,â€ she says, indicating Barbie dollâ€”size with her fingers.
Gwen is, in a word, chill. She is a well-liked, scandal-free member of the Hollywood glitterati. As we leave lunch, she bumps into Charlize Theron (â€œHey, girl,â€ is Gwenâ€™s greeting), who has just shaved her head for a role in Mad Max: Fury Road, and has no problem teasing her about the look. â€œYouâ€™re insaneâ€”youâ€™re like a skinhead!â€ Gwen says. â€œIâ€™m so jealous.â€ Theron compliments her on what sheâ€™s wearing and mentions that her baby, Jackson, lives in one of the onesies that Gwen designed for her Harajuku Mini clothing line.
Think about it: Weâ€™ve never seen Gwen falling out of a nightclub; weâ€™ve never seen her mug shot; even on morning school runs, she is a rock-star mother. Gwen lets out a Valley Girl giggle when I say how unaffected she is, then gives an interesting explanation: While her onstage persona is a jumping, screaming extrovert, in her real life she is, in her own words, â€œpassive. I was never a rebel.â€ She credits that to her relationship with her strict Roman Catholic parents, who she lived with, unbelievably, until she was 25. â€œWhen I started dating Gavin, I was still at my parentsâ€™ house. Yeah, itâ€™s a little weird,â€ she says with a smile. (She had a midnight curfew when she went to the prom with Tony Kanal, her bandmate and then boyfriend.) â€œMy mom calls me a peacemaker. I want everyone to be happy. But I have a superbig opinion on everything artistic that I do. I know what I like and I know what I hateâ€”that part of me isnâ€™t passive.â€
Gwen insists that fame and gossip donâ€™t affect her. â€œThat someone would say something untrue or bad about me doesnâ€™t bother me. Itâ€™s like water off a duckâ€™s back.â€ This attitude applies to everything from best-dressed lists to rumors that her marriage is falling apart. â€œNone of that stuff matters. Thereâ€™s something in me, being this passive person, that those kinds of things donâ€™t upset me. I know they can say anything; they can just make something up. But what are you going to do? Itâ€™s not part of my reality, so itâ€™s okay.â€
This resilience also comes from the fact that the band was never seeking fame, she says. She was always in it for the music. â€œWe didnâ€™t even do it because we were trying to make it. Now everybody wants to be famous. It doesnâ€™t even matter what you do,â€ Gwen says. â€œLet me tell you how that first record happened: My boyfriend had broken up with me and I was devastated, so I wrote all these songs. I didnâ€™t even know I could write. I was just a girl who was in love with this guy, then suddenly Iâ€™m a songwriter, and Iâ€™ve gotten you back so good. I went from being nothing, from being an ordinary, nerdy girl, to having power.â€