Stefani is already a rock rebel, a girl-power icon, and a style star. Now, Lauren Waterman finds, she’s going for blissed-out bride, fashion designer, and silver-screen queen, too.
Back when Gwen Stefani was just a girl, she never imagined for herself the kind of life she has now. Even though she loved Julie Andrews and Emmylou Harris and was, as she says with a perfectly straight face, “very affected by The Muppet Movie,” she never thought she’d be a performer. “I didn’t think I’d have an impact on anyone,” she says.
Gwen and I are sitting together at the end of a huge conference table in a back office of Orlando’s Hard Rock Hotel – she’s between stops on a seven-week tour with her band, No Doubt – and as she finishes her sentence, the door behind her swings open, right on cue. It’s the room service guy, bearing cups of English breakfast tea, and as if to underscore Gwen’s point, he immediately accosts her. “Gwen Stefani!” he yells, grinning from ear to ear. “Hiya!” He sets down the tray and, with little finesse, asks for four tickets to that night’s show. I’m rolling my eyes at this point, but Gwen graciously agrees. Finally her bodyguard rises from his seat on the other side of the room and subtly intercedes, taking the fan’s name for the guest list even as he ushers him out the door.
“See, I know everyone,” Gwen says with a little smile, delicately acknowledging her discomfort and at the same time brushing it aside. Whether or not she ever imagined herself in this kind of situation, here, for better or for worse, she is. It’s been like this ever since No Doubt’s ska-punk sound first penetrated MTV eight years ago. Back then, the cobwebs of grunge – the angst, the flannel – still clung, so a girl like Gwen, with her retro rolled bangs (inspired by her grandma), her bindi (borrowed from band mate and ex-boyfriend Tony Kanal’s mom), her punker pants, and her California-girl cropped tops might have attracted outside attention even if her songs hadn’t been up to par.
But, of course, they were – thanks to Gwen’s timely discovery of her inner pop star. “I was a very passive person groing up,” she explains. When Eric, the big brother she idolized, encouraged her to join his band, she did, not because she thought she could sing (she didn’t) but because “I did whatever he told me to do. I was never a leader,” she muses. “I didn’t need to be.” It was only after Tony and Gwen broke up and Eric left the band that she really started to find herself as a songwriter. “All of a sudden, it was like, ‘Where did this come from?'” she remembers with a laugh.
No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom went platinum in 1996, thanks in large part to the power of Gwen’s voice and her go-girl personality. And each subsequent album – Return of Saturn and Rock Steady – has only increased the band’s critical cred and popularity. “It’s cool to be respected for things I’m passionate about,” says Gwen. At the same time, she can get overwhelmed by the attention, which she thinks peaked around the time of her wedding to Bush’s Gavin Rossdale.
It’s hard to blame people for being so interested in Gwen and Gavin. After all, they’re talented, successful, fantastic-looking, and – it’s clear – very much in love. When they were introduced in 1996, Gwen like Gavin immediately. “He looked so familiar to me,” she says. “There was something about him. The first thing I said to him was, ‘You’ve got gorgeous eyes.'” By the end of the night, Gavin had told Gwen that she was gorgeous, too.
After he asked her to marry him on New Year’s Day 2002, Gwen enlisted a friend, Christian Dior designer John Galliano, to make her gown. “Gwen is an old-fashioned romantic at heart,” explains Galliano. “We share a deep respect for tradition, yet also a love of breaking with convention. We wanted the effect to be dreamy, with a contemporary twist.” The pink and ivory dress he created – as well as Gwen’s wedding ring, a wide platinum (of course!) band paved with diamonds and top with a heart-shaped stone set inside interlocking Gs – is dazzling, totally romantic, and extremely cool, just like Gwen herself.
Even the fact that she hasn’t seen Gavin much since their second wedding – they had twin ceremonies in London and L.A., with a honeymoon in between – can’t rattle Gwen’s newlywed bliss. “When we got married,” she says, “we promised we would be there for each other. So it’s cool if we’re apart now; we’re going to be together forever. I’m totally with him in my heart.” Still, Gwen does look forward to being with Gavin – and not just in her heart – when No Doubt finishes their tour. As for what else she’ll do, she’s happy to keep he options wide open. “One of the benefits of the band’s success is that we don’t have to think too far ahead,” she says. “I get to enjoy what I’m doing right now.”
In the fall, Gwen is launching a clothing line she’s designing with her friend and stylist Andrea Lieberman. They’re been collaborating on Gwen’s look for a few years – “She totally streamlined me,” says Gwen, “because to me, there’s no such thing as too much” – and suddenly it just felt like the right time to strike out on their own. “We were already making lots of my clothes,” she says,” and we have so much fun working together, so why not?” They’ve named the line L.A.M.B., which was what Gwen called her dearly departed little Lhasa apso (in “Platinum Blonde Life,” she sings, “Where did my lamb go? I feel as empty as a widow”). It’s also an endearment she reserves for her best friends and an acronym that “has different meanings, none of which I’m ready to reveal.”
When I ask if she’s planning a J.Lo-style in-store assault – logo sweatsuits, rhinestone-studded denim, signature perfume – Gwen says no. “This is truly my look,” she says. “It’s going to be based on everything I’ve ever worn, from my first punker pants to the present.” It will be a collection of pieces that, when put together just so, will subtly convey the Stefani sensibility. Considering Gwen’s fashion history, the line looks set to be a success. After all, she’s inspired flocks of so-called “Gwennabes” since her bindi days, and she always manages to make the most out-there ideas – blue hair, braces, bikini tops as eveningwear – look totally in. But it’s charmingly, utterly Gwen that what excites her most about L.A.M.B. is the prospect of presenting the finished pieces to her friends. “To hand them a pair of pants and say, ‘They’re mine; I made them!'” she enthuses.
Gwen’s also looking forward to jump-starting another longtime dream of hers: She tells me she “very badly” wants to be an actress. “I’ve auditioned for lots of things, but always when the band was about to make a record or go out on tour. I think that to do something like acting, which is so difficult, really well, I have to put all my passion into it. I’m ready to focus on it now.” Since one of the “things” she missed out on was Mya’s part as one of the murderous yet glamorous Cell Block Girls in Chicago, expect to see Gwen taking a small role in a prestigious picture like Moulin Rouge, not starring in a big shiny vanity vehicle like Crossroads or Glitter. “I think acting is an art,” she explains,” and auditioning can be terrifying or humiliating, especially since people know who I am… It’s the challenge that drives me to want to do it.”
But don’t worry that all this fashion and film and true romance is going to keep Gwen away from music. It’s her first love, and even though she has no specific plans to make a new album with her band, she knows she’ll always come back to it. “We didn’t plan to make the last one either,” she notes. Plus, she’s very interested in doing more high-profile collaborations like the hits she made recently with Moby and Eve. “Dre told me he’s ready any time I am,” she says happily.
“Sometimes,” Gwen tells me, “it seems like good things just happen all around me.” She might be selling her own powers a little short – even her friend Galliano insists that Gwen is “very much in control of her destiny” – but it’s easy to understand her point. Because she didn’t expect to be living what she calls a “platinum blonde life,” the scenery can be, at times, a little baffling. But her excitement and energy are truly infectious. “It’s crazy,” she says, shaking her head. “Sometimes I have to remember to keep walking forward, because it all blows my mind.”