Actress and filmmaker Camilla Belle’s refreshing perspective on life, film, and fashion reminds us to embrace the fall season with style, strength, and open-mindedness.
Having lunch with Camilla Belle during her first Hamptons holiday last year, I was captivated by her buoyancy and a maturity well beyond her years. Since we first chatted, the energetic actress has completed an independent film with James Franco and produced her first documentary, and she’s currently shooting her second—sustaining a healthy career/life balance all the while.
It is immediately apparent to anyone who meets her that the 30-year-old Belle is a firmly grounded old soul. Exhibit A: Her high school girlfriends still make up her inner circle. After stepping away from professional acting, between the ages of 13 and 16, the blossoming starlet sang in the school choir, acted in school shows, and played tennis with the school team. “It was such a wonderful time in my life that I was able to be a normal person,” she says. She credits this idyllic teenage break for rooting her in reality. It inspired her appreciation for privacy, her solid social choices, and her ability to put her career in proper perspective.
“I always make sure to maintain a rich life outside of work,” Belle says, “so that when I’m not working, I’m not staying in bed depressed. I’m always proactive—I have a great life.” As an only child, she surmises, not having siblings has caused her to choose friends more judiciously. Quality is more important than quantity, and her closest friends are like family. Even when she recounts her most treasured Hamptons moments, each anecdote involves close friends. “I feel really lucky that I was able to travel with a great family to East Hampton and have a true local’s experience.”
Dress, price upon request, by Zuhair Murad at Saks Fifth Avenue, Walt Whitman Shops. 18k white-gold, blue sapphire, and princess-cut diamond ring, $590, at cirari.com.
Knowing about the Hamptons party scene mostly through hearsay, Belle was pleasantly surprised by what she discovered upon arrival: The East End is shockingly peaceful and “preppy but not too preppy,” she says. Highlights of her time here include backyard barbecues, browsing Red Horse Market, hanging on Main Beach in East Hampton with a “Godfather” sandwich from Villa Italian Specialties, lunches at Tutto il Giorno, and dinners at Sant Ambroeus and Bostwick’s Chowder House. Standing in epic lines for her mint-chip ice cream cones at Scoop du Jour— arguably her initiation into being a Hamptons regular—felt perfectly acceptable to her. As for shopping, her favorite destinations are AERIN in Southampton and RRL in East Hampton. “It’s just such a perfect location, with the front lawn and picket fence,” she says of the latter.
Belle’s proudest Hamptons moment by far, however, has been learning to stand up while wakesurfing with Global Boarding in Sag Harbor. She rewards herself with a visit to BuddhaBerry, where the self-professed diehard frozen yogurt and candy lover wants to try the whole lot. When not spending time with friends, Belle confides that she is a Spotify junkie. “Music plays a massive role in my life,” she says. If she weren’t acting and making films, she adds, she would likely be scouting musical artists. Making playlists and searching for new music has always been her favorite pastime: “I love, love, love that! I actually met one of my closest adult friends looking for new musical artists.” Friends make fun of her broad musical tastes—she’s a big fan of both Mumford & Sons and Latin music, for example— and her current favorite is ZZ Ward’s newest album, The Storm. In preparing for roles, Belle even habitually creates custom playlists for her characters.
Dress, $1,800, at Zimmermann. Zig-zag band ring, $1,060, and baby rose baguette band ring, $1,620, at grazielagems.com.
“We all go through things or have moments that can never be reproduced. That was one of them,” Belle says as she reminisces about portraying Rose Slavin, a troubled, isolated teen, in 2005’s The Ballad of Jack and Rose, which she considers her best role to date. The film’s script was one of the first she read when returning to acting at 16. She fell in love with director Rebecca Miller’s writing and characters, and Rose, like Belle, was 16 and discovering life and love. A close second best, Belle says, is her role in the new historical drama The Mad Whale, produced by and starring James Franco: “He is such an interesting human. It is always nice witnessing his support of young filmmakers.”
All proceeds from the film will go to the nonprofit group The Art of Elysium. Founded 20 years ago by an actress with a friend who had been diagnosed with leukemia, the organization is committed to ensuring that no child goes through treatment alone, among other endeavors. “I was raised to always give back,” Belle says. “Even if it’s not financial, you can always give your time, which is invaluable and priceless.” Volunteering at The Art of Elysium has been a priority for her; she leads improvisations and acting games with chronically ill and disfigured young people to help them cope with emotional challenges. Franco’s Elysium Bandini Studios, a philanthropic streaming video platform, combines The Art of Elysium with his Rabbit Bandini production company in a collaboration to support fledgling filmmakers.
Set in the late 1800s, The Mad Whale tells the story of women in a mental asylum who stage a play based on Moby-Dick. Belle’s character, Isabel Wallace, has been unjustly committed by her husband and prevented from seeing her daughter. It was definitely a challenging role, Belle says, and she did extensive research, reading books and essays about mentally stable women who had been thrown into asylums. The quality she ultimately connected with most was Isabel’s strength. “I always find something I can relate to in a character and hone in on that,” she explains, adding that physical or emotional strength is something she looks for in potential roles.
“I KNOW WHAT I WANT, BUT WHATEVER WILL BE WILL BE... I AM GOING TO ENJOY BEING SURPRISED BY LIFE, BECAUSE IT DOES LOVE SURPRISING US.”
“I have never been an actor who just shows up, does her work, and leaves,” Belle says. “I always love spending time with the crew and learning from them on set.” Intrigued by the idea of working behind the camera, she got her feet wet by producing the documentary feature Looking at the Stars in 2016. The heartwarming film tells the story of the Associação Fernanda Bianchini, a ballet school for the blind in Belle’s mother’s hometown of São Paulo, Brazil. A former dancer herself, Belle couldn’t stop crying while viewing the original short film, shot by a cinematographer friend, and felt compelled to pursue the special subject as a full-length documentary. She has also leveraged some downtime this summer by taking a film production class at the University of Southern California. Though her work schedule doesn’t allow her to complete shorts like other students, she is studying the latest and greatest techniques in directing and cinematography. A consummate professional, she never assumes that decades on set have taught her the entire business and is immersing herself in the intricacies of cameras, lenses, and lighting.
Belle is also developing and coproducing a documentary on the history of women in fashion, spurred by a recent epiphany she had: In a trade primarily focused on women, no one has really told the stories of the women in the industry. Filming began in June, and talking to some of the most iconic female figures in fashion has been incredibly inspiring. “Each one of these women was told ‘no’ or fell on their faces a million times. Once someone is successful, no one else knows or remembers the bad times she suffered to get there,” Belle says. “They have reaffirmed how much our society has changed over the past several decades.” A recurring theme so far has been perceptions of what’s appropriate in dressing. One famed subject questioned when it became acceptable to wear sweats all day. Another recalled the days when she would routinely change from her work wardrobe into a “proper” dress for dinner with her husband. A third wondered when the world stopped valuing the inherent mystery in a little bit of modesty. An admirer of Old Hollywood style herself— think Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor—Belle believes appropriateness is a top consideration. “It bothers me when I go to a charity gala benefiting children or people with AIDS and women are essentially naked,” she says. “Put on some clothes!”
Dress, $6,900, by Valentino at Hirshleifers, Americana Manhasset.
The crowd and the activity drive Belle’s wardrobe decisions. In Los Angeles, life tends to be more casual. When she’s in New York, São Paulo, or Rio, Belle kicks the formality up a notch. In the Hamptons, her style leans conservative; her go-to uniform includes white jeans and tan sandals by such designers as Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, and Michael Kors. But she’s not afraid to take risks in changing up her style. Though her mother was a designer, Belle’s real entrée into the fashion world was attending the Chanel and Dior runway shows when she was 18: “Meeting John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld and seeing their clothes come down the runway changed everything for me!” Since then, this designers’ darling has been dressed by the likes of Carolina Herrera, Ralph Lauren, and Jean-Paul Gaultier for her many redcarpet appearances, and she often makes Vogue’s Best Dressed lists. The designer she admires most is Herrera. “She is a feminine icon in every way,” Belle says. “Not many women embody her polish and style. She is always chic, pulled together, and perfectly pressed and steamed—even when dressed casually.”
I can’t help but ask Belle where she sees herself in 10 years. “I’ll be 40,” she gasps. “I have a lot of conversations about this with my friends. We all thought we would have it figured out by 30. We’d all be married with at least two kids—everything would be known and comfortable.” She acknowledges that she is in a very different place than she anticipated, but she has decided it’s no longer worth trying to predict the future because it will likely be drastically different from whatever she can imagine. “I know what I want,” she confidently declares, “but whatever will be will be.” Taking a pause, Belle adds that by 40 she would love to be more settled in her personal life, to not be alone, and to travel more. But she assures me that she is committed to staying open to any and all possibilities: “I am going to enjoy being surprised by life, because it does love surprising us.”
photography by MIKE ROSENTHAL. Styling by Karen Raphael. Hair by Peter Savic at Opus Beauty using Kevin Murphy. Makeup by Brett Freedman for Brett Brow at Celestine Agency. Nails by Pilar Noire using Carolyn K London. Fashion assistance by Ilana Sussman and Raven Ladd. Location: 568 N. Tigertail Road, Los Angeles, CA; listed by Santiago Arana, 310-926-9808.