Real Icon, Real Beauty: Gina Gershon

If you're anything like us, you've been plotzing over every little glimpse of House of Versace, premiering on Lifetime this Saturday. From the looks of the previews, Gina Gershon absolutely nails her role as Donatella Versace, from the smoky voice right down to the cheekbones. "It's really a family drama," the actress says of the true story, which covers the rise and fall — and rebirth — of the fashion house. "It was interesting enough that I would have done it even if it weren’t Donatella."
Fair enough, but it's safe to say that Gershon's own interest in style made her a shoo-in for the role. When she invited us to her home, she showed off an enviable and eclectic wardrobe — everything from a to-die-for Rick Owens jacket to a full dirndl getup — and let us in on a skin-care tip that we know you've never heard before.
Ahead, a glimpse into this stylish (and, yes, gorgeous) woman's life — cute kitty pictures included.
Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
We've been pretty much counting down the days until House of Versace airs. How are you feeling about it?
"I hope people like it. I haven’t done a project in a long time where I’ve had so many people coming up to me just randomly being like, 'Oh my god, oh my god, I can’t wait!' People who I wouldn’t think would get excited about watching a Lifetime movie — they're saying this is must-see TV.

I think Donatella is a really fascinating person. I have so much respect for her. I think the thing that’s interesting is we think we know her because we just know the caricature of her and her fabulousness and the way she looks — her extravagance. But, she’s got a pretty intense story that I didn’t know a lot about."

How do you prepare to play such a larger-than-life character?
"I read the book that it’s based on, this particular story of hers. I read that, and I watched every single video and interview of her that I could get my hands on. We have a lot of mutual friends — it’s surprising that we’ve never actually met."

Skirt, bought in Istanbul.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Tell us about your cat, Cleo — he's in the title of your book!
"Well, the book is now called In Search of Cleo: How I Found My Kitty and Lost My Mind."

Why did you change the name?
"Because there were a lot of places — you know, on TV or at bookstores — that were nervous about the word pussy, even though it’s about my cat. So, the book company was like, 'Listen, we want to bring this out in paperback, but you have to change the name in the title.' I didn’t really want to change it, but I decided to do it because when I wrote the book I was in such a crazy hurry that I totally forgot to write the foreword. I completely spaced out. I decided to do the paperback, so I could put the foreword in. Personally, I like the title of the hardcover better. But, maybe if you have kids and you feel weird about it, then you can buy the softcover."
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Talk about well-read — we love Gina's collection of gorgeous art books.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
What do you do to take care of your skin?
"As far as beauty goes, I just use whatever works. I’m obsessed with this one product; it’s all I use on my skin, SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic. It’s amazing. I don’t use creams; I just use that. I’ll also use Tracie Martyn, the purple serum. That’s it.

Now, people are going to think I’m crazy with these pictures of Cleo, and you might as well tie them into the story. The last few months, Cleo got kind of sick, and I was giving him antibiotics. He always wakes me up in the middle of the night, and he used to kiss my arm or pet my face. Three or four months ago, he started waking me up by licking my cheek and kissing my face — which isn’t as cute. Ever since he’s been doing that, people are like, 'Your skin is amazing! What are you doing?' And I kept thinking, I’m not doing anything different. But, I realized Cleo is exfoliating me every night! Maybe it's something in his saliva with the antibiotics. It’s a very unusual — but productive and successful — skin regimen."

Well, your skin does look great.
"Maybe I should rent him out."
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Do you have any beauty rituals that you do to take care of yourself?
"If I can, if I’m in L.A., I like going to the Korean baths. I get scrubs when I can. I try to get massages all the time when I can. 'Cause I’m pretty physical, and if something’s out of whack, I can’t think straight. And, I love baths. I love my salts and I love my oils. I mix my potions. I light my candles. I read my books. I do everything in the bath. I take as many baths as possible."

Serpent ring, bought in London.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
To transform you into Donatella, it looks like the makeup team did a lot of contouring. Was that the case?
"Donatella was interesting to do because her face is totally different than mine. Her eye shape is different, and her cheeks are in a different place, so we did that with makeup. They flattened out my face by pulling it back with tape. The way she talks, she doesn’t move her top lip at all. I tried using chewing gum, and I tried cotton — after a while, I could just hold my mouth in a certain way with the tape that made it look just right. Makeup was really important.

If I didn’t look and see what I needed to see, I didn’t feel right. After a while, you don’t even have to look in the mirror — you could feel it in your face, when it clicks in. And then, the wig had to be totally right, or else you just can’t do it. You can’t play Donatella without her iconic hair! The look was a big deal with her. Her physicality is literally the opposite [of mine] — the way she stands, and the way she walks, and even where her head was. It’s different."
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
These oils smell amazing. Why do you like them so much?
"They're L'Oeil du Vert — the only oils I wear. [Founder Haley Alexander van Oosten] uses all-natural ingredients, and she has these stories behind them. What she does is very cool. I just love the way that this smells, and I love that it’s organic. She uses natural oils — it’s so delicious."

L'Oeil du Vert oils, available at L'Oeil du Vert.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Style-wise, what do you look for when you’re going out in the world?
"You know what? I'm lucky. This dress — I went to Zac’s yesterday; he’s a friend. I know he’s got a lot of pieces that I could just take and make work. I went to the Marchesa show and Georgina [Chapman] — she’s really sweet. Their clothes fit beautifully. They sent me a couple pieces that I’ll wear. I don’t really use a stylist, but I have a really good friend, Anna Bingemann, who’s a great stylist. So, we drink wine — we just put things together so I feel secure. She’s very sweet about that. In my normal life, I dress probably like a bohemian gypsy or something. If I’m going somewhere, it’s fun to dress up, but I’m usually wearing my harem pants or gypsy skirts. Or, my overalls. Or, my dirndl."

Lanvin cape, Zac Posen dress, Manolo Blahnik heels.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
What was the wardrobe process like for House of Versace?
"I mean, I wish it had been all Versace. Before [shooting], I went to a couple vintage places, and I found some great pieces from Gianni's time. So, I brought those to wear. But, we didn’t have Versace — so to me, that’s a problem. Maybe just because I was feeling so protective; I was in my Donatella head.

If you try to reproduce a couple pieces, you realize, Versace is Versace for a reason. You can't just, like, cut out a piece of leather and wear it and think it's going to work. Versace is really structured, and the craftsmanship is incredible. So, we just took different fabrics and tried to reproduce certain things. The pieces that I have that were actually Versace, they felt much better to have on.

It’s tough — it’s not a 90 million dollar movie. The production design looks great, and there’s so much of it they got right. But you know, the clothes — maybe I was just in Donatella mode, I was like, 'meh!' I just want to cut things and change things and make them better."

Manolo Blahnik pumps.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
The larger ring, a gift, was part of Bugsy Siegel's estate.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
How much does a character’s look drive you when you’re acting?
"Probably much more than it should. Sometimes I’ll start a character by drawing pictures of them or drawing what they’re wearing. I change my face a lot — you can do that. That’s what [is] so fun about movies and TV. If it doesn’t look right, it just doesn’t click in for me."

Of the characters you’ve played, whose style did you like most?
"Corky [from 1996's Bound]. I like that look a lot. I just tried to look like Marlon Brando or Monty Clift. I’d watch those movies and see those guys in those tanks and their pants. I was really trying to be like one of those guys, 'cause I thought they were so cool. [Playing Corky] was so comfortable. I used to wear those steel-toed boots, big baggy pants, and a tank top — it was fantastic."
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Some of Gina's instruments and art books. (Did you know that she plays the Jew's harp?)
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Two original Jean Cocteau pieces hang above a decked-out Buddha statue.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Tell us about this leather ensemble you're wearing.
"It's Skaist-Taylor. Pam [Skaist-Levy] has been a friend of mine forever. When I told her I had been offered House of Versace, but I wasn’t sure I was going to do it, she was like, 'You have to do this!' She was on me like a crazy person. So, I blame her if it doesn’t work out! I just went to Skaist-Taylor the other day; they have this new line [Pam& Gela] and I fell in love with it. Their clothes are fantastic. I just think they’re really talented, and they’re great girls."

Skaist-Taylor crocodile-print top and leather leggings. Necklace from Marrakesh.
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
Off the set, what influences your personal style?
"I like what I like. I don’t really care if it’s trendy. I don’t care if it’s in fashion. I prefer, actually, if it’s not in fashion. If I start wearing something and all of a sudden it becomes a thing, I’d rather not wear it. I just think people should wear things that kind of express who they are and the mood that they’re in. This whole week I’ve been working, and I was wearing my Isabel Marant jumpsuit that I live in. And I have this other weird jumpsuit — it looks like I’m the gas man. Jumpsuits are so easy. I love a good jumpsuit."
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Photographed by Atisha Paulson.
What's the best beauty advice you've ever been given?
"Honestly, I think the best beauty advice is to get sleep and be happy — and I don’t mean that in a woo-woo sort of way. I remember when I was really sad after some breakup, and I had to do photos. The photographer kept telling me to smile. And I was like, 'I’m fine, I’m just being normal.' He finally showed me the photo, and my face was so sad — I looked 20 years older. I saw that and thought, 'Oh my god, I’ve got to snap out of this; it’s affecting the way I look.' I think when I’m happy, it shows. It takes years off of who you are. You just feel better and radiate a certain vibe that people are happy to be around. And sleep — sleep."
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