London-born model Moffy Gathorne Hardy is a literary beauty. She’s friendly, funny, and blessed with the effortlessly cool gene that people go after. Moffy is the one you remember from a lineup of stunning girls at fashion week. A student of Russian literature and French at UCL, she talks about semiotics when you ask her about fashion. As a young model, she sees the industry’s weaknesses clearly, and seems to know how to protect herself from them. She also sees the industry’s hidden strength, which is that it welcomes people from all walks of life who are, in her words, "a bit unusual".
Much has been made of Moffy’s "a bit unusual" feature. She has a lazy eye and as far as I can remember in my 10 years of fashion and fashion shows, she is the only model with a lazy eye. It is a distinguishable feature, and part of what makes Moffy, Moffy. "I think one can assimilate anything as a part of one’s identity if necessary", she told i-D earlier this year – a powerful statement of self-confidence that might just shift your perception of insecurities. Moffy’s eye doesn’t bother her anymore, but she’s happy to talk about it if it provides "even the smallest source of hope to another person".
I remember seeing Moffy at her designer friend Mimi Wade’s autumn/winter 16 presentation with big earrings and a big red pout, standing nonchalantly in front of a 'Hollywood' sign, looking like someone who’d achieved the American Dream and found it really boring. I remember wondering who she was and what she was like – that’s the effect she has just by standing. Below, Moffy talks about her childhood, her choice not to have eye surgery and how Instagram makes narcissists out of people who otherwise wouldn’t be.
What’s the best compliment anyone’s ever given you?
Someone once told me I had foreign tits, not sure what it means but it's a nice idea.
You were scouted as a teenager but decided not to model until you were older – why did you want to wait? And are you glad you waited?
It just didn't appeal to me, it all seemed a bit absurd, and that feeling is often recalled to me when I catch myself pouting and smizing like a twit in one shoe and a sheet for a dress. I'm definitely glad I waited; I think the older you start, the less likely you are to succumb to the pressure to lose weight and to let your sense of self be affected by the work.
Do you like having your picture taken now?
There isn't a straightforward answer to that. Having your picture taken is an intimate exchange, so the experience differs hugely depending on who the photographer is. A moment of prolonged eye contact can feel invasive if not done with love. I like it if I feel that the pictures are really of me, if I'm not expected to adopt any kind of extraneous persona. One of my best friends Hanna is a photographer, and she takes a lot of pictures of me, in bed, on holiday, on the loo, taking my makeup off, that kind of thing, and that's nice.
What part of London did you grow up in? How do you think it shaped you?
I grew up in Chelsea, but my idea of it is very different to how it’s seen now. I think of the Chelsea I live in as being the same one my parents grew up in. [Iconic boutique] Granny Takes a Trip was on the corner of my mum's road and everyone was hanging out in The Roebuck (which doesn't exist anymore) – even when I was little, the street I grew up in was full of artists and unusual people, whereas now it's all bankers and rich Russians. Being somewhere that I feel seen is very important to me, and I feel that I know who I am when I'm in London in a way that I don't when I'm anywhere else.
Would you say you’re an introvert or an extrovert?
Generally speaking I think of myself as a confident human being, but I can suffer from moments of crippling shyness which probably seem incongruous with the way I usually behave. I suppose I'm what they call an introverted extrovert – to use a miserable expression!
I was also a kid with glasses and a patch and no matter how much I’ve changed and grown in confidence, that self-conscious child still follows me around. How much do you think being self-conscious as a child affects you as an adult?
I think it makes you kinder, more tolerant, less judgmental, more of a fleshed-out person, and I'm very thankful for it. I've always felt like a bit of an outsider, and whether that's due to or independent of the fact of my eyes, I feel that they're a way into seeing that about me, and that they have forced me not only to reserve judgment about people that I perceive as being strange or unusual, but have given me a sense of affiliation with them.
Do you mind being a poster girl for ‘alt beauty’? Are you tired of talking about your eye?
I don't see myself at all in those terms, because I think it suggests an element of choice; and I certainly wouldn't profess to be any kind of activist as many models do – although it would be easy to go down that road and milk my 'condition' – I'd feel like a charlatan as it’s not a cause of suffering to me anymore. Having said that, I have no problem with other people seeing me like that, and if I can act as even the smallest source of hope to another person then obviously I'm very touched by that. The messages I receive from people saying that I've helped them in some way give me an enormous sense of warmth and belonging, and above all give an extra sense of purpose to what I do. And I don't mind talking about it, but I have begun to wonder what people without a lazy eye get asked in interviews... !
I read that you decided not to have surgery on your eye, was that an easy decision?
It was suggested to me by several eye doctors, but it never occurred to me to do it; I wouldn't feel like myself without it.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My eye. Only joking. I really wish I had more self-discipline, and more impetus to get on with things; I'm like a child that needs to be told to do their homework. It's so easy to hang out and smoke fags and watch telly, I can go out for breakfast and suddenly two weeks have gone by.
Tell us about your book – is it fiction/nonfiction? How do you find the writing process? Do you need to be in ‘the mood’ to write?
It's fiction in theory, if such a thing exists. Although I have a tendency to feel that talking about things is a sufficient replacement for doing them, so I don't want to go into it too much. Starting to write is agony, because in any situation it will bring things up for you, and especially if you're dealing with subjects relating to your own past; but once you've passed the pain barrier it's the most wonderful relief I can imagine. I would say that I do need to be in the mood, although really that's laziness and abdication of responsibility, because if you're not in the mood you should force yourself to get there or you can find that the highly ambitious date you set yourself to have written and published your first great Proustian narrative passed three years ago and you're still on the first chapter of a mediocre novella about an ex-boyfriend (for example!). I found it easiest to write the first time I spent a few months in Paris, because it was time out of life, but I'm trying at home now, and I'm better at all things late at night.
What’s your dream job?
If I didn't want to be a novelist I'd love to be a literary critic. Although I'm also a bit of a housewife, and take great pleasure in organising my various muesli toppings, which have a cupboard all of their own.
What book would you give as a gift to a friend?
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, Zeno's Conscience by Italo Svevo, or Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.
How much do you use Instagram? What do you like about it? What don't you like?
I resisted for as long as I possibly could, but absurdly it seems to be necessary for work now. It's a difficult subject because I can see that it's done wonderful things for visibility and for opening up important conversations, but ultimately it can make narcissists of people who otherwise wouldn't have been. It forces you to identify with the anonymous but all-pervasive gaze of 'the other', and consequently can chip away at your identity.
What do you like about fashion?
The language of fashion, just as with philosophy, psychology, semiotics, and all other disciplines, is one of terminology; it takes words of everyday use and extends their meaning, in doing so creating specialist terms to be used and understood in a specific context, where they no longer point to the same thing. Although – fashion not being the most self-aware of worlds – it's rarely considered from this point of view, it can't be denied that where beauty previously may have meant having straight teeth, clear skin, shiny hair, and a number of other things, it seems suddenly to mean looking thin and tired. Then there's the question of being able to read the classification, of having an understanding of the elusive nomenclature and what it signifies; fashion has the power to transform the meaning of words in this way because there's no calling on it to justify its new definitions, no one outside the structure can be said to have insight enough to make such a judgment, and those within it, needless to say, don't wish to. Fashion, and against this background, beauty, decides what it wants to be and then points to itself; it is a self-referential echo chamber of mutual appreciation between a small number of people who own the handbag and speak the lingo. Having said that, this is also what makes it wonderful – since the members of this small and self-governing community are often highly artistic, gifted, non-judgmental human beings from unconventional backgrounds – they have managed to create a private universe which the reality of other people's prejudices cannot penetrate; where those who are a bit unusual, find it difficult slotting in, or have been marginalised, can feel safe.