It’s nearly 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon and Cara Delevingne‘s dog is running through the lobby of a midtown Manhattan office building.
Alfie, a rat terrier mix rescue, is skidding across the hard stone floors as the actress and model searches for her emotional support certificate to show to a no-nonsense lobby attendant. Delevingne is insistent: She always brings the dog with her to work. Ultimately, the building’s no- animal policy stands, so Alfie, it is decided, must wait in the car or go home.
Delevingne is visibly defeated at the interruption of her modus operandi, but eventually she heads upstairs to the studios at PMC’s New York headquarters. For her FN cover shoot, she’ll model some of the latest pieces of her Puma Exhale collection, styled exclusively alongside upcycled, secondhand and vintage shoes and garments, all in the name of sustainable style.
The model can’t hide her nonchalance for fashion, though, as a stylist rifles through the racks. “Love that it’s secondhand, vintage,” Delevingne offers, searching for some sartorial spark to light her interest. Finally, she stops at a jacket made from old Puma goalie gloves, a cleverly upcycled creation from Brooklyn designer Nicole McLaughlin that stands out with its multitude of neon Velcro straps.
“What is this?!” she asks, her trademark wide and wild eyes growing even larger. McLaughlin’s Instagram account is pulled up and Delevingne looks through the assortment of the designer’s garments, which include everything from pickle-jar heels and tennis ball slides to bagels, lemon squeezers and mini basketball hoops, all fashioned as bras.
It’s understandable that it would take something special — and yes, maybe weird — to get Delevingne’s attention these days. The model, 29, is now more than a decade into her career, having worked with the most exalted of designers, walked the buzziest of runways and starred in the biggest of ads. When you’re Karl Lagerfeld’s muse, where do you go after? It took more than just another fashion show or seasonal campaign to get the actress back to the biz. Been there, done that.
“I wasn’t going to do fashion again unless it really meant something to me, something that I could be a part of creatively and collaborate with and also look toward the future, to bring about some sort of change,” Delevingne says while a hairstylist works on her in the green room, gathering her hair into a high pony that reveals a shaved undercut. “With Exhale, what it means in terms of Puma moving forward with sustainability, it’s a really big deal. It’s something that big brands haven’t done before and I was excited about that.”
Puma and Delevingne are in the second year of their Exhale collection, a line of yoga-centric activewear that includes pieces like strappy sports bras, wide- waistband bike shorts, sweatpants, cropped shirts and cozy tunics. The garments are ribbed and soft to the touch, an aesthetic and sensory experience that might be surprising to those who see Delevingne as more of a high-octane figure. The actress insists it’s her, through and through: “Yoga therapy and breath work is something that has changed my life,” she says. “The environment and sustainability are so important to me, so to be able to combine those two things, I couldn’t imagine anything better. In a way, it’s less of selling the clothes as much as it’s selling this idea of what we are working toward in the future.”
Delevingne doesn’t pretend to know every detail of Puma’s grand plan toward corporate responsibility. “I don’t know how or what it is to be 100% sustainable, especially when you’re a major brand and moving things around — you can’t move it as fast as people would like it to be,” she says. “But I have never worked with a brand as big in scale as Puma that has gone to such great lengths to make things as sustainable as possible.”
Her extolling runs the risk of sounding promotional, especially at a time when consumers are both wary of corporate greenwashing and quick to glaze over when encountering the scientific details involved in climate initiatives that actually move the needle. But unlike most celebrity ambassadors, Delevingne has backed up her work with Puma by forming her own foundation, which makes donations to reputable charities based on current events and global needs. She also launched her own initiative, EcoResolution, formed with Christabel and Ruby Reed in 2019. Designed to empower and inspire climate action by leveraging social media and celebrity platforms, the trio worked with the likes of Kim Kardashian, Jaden Smith, Rita Ora and Jack Black to compel viewers to make their own pacts in their #MyEcoResolution campaign of summer 2019.
This summer, the model will launch an educational platform (which she describes as “Masterclass meets Netflix”) through EcoResolution and its umbrella organization Initiative Earth. Aligned with the United Nation’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, it will allow communities around the world to connect with and learn from one another, accessing the skills and funds needed to implement and scale ecosystem restoration projects on a local level.
“It has to come from both the bottom up and the top down, it can’t just come from one,” Delevingne says when asked about the responsibility of larger brands to lead climate efforts. “So many people say to me, ‘What’s the point of doing anything if policies aren’t going to change?’ But policies won’t ever change if people won’t change, so it’s kind of everyone pointing the finger saying, ‘Who’s going to start working toward a better future?’ ”
The sustainability blame game is a sticking point for her, and it is here that any perceived apathy for fashion turns into a revealing intensity: “I’m not a f*cking eco-warrior. I fly on planes,” she continues, while deftly applying a tube of mascara to her lashes in the glam chair. “But no one is perfect. That’s why this platform is going to be so interesting, because I want to show people how there are really hot, cute, fun people doing these things and it can be really enjoyable. There should be pressure on companies to start doing things — otherwise, they are going to be on the wrong side of history.”
Delevingne says she is also spending her own money investing in sustainable companies, specifically within renewable energy, searching out young people who are working on new ideas in the sector. It’s just one part of a diverse entrepreneurial portfolio that includes everything from Della Vite, a prosecco brand she formed with her own sisters, Poppy and Chloe, to sex toy company Lora DiCarlo.
Then there are the fashion brand partnerships: Puma, Seven for All Mankind, Dior beauty, jewelry and watches. For years, the model was a regular face at Chanel, walking the brand’s runway shows for Karl Lagerfeld, including his last collection in 2019 following the designer’s death. This August, she will debut a capsule of sustainable and gender-fluid designs with the Karl Lagerfeld brand. It’s likely to be the most accurate reflection of her own aesthetic: a study of pure insouciance. “I don’t think about it that much,” she says about her personal style. And of fashion inspirations: “I look more to Karl Lagerfeld than I do to women. And maybe also David Bowie.”
Each partnership also seems to strategically serve her causes, be it sustainability, mental health LGBTQIA+ or women’s rights. Both Puma and Seven for All Mankind have donated to the Cara Delevingne Foundation, benefiting mental health and sustainability causes. “I kind of refer to it as dogs sniffing each other’s a**es. It’s not that I pick a brand or a brand picks me, you just kind of suss each other out,” she says. “There are some things I just jump right on, if it’s a thing that I believe in from my whole heart, because there is never time to waste.”
While the actress is aware of her influence — and perhaps also of her reputation as fashion’s wild child — she insists that she centers her decisions on finding an equilibrium that reflects her own values. “It’s not the responsibility to just seemingly do it,” she says of her activism and cause-based businesses. “It’s not because I care what people think, it’s more because I care how I can inspire people.”
Back on set, Delevingne cycles quickly through a series of looks, first sporting the upcycled goalie glove jacket in a look fit for a Formula-E race (the model tried her hand at driving one of the cars last summer — another feather in her cap).
In another shot, she wears a cutout bodysuit with a pair of Sergio Rossi secondhand pink paillette booties a size too small while pretending to do bicycle crunches in front of the camera. She’s a good sport, spinning through a series of poses until she is sure the photographer has something. Then, she quickly flings off the boots and dashes off the set. “Men invented heels, clearly.”
Stylist: Beverly Nguyen. Makeup: Grey Hoffman. Hair: Gonn Kinoshita at The Wall Group. Nails: Tak Okamura at The Wall Group. Editorial assistants: Tara Larson and Jacorey Moon. Stylist assistants: Ava Van Osdol and Olivia Genoux.