Zendaya: Triona McCarthy meets the enigmatic star
Zendaya is quite a force to be reckoned with. At only 23 years old, she is already a member of the 'first name only' club alongside Beyonce, Madonna, Rihanna and, eh, Pippa! Her cool moniker comes from the African language Shona, and means 'to give thanks'. And FYI, it's pronounced Zen-DAY-uh - and not Zen-DIE-uh as I was saying, in the same way one pronounces 'papaya'!
I must admit, as well as not knowing how to pronounce the star's name correctly, I wasn't exactly sure where I knew her from.
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I only had to ask my 14-year-old niece, Lucy, who was in the office with me when the call came in that I needed to go to Paris to do this interview. "Oh my gawd. Zendaya!" Lucy shrieked, as she nearly passed out with the excitement.
Ask anyone under the age of 45 - like me - and they will totally go zany for Zendaya, who currently has over 62 million Instagram followers.
The actor is very busy - she thrilled audiences on HBO's Euphoria, which has been commissioned for a second series; she starred in this summer's blockbuster, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and I betcha you're gonna remember her from The Greatest Showman, in which she lit up the big screen as a trapeze artist - doing all her own stunts, I might add.
And now she can add Lancome's youngest ambassador as another string to her bow.
The Californian native became a member of the Lancome team in February of this year, and is now the face of the innovative fragrance, Idole, specifically crafted for a new generation of women.
And who better to represent it than a young woman who embodies the fearless and talented women of Gen Z?
So it was a no-brainer for me to jump on a plane and interview her in the French capital.
We met upstairs in a suite at the swanky Shangri-La Hotel, and first impressions were just, wow, as Lucy would say. In person, Zendaya glows and - something I don't see very often - she is actually even prettier in the flesh. I'm often left disappointed when I meet the unfiltered versh of people I see on my Instagram feed.
Not this time. Zendaya, in her Schiaparelli haute couture dress, with the matching jacket casually swung over a chair and her tomato-red Christian Louboutin So Kate pumps thrown off, was fresh-faced and minimally made up.
Curled up on her chair, with her feet tucked beneath her, she gave off an air of ease. Rather Zen, really! Her couture clothing - which of course, being a bit of a tag-hag myself, I admired - was bold, vividly coloured, surrealist, and had 3D elements, like embroidery, frills, and applique.
In the run-up to our interview, I devoured everything I could about her - and she is, without doubt, my new fashion crush.
I love how daring and fearless she is with her outfit choices, especially on the red carpet, selecting silhouettes and styles that others shun in case they end up on the worst-dressed list!
Go on, google her 2018 Met Gala look - you'll see she channelled Joan of Arc in a silver chainmail dress by Atelier Versace, perfectly paired with a blunt bobbed wig.
Or maybe you remember the whole kerfuffle at the 2015 Oscars, when she wore a white Vivienne Westwood gown, and styled her hair in waist-length dreadlocks. E! host Giuliana Rancic caused absolute outrage by commenting on the star's hair, saying, "I feel like she smells like patchouli. Or weed".
Zendaya responded with a powerful post on Instagram, saying, "There is already harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair. My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of colour that our hair is good enough. To me locs are a symbol of beauty and strength, almost like a lion's mane."
And what a mane of curly, red-hued hair Zendaya - who boasts African American, German and Scottish ancestry - has. As she ran her fingers through her hair, I noted her perfectly manicured nails - more of which later on. But it was time to get the juice on the new fragrance.
"It's pretty surreal," she said. "Obviously, I've never been the face of a fragrance before, especially not such a big brand like Lancome. It's an honour and it's been exciting, and I feel like the coolest part is I have some ownership over it, as I got to talk to Lancome and the team.''
Idole truly epitomises girl power from its roots, as it has three female perfumers as its creators - Shyamala Maisondieu, Adriana Medina, and Nadege Le Garlantezec.
Zendaya was involved in the whole process, so she played a big part in what the scent smells like.
"I got to smell different things and [give] notes as to what I would wear. Being involved in that whole process was really cool," she told me.
The perfume blends sustainably sourced Isparta rose-petal essence from Turkey - which is exclusively made for Lancome - as well as a centifolia rose grown in France; along with bergamot, accords of pear and India jasmine grandiflorum.
And my favourite bit, a soul-cleansing clean and glow accord. How very now!
Hailed as "The world's thinnest fragrance," the pretty pink bottle, the work of architect and industrial designer Chafik Gasmi, is super slim at just 15mm thick, and is so much fun to hold - almost like having a smartphone in your hand, except this beauty emits a fantastic floral scent instead of annoying notifications, noise and blue light! It comes in three refillable sizes that are perfect as carry-on.
I wondered if Zendaya had any input in the actual design, but she shakes her head, saying, "No, they had the bottle, but the name and fragrance was more collaborative.''
While a lot of Lancome perfumes are known to be on the sweeter-smelling side, this one has more of a fresh, almost retro style to it.
Zendaya agrees that this scent isn't like all of the others, mainly because, she "wanted something that I would wear every day.''
When it comes to scents, we all know that particular ones evoke memories - who hasn't caught a whiff of a perfume and been transported to a particular time, place or person?
That's what got Zendaya interested in making a fragrance in the first place. "Everyone wants a staple fragrance that they can put on every day and it symbolises the era of their life at that time," she says.
"That's what's great about scent - it's emotive and you attach it to a period of time. It's cool that I'll be part of someone's story in that way."
Her own earliest scent memories are of her mother's perfume - "It was a kind of gingery scent, so that smell always reminds me of her. I don't know what kind of fragrance my grandmothers wore, but if I smelled it, I would know it anywhere, you know?''
Zendaya reveals she isn't responsible for choosing that name Idole. However, she does agree that it encompasses everything she wants the scent to stand for and the women who will wear it.
"I just wanted the name to somehow sum up the emotion of what we wanted the fragrance to say," she says. "We wanted something happy and empowering. It was this idea of 'idol'; of being your own idol and having that sense of inner strength and self-love.''
As one of the biggest stars for the Gen Z audience, she is a massive role model for all of her young fans - something she is aware of - so promoting self-love is important to her.
"I have a bit of a responsibility - not to quote Spider-Man but, 'With great power comes great responsibility'. Social media has allowed me a platform that I feel a responsibility to use in the best way possible. I'm not saving the world, but I try my best.''
As a face of one of the biggest beauty brands, when it comes to her own beauty advice, she offers an oldie but a goodie. "My number-one piece of advice is timeless - something that people have been preaching about for a long time. Take your make-up off at night! It's so important!''
Being the face of Idole, does she have a certain way of applying the scent? Does she spray it and then walk into it, a la my mum Margaret? Or how about that old wives' tale which says that you should wear perfume where you want to be kissed?
"Is that a thing?'' she laughs, when I suggest that one. "I was just taught about doing this [she points to her wrists] on what the heat points are.
"Some people say not to break up the molecules by rubbing - but I dab! Dab and spray,'' she says.
While the former Disney star has no odd beauty habits, if you ever need a set of gel nails done, Zendaya is your girl.
"I do my own gel nails," she says, "It relaxes me; a manicure is me-time. I usually do clear gel or nude, but it's really just a time where I can chill out. I get excited for my cuticles to grow out so I can file 'em down again," she laughs.
She is also super serious about SPF: "It's my most used beauty product. I feel like people forget and people ignore it.''
Chatting about make-up, I tell her how I feel it gives me the power to transform how I feel, but for Zendaya, it means chill-out time. "For me, it's therapeutic and gives me time to calm myself. I find it almost like meditation in a weird way.''
And as a seriously busy 22-year-old, downtime isn't something she gets much of.
I ask her what she does on a day off, telling her I'm gonna call over to have my nails done by her first!
"I sleep, walk the dog... oh, and binge on Harry Potter movies!''
There's no arguing that she is extremely successful at a tender age, but when she thinks of success, it's not measured in roles or awards.
"Success looks like happiness," she grins. "If I'm not really happy with what I'm doing, then is it success? It's not always easy, but sometimes things that bring you joy are hard. It challenges you, but it makes you so happy.''
With that, we wrap up the interview, and even though I've been told not to ask for a selfie, I chance my arm and make sure I tell her about Lucy, her biggest fan in Ireland, and she says she's dying to visit Ireland.
That evening, the stunning actor came to slay at the launch party of Idole, held at the Palais d'lena in Paris, which they turned pink to celebrate.
Zendaya shone at the party, dazzling in Chopard 26-carat diamond and white-gold earrings.
How do I know? Because I asked her, as I once again popped over for a pic.
The venue was filled with the gentle, refreshing and rose-laced floral fragrance of Idole, while models, tastemakers and more gathered to celebrate the scent in style. Zendaya perfectly matched the mood with a millennial-pink gown from Georges Hobeika's Resort 2019 collection, while slicked-back waves completed her look.
I bumped into influencers Amelia Liana, In the Frow's Victoria Magrath, as well as Millie Mackintosh - we chatted about Irish style; we'd sat next to each other at a race meeting a few years ago - but mostly we discussed the woman of the night, whose star is shining brighter than all the diamonds adorning her neck. Now with Idole under her belt, we certainly know what success will smell like to Zendaya.
Lancome Idole Eau de Parfum, from €54, with refills starting at €37.80
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