Jess Hart has the kind of infectious freewheeling spirit that, in combination with her long limbs and signature gap-toothed smile, has kept her at the top of the modeling game for over a decade. Since dropping out of her Melbourne high school at 15 to pursue a career as an international model, Jess has walked the Victoria Secret runway, graced the pages of American Vogue and appeared on countless magazine covers, including Australian GQ and Vogue. Not content with other people always calling the shots, she decided to take things into her own hands and recently launched her natural makeup line LUMA Cosmetics.
We chatted to the blue-eyed beauty at home in New York, as she prepared to walk the red carpet for the new James Bond film, Spectre, about breaking rules, the importance of good lighting and why she longs to eventually leave the city she likens to a hyperactive kid.
So, you’re heading out tonight, how do you know you’re looking good?
You don’t; you just hope. You hope there’s really good light on the red carpet. As you get old you realize how important lighting is.
And you do your own makeup?
Yes, because I don’t like people in my face.
You have your own cosmetics line, LUMA. Do you have a philosophy in terms of what you think makeup is about?
I like the idea that less is more. I don’t like the idea of hiding behind a cake of makeup. Even this is a lot for me: I want to back it off, but I’m going to a red carpet event with very harsh lighting. Once you know what your best features are, you can focus on them and use colors that work with your skintone.
You moved to New York City ten years ago. What’s the first thing you remember about arriving?
I’ll never forget driving in, over the bridge, when you’re coming from the airport. It’s like, Wow, I live here. It’s breathtaking. It never gets old, but it’s always go-go-go. I feel like I blinked and it’s been ten years. I wonder if I lived in a different place, if time would go kind of slower.
Has it always been easy?
No, I feel like it hasn’t always been easy. Not by a long shot. But you don’t really know at the time. You don’t think, Wow, this is tough. You’re just here and you’re happy to be here. Trekking around, happy to have a job or an agency.
Would you say you moved here as a grown-up or you grew up here?
This is probably more like home for me than anywhere else. If someone asked me advice on where to go in Australia – or in Sydney or Melbourne – I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know what’s cool or what restaurants to eat at. Here is home. I used to always refer to Australia as home. And I feel terrible saying it, but now it really is home here. I mean ten years; it’s a pretty good effort.
A very good effort! Would you say New York helped you feel like you could be yourself?
I think it’s just made me comfortable to be Jessica because I think at the beginning you get caught up in what you’re meant to be, and how you think you should dress. Silly things like that. New York’s got this thing where it allows you to be yourself. Unique people are the kind who get noticed here. At home you were always trying to conform, and here I kind of felt free to be myself. Or at least wear jeans and converse instead of heels and makeup to a casting.
It’s a good place to break to the rules.
I don’t like rules. Rules are made to be broken: but I like setting them. I think you’ve got to make your own rules. Breaking rules is what makes you interesting; if you don’t get arrested. Even in fashion, breaking rules, mixing prints, the whole blue and green should never be seen thing. Breaking rules is what sets people apart.
What do you think it is about the way we, as Australians, grow up that sets us apart here?
I think it’s that we’re really raw. Maybe it’s the accents they love? I’m not sure what it is, but it’s something. We need to work it out and market it, sell it. We have a very don’t-give-a-shit attitude. We’re hard workers.
How would you describe the actual character of New York?
Like a little kid with Tourette’s. It’s so manic. I find it so intense. You constantly get distracted. There’s always something going on, here, there, everywhere. Between events, parties, friends and family, there’s just always something. Halloween, holidays, Thanksgiving. It’s just a very eventful country.
It can be totally overwhelming. Have you had any love-hate moments with this city?
Only now am I just started to get a bit giddy with it. I’ve always just loved it, gone with it, because time’s been flying by. It’s only now that I kind of wake up ten years later and feel like, Woah. Has it gone too quickly? I’m starting to think I don’t want to keep at this pace, because you blink and then your life is over.
So, it’s not forever?
No, I’ll move out of this city, I promise. It’s too crazy, too intense for me. I love routine – the idea of coming home and cooking, or walking to the supermarket. Normal things. It’s really hard to be like that here, you almost have to plan to be normal.
So how have you managed to keep it together and stay focused on your career?
I’ve been extremely lucky. It’s not a matter of staying focused. I try to put as much good energy into my job and I love working in my industry, but you don’t get to decide if you stay or if you go. New York almost decides when it’s done with you, not the other way around.
What still gives you the thrills and chills in New York?
The other night we went to Queen of the Night, a dinner and drinks theatre show. These people were just incredible contortionists and dancers acrobats. To just be able to see and appreciate other people’s worlds and the things that get them where they are, and just step back. Because you forget.
You’ve accomplished so much in your career. Do you feel like the hard yards are behind you?
I hope not; it’s kind of sad to think that. It’s nice to have things to do. I’ve worked so hard in this industry but you’re constantly being told where to go, what to feel, how to be. Nobody cares what you think, so you get to a point where you want to have your own opinions. It feels strange to stand there and have all these people treat you like a product. I’m at a point now where I can make decisions and have input. LUMA is something creative that I can control, so I hope that the hard yards haven’t been put in yet. I’ll still have a lot of things I’ll have to prove along the way.