Backstage at the Greek Theatre, Juliette Lewis is one hot mess. After opening for the Pretenders and Cat Power, the singer-actress' dark, choppy hair clings damply to her neck; smeared glitter eye shadow sparkles on her cheeks; and the toe of one boot (black with vaguely Victorian gold buttons up the sides) is held together with tape. The centerpiece of her ensemble -- a red, single-sleeved romper made of metallic Lycra and sequins with a regal plume of feathers at one shoulder -- looks like the result of a collision between Motley Crue and the Moulin Rouge.
It's hard to say who, exactly, she most resembles: the pout and smudged eyeliner are pure Mick Jagger, the feathers are a bit Brian Eno and Lewis herself name-checks Mad Max. One thing for sure: She looks like a rock star should.
"I finally got a real stylist!" says Lewis excitedly, sipping tea as friends come up to offer hugs of congratulations and her mother and sister/manager Brandy Lewis mill about. "It's funny now to see this stuff as art," she continues, holding out the cascade of patterned fabrics that hangs from her waist, "because for so long I always fought against it."
If Juliette Lewis is embracing her inner fashionista, you can bet it's going to be interesting. She is, after all, the actress who attended the 1992 Academy Awards (nominated for her role in "Cape Fear") with Brad Pitt at her side and stark cornrows in her hair -- a look that earned her a permanent spot on many "worst dressed" lists. But to paraphrase legendary fashion doyenne Diana Vreeland, a splash of bad taste is far better than no taste, and the funky combos Lewis puts together -- like the neon pink tights, blue lace teddy and Indian feather headband she wore in her "Hot Kiss" video in 2006 -- have a way of turning into tomorrow's trends.
Three years ago, the star of "Natural Born Killers" and "Strange Days" stepped away from acting to devote herself fully to her music, but this fall the 36-year-old actress is back with a juicy mean-girl part in Drew Barrymore's roller derby flick, "Whip It," which opens Friday. In addition she has a new album, "Terra Incognita," and a headlining tour across the U.S. and Europe that will keep her on the road until December (with an Oct. 17 stop at the El Rey Theatre). Between press, promotion and performances, it all adds up to a whole lot of wardrobe changes, and Lewis has been working with Marina Toybina, who designs under the name GLAZA, to help her "up the ante visually."
Recent TV appearances have certainly done that. For a BBC interview, Lewis wore a fitted blue vintage leather jacket over a gray blouse with an elaborate, oversized flower at the neck, tight trousers and tall boots -- "sort of equestrian looking but more fun," says the native Angeleno. The outfit she wore on "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" -- oil slick-shiny black leggings, a black-and-red GLAZA top with ruffles down the front and (fake) fur tufts at the shoulders, plus jewel-studded booties on her feet -- prompted the talk show host to proclaim, "You're like a sexy leprechaun from another planet!"
Naturally her "Late Late Show" performance of the frenetic, careening single "Fantasy Bar" required another costume change -- this time into a suede fringed vest with enormous feathered epaulets over a black bustier, sequined hot pants, and electric blue Lycra leggings.
Lewis' last two albums -- and her look -- were more raw, lean and stripped down. But she describes "Terra Incognita," recorded with a new band and produced by the Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, as an embrace of duality: "the vulnerability and the lion's roar . . . the disillusioned spirit along with the eternal optimist." And she says the Moscow-born, Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising-trained Toybina creates "an extension of what the music is, the ethereal, dreaming guitars mixed with that earthy, big-bottom drumming . . . what does that look like?" Despite the wild mix of synthetic and organic textures, the silhouette is consistent: "stuff that wraps tight, strong legs, and then the big shoulders like a buffalo." She giggles. "I didn't even intend to be current, but I guess that's kind of popular right now!"
Lewis wore some of Toybina's couture creations in a photo shoot several years ago, but they've formally worked together only since August. Both seem giddy about the potential of the collaboration.
"She's a visionary; she manifests dreams," says Lewis. "And I don't mean to be so lofty, but it's for real."
"She kind of gave life to my pieces," Toybina returns. "This was somebody that I could express my art to. . . . Not everybody will wear a wire dress."
Of course it isn't all feathers and flash and wire dresses. "I look at Juliette as somebody with multiple creative personalities," explains Toybina, who will mix classics with vintage finds and avant-garde silhouettes, often adding the final flourish of a killer shoe.