She's the star of television's "New Girl" series, She & Him singer, HelloGiggles.com creative director and a red-carpet standout. Now, Zooey Deschanel is adding fashion designer to her considerable list of talents, with a new collection of dresses for Tommy Hilfiger that hit Hilfiger and Macy's stores last week.
Deschanel's distinctive quirky-preppy-feminine style — on-screen, on red carpets and in real life — is what attracted Hilfiger to her.
"It's unusual and spirited. She doesn't take herself too seriously, which is nice," he says. "We love red, white and blue; she does too. We love the vintage look; she does too. It was a marriage made in heaven."
The 34-year-old actress-musician is a down-to-earth California girl. She grew up in L.A., the daughter of cinematographer and director Caleb Deschanel and actress Mary Jo Deschanel. She made her film debut in 1999 in "Mumford," was featured in Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" and starred alongside Will Ferrell in "Elf."
In 2007, she and singer-songwriter M. Ward released their first album as indie rock duo She & Him. They have recorded three subsequent albums. And since 2011, she's been the lead character on the Fox comedy "New Girl." (Sister Emily Deschanel stars in Fox's "Bones.")
Deschanel has also been in the spotlight recently for being featured on a new single by Prince titled "Fallinlove2nite."(Viewers of "New Girl" will remember that Prince guest starred in an episode this season during which Deschanel's character Jess sings with him.)
"He made a remix of the song, mixing my vocal in and released it," she says. "And now, all of a sudden, I'm being played on pop radio, after I've been so used to indie radio. It's great."
Over the years, Deschanel has developed her unmistakable personal style signatures — a warm chestnut hair color with a fringed curtain of bangs; make-you-smile nail art; red lips (Chanel Rebelle, although now that it's been discontinued, she's on the hunt for a new shade); and retro-feminine frocks with a nod to 1960s and '70s icons Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve and Mary Tyler Moore.
On the red carpet, where Deschanel favors ladylike looks by Oscar de la Renta and others, it's refreshing that she never seems to be trying too hard — or letting it all hang out.
"When you first start out, a lot of people are telling you what you should and shouldn't do," she says. "It took a little bit of time for me to speak out and say, 'I kinda want to wear what I like.' It's freeing to be able to express yourself that way."
On-screen, she's been compared to a modern-day Lucille Ball, which she says is the ultimate compliment.
"Her timing was so perfect," Deschanel says. "There's that episode where she's at a chocolate factory, and she starts realizing everything is happening too fast. You know everything that's going on just by looking at her face. It's a great education to watch someone like her."
Deschanel's "New Girl" costumes have spawned style blogs devoted to cataloging her colorful Kate Spade dresses and cheerful parrot-print pajamas.
But despite all of her glittering Hollywood success, Deschanel has always been a down-to-earth DIY-er at heart. Her mom taught her to sew at an early age, after catching her trying to wrap thread around a straight pin.
Her relationship with fashion started with shopping for fabrics at F&S and Michaels stores and sewing her own clothes. Then it progressed to a love of vintage.
"I have a huge vintage clothing collection," says Deschanel, who lists Shareen and American Rag Cie among her favorite L.A. sources. "But I've also had the privilege of touring and shopping in so many cities. Last summer when I was on tour, I had to ship two giant boxes home. I went to Goodwill, Salvation Army, any thrift store in any town we were in."
Part of the appeal of collaborating with Hilfiger was getting to adapt details from her vintage favorites to today. She has her own term to describe the To Tommy, From Zooey collection: "Modical," as in a marriage of '60s mod and Hilfiger heritage red, white and blue nautical.
"Most '60s shift dresses are really boxy, but ours are more A-line and flattering. They are designed for women, not just coat hangers," she says. "And modern fabrics are soooo much better and more comfortable."
The collection— which includes 16 dresses, two purses and a handful of jewelry and is priced from $35 to $199 — has a retro feel, with lots of special collar, pocket and button details. A white boucle sleeveless shift has a red sideways patch pocket and a row of red dome buttons down one side, for example, and a navy-and-white colorblock jersey dress has a hidden side pocket, with red lining peeking out.
"I made a dress with box pleats that had a hidden pleat detail like this when I was a kid," Deschanel said recently at the Tommy Hilfiger store on Robertson Boulevard in West Hollywood, pointing to a blue-and-red box pleated dress with stripes peeking out from the folds. "It was my crowning achievement."
The Season 3 finale of "New Girl," to air May 6, will feature Deschanel wearing three dresses from the new Hilfiger collection.
"It happens to take place on a cruise ship, so it was perfect," she says. "
As sweet and easygoing as she comes across, there is a serious side to Deschanel, which prompted her to launch the lifestyle website Hello Giggles in 2011 with producer Sophia Rossi and writer Molly McAleer. With recent articles about the ins and outs of swearing, religion in the age of the Internet and American Apparel's controversial miniskirt ad that shows a woman bent over and exposing her panties and crotch, the site is designed to be an empowering place "where young women can go and feel safe and supported," she says.
In other words, positive thinking, not Kimye gossip.
"I certainly can think in a snarky way; I'm capable of snark,"
Deschanel says. "But I have the discipline to not engage in it because I see that it's destructive... I've realized that if you try really hard, you can spin anything in a positive way. It just takes creative thinking."
To Tommy, From Zooey Collection
What: Dresses, handbags, shoes and jewelry
Where: Macy's and Tommy Hilfiger stores, tommy.com and macys.com
Prices: $35 to $199