A t nine a.m. on a recent Saturday morning, Kiernan Shipka’s bubbly mother, Erin, flings open the door to their pastel wedding cake of a mansion in Los Angeles, calling up a sweeping oak staircase for “Kiki,” as she’s called at home, to check in downstairs. Kiernan had a sleepover with a couple friends the night before, and she’s still up in her room, watching TV: They made up a love story between Hello Kitty and an enormous stuffed bear that she likes to call Big Bear, and played Hedbanz, a game that sounds exactly like Celebrities, except that instead of sticking a card with a famous person’s name to a forehead with tape, one slips a card underneath a headband (or however the kids are spelling it these days). It was doubtlessly a late night, with a lot of giggling among the girls, and when they emerge, Kiernan’s friend, a freckled redhead with a Miley Cyrus smile, from across the street, seems to be a bit bedraggled, her long, thick mane tangled and face unwashed.
But not Kiernan. The girl who plays Mad Men’s Sally Draper, one of the greatest preadolescent characters in television history, may be only 11, but she looks like an editorial assistant at Vogue today, at least a miniature one, with her blonde hair swept back in a perfect ponytail, black ballet flats, and a knee-length Little Paul & Joe shift decorated with miniature skeletons, a Christmas gift from her parents. She bites her lip shyly, leading the way through her 1924 palace—past at least a half-dozen elaborate, enormous flower arrangements set on various glossy tables and through a cavernous office that she shares with her mom, with her name spelled out on the wall on top of her desk. On a white marble counter in the kitchen, there’s an almost comical number of bagel fixings, including strawberry-pomegranate cream cheese, spread out for breakfast. Two German shepherds, a prissy purebred with pancreatic problems and a lick-happy one that’s a rescue, huddle outside their kitchen cove, looking longingly at the food.
In the kitchen, Kiernan’s quiet for a few minutes, listening to the conversation among adults over the bagel spread about the renovation of this home (her wealthy parents—her father has a successful real-estate-development and management business in Chicago—redid the place two years ago, when they decided to buy a home in Los Angeles) and a star who wore her shoes on the wrong feet to a recent awards ceremony but didn’t realize it until she left the red carpet. “Were they, like, strappy shoes?” asks Kiernan. As it turns out, they were not: “They were sequined Louboutins with those round toes that everyone’s making these days,” says a friend of her mom’s. “You know, the type of shoe where you can barely tell which shoe is for the correct foot.”
Kiernan nods in agreement. Of course, she would know that: Like Hailee Steinfeld, 14, from True Grit, who put on a dress by Prabal Gurung at the recent Golden Globes, and Elle Fanning, the 12-year-old star of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, who wore a Rodarte dress to the New York premiere of the movie as it had appeared on the runway—with sheer Rodarte socks and gold wooden heels by Nicholas Kirkwood—Kiernan is a fashionista. “I follow fashion trends,” she says, tipping her chin a bit to the sky and speaking with the sort of elocution that would have her at the top of her class at Spence. “My closet’s full of Papo d’Anjo,” she continues. “They’re my main brand. I just absolutely love them because the quality is so amazing. Chloé has some amazing kids’ pieces, too, and I have a lot of D&G Junior. Grace Kelly is my fashion inspiration—a classic look, with beautiful pieces, and very pretty.”
Then she erupts in laughter. “I have the best idea: fashion Halloween!” she squeaks later, the words coming out in a torrent. “I’m always something like Catwoman, Cinderella, or Rapunzel, with really, really long hair, and we always decorate our house like crazy—we even have a fog machine. But this year, I want to have a fashion Halloween! We’ll have people dress up as Donna Karnage.” Giggle. “Michael Korpse.” Giggle. “Burbloody.”
T hese merry convulsions over “fashion Halloween” are a rare loss of equanimity by Kiernan, who is almost terrifyingly composed for an 11-year-old, much like her character on Mad Men, at least during the first few seasons. Part of the fascination for most of us about Sally Draper is that, like most kids from the sixties, she was forced to become a mini-adult early. In a lot of ways, she’s like the Greek chorus of the show, a watchful presence commenting on the action that other characters are too deeply involved in to perceive objectively themselves. But the strain of trying to understand adults eventually becomes too much for Sally, and last season, she started showing her youthful age: running away from home, hacking at her hair, hanging with a weird neighbor boy, and, of course, masturbating to The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the sixties TV series about suave spies, on a friend’s couch during a sleepover.