Sienna Miller on the Limits of Prettiness

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Sienna Miller for Burberry.Photo: Courtesy of Burberry

As the holidays approach, brands tend to pile on the sparkle and velvet, but this year Burberry went in a different direction, using their holiday video to tell the story of founder Thomas Burberry. With lush visuals and a star-studded cast that includes Domhnall Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Dominic West, and Lily James, directed by Oscar-winning director Asif Kapadia (who made 2015’s Amy Winehouse biopic Amy), the short film isn’t just about showing off clothes, but also about giving viewers a peek into the life of the brand’s founder. The Cut talked to campaign star Sienna Miller about whether The Tale of Thomas Burberry could be a full-length film (“absolutely!”), what the holidays are like for her family, and how she feels like it’s never good enough when something is merely pretty.

In our Pretty Things package this week, we’re exploring the concept of pretty as an aesthetic. What does the word pretty mean to you?
It’s a word that slightly irritates me, like the word nice. It’s not enough. You can never just be pretty. You’ve got to be smart or engaged. It feels vanilla. It feels a little sexist. I think that’s what doesn’t sit comfortably. I’ve never met just a pretty person. That would never be enough. I’m sure it’s a nice quality to have in addition to several more worldly and superior qualities that are necessary to even qualify as pretty.

To what extent is prettiness a part of your personal style?
I have days when I want to look pretty and sort of softer. It feels very feminine. But then there are days when I really want to be minimal and kind of like a Céline, do-not-come-near-me lady.

When we started planning this week with Wendy Goodman, our design editor, she pointed out that the British are masters of pretty design. Do you agree? And do you think there’s a difference between British aesthetics and American aesthetics?
In terms of interior design, I do think the quintessential kind of British chintz is really pretty: beautiful little china tea sets that have roses on them. Everything is quaint and old. The Old English style is pretty and cozy and I love it. And the Burberry fashion style is quintessentially British in a different way: tweeds and wools and beautiful tailoring and the trench — just so iconically British. In everything from their advertising to the casting of their campaigns, they really stay true to being a quintessential British brand, and I think that resonates with people, in the same way that Ralph Lauren would be very American in my mind.

Would you ever consider making the story of Thomas Burberry into a full-length film?
I would absolutely consider that movie. There were so many surprises. He’s been around for so long, and to see the people that dressed [Sir Ernest Henry] Shackleton and invented the fabric that was waterproof — these are pretty amazing achievements that we take for granted these days. It felt dramatic and compelling; the recipe was there for a good film.

What is Christmas like in your household?
We always aspire to being elegant and organized, like basting the turkey the night before, and everyone just ends up squabbling, a bit pissed, and in pajamas for the whole thing. Pissed tipsy, not pissed angry — English pissed. It’s always chaos in some way, shape, or form. Some people have a fight and then everybody ends up laughing and snuggling up in front of the fire watching old movies. I love how disheveled and chaotic it is, and I love that we always fail at our intention to be together because that’s just not our family, unfortunately.

With the holidays approaching, what is your go-to gift?
I love getting pajamas. I buy people what I like to get, which feels sort of generous in the moment. I gave everybody pajamas last year that were really beautiful and I think make women feel kind of special. For my daughter, maybe a rocking horse would be nice. That just came to me, but honestly I’m that person on Christmas Eve who’s running around crying in a department store. I’d love to say that I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t. So I end up being wildly overgenerous because it’s last minute. I’m good at giving gifts, but I’m not organized.

Do you try and influence your daughter’s style, or do you let her dress herself?
I would really like to have an influence on my daughter, but she literally will not let me anywhere near her wardrobe. I buy her amazing things and I feel like I have great taste for her, and I know that she could look lovely, but she’s very determined about what she wants to wear. It’s a lot of leggings with socks pulled up over the top with miniskirts on top. She has 8,000 layers and funny handbags and she occasionally gets sent swag that makes it into her room, like huge bows in her hair. I just want her in like, scruffy little orphan clothes. It’s a little out-there at the moment, but she’s definitely got an aesthetic. Whether I agree or not, it doesn’t matter.