MILAN — From her hotel room, Julia Fox could look out the window and see Versace. This was amusing to her.
“As I just said the word ‘Versace,’ I read ‘Versace,’’’ she said, leaning back in her pebbled leather armchair, staring at the building-size billboard a mile away that marked the brand’s headquarters.
Inside this room, Ms. Fox was becoming a human-size billboard, wearing a Versace bathrobe and Versace slippers, one hand within reach of a Versace bedazzled travel cup with an attached straw (though she only really sipped on her pink disposable vape pen).
She closed her eyes, and a makeup artist named Daniel Kolaric resumed his work. While Ms. Fox sat in her cream-colored chair in her cream-colored room, he was turning her eyelids into two charcoal voids.
He circled and shaded, forming a shape far beyond the limits of what might be called, in polite society, a “smoky eye.” This dark, smudged look had become a signature of Ms. Fox’s around late January, when her attendance at a few Parisian couture fashion shows flooded social media. While posing for photos, she would heighten the effect with an alert, slightly bulging gaze. Her team called it the “Fox eye.”
Now Ms. Fox was at Milan Fashion Week, preparing to sit in the front row at Versace’s fashion show. The Italian brand had put her up in this luxury hotel, where she was booked under an alias that sounded like a name from Old Hollywood.
Though professionally an actress, Ms. Fox, 32, began playing the role of living fashion advertisement earlier this year. Between Dec. 31 and Jan. 6, she had become the new love interest and fixation of Kanye West, gradually absorbing the same kind of hypnotic and polarizing presence as Mr. West himself.
There are people, now, who will sigh deeply when they see Ms. Fox has given another interview. (Two were released the week that news of the breakup broke, though both were conducted before the split.) But Ms. Fox remains largely unbothered by her critics, she said, or by the caricature she has become online.
“It’s not real,” she said. “It’s only happening on the internet. I’m not actively engaging with it. I don’t feel it. I’m still 1,000 percent me. Nothing’s changed, except, I will say, having been around Kanye was like a crash course on how to be famous.”
To get the gory details out of the way: Ms. Fox said she broke up with Mr. West, but it was amicable. They had spent only about 15 days together, she estimated, when factoring in work, family and travel obligations.
“I tried my best to make it work,” she said. “I already had a jam-packed life. How do I fit this really big personality into this already full life? It just wasn’t sustainable. I lost like 15 pounds in that month.”
Were they exclusive as a couple? “I don’t think so,” she said.
Was the relationship real, or faked for publicity? “I mean, there were definitely elements of it that were real.”
What about the rumor that she had undergone interviews to be his girlfriend? “Ridiculous.” Did she ever sign anything, like a nondisclosure agreement? “No.”
Were they, as Ms. Fox previously said on the podcast “Call Her Daddy,” really referring to each other as “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”?
“I don’t think those words ever came out of my mouth, actually,” she said (though they did, on the podcast). “It definitely felt like I was his girlfriend. But it also felt like I was being cast in the role of his girlfriend — and he was casting me. He was the orchestrator of it all. It really did feel like a movie.”
Is she ever concerned that Mr. West might publicly air details of their personal lives or private communications on Instagram, as he’s done with other exes, friends and family members?
“I don’t think that he would want to open that door with me,” she said. “If you come for me, I’m going to come for you. And I’m really good at coming for people. I just go straight for the jugular. I don’t think he would be dumb enough to do that.”
The truth is, Ms. Fox was ready to be famous a few years before she started dating Mr. West. She had plans to blow up in 2020, with a team and strategy in place at the time of her breakthrough role in “Uncut Gems” opposite Adam Sandler.
But like a lot of people who made plans in late 2019, she felt derailed by the pandemic.
Instead, in 2020, she got pregnant, giving birth to a son, Valentino, in 2021. (She and his father are divorced.) Another movie, Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move,” was released in the summer of 2021, but that role also didn’t usher in the career boost she’d envisioned.
So, when she got together with Mr. West around New Year’s, “I was ready to re-enter society,” she said. He helped her do that, and it felt like a reset button on her career had been pushed. She is shooting a number of new projects this year, including films directed by Tony Kaye and Tommy Dorfman, she said.
There are still some shades of bitterness around the breakup, but there is also a lot of gratitude. Ms. Fox credited Mr. West with some of her new relationships in fashion. For example, he helped arrange her appearance at Diesel, another splashy fashion show in Milan, earlier in the week.
Ultimately she said she learned from Mr. West, whom she calls “the ultimate stunt queen.”
“Look at the big picture,” she said. “That was amazing for me. The exposure was priceless.”
“But I do think eventually I’ll surpass the Kanye narrative. Believe it or not, Kanye’s not the most interesting thing that’s ever happened to me.”
There’s another reason Ms. Fox hasn’t been too distraught over her TMZ news alert-level breakup. While she was in Milan, a close friend died of an overdose.
The day after the Versace show, Ms. Fox flew back to New York, first to attend a wedding, then a funeral (for another friend’s spouse), then to pick up her friend’s body at the morgue.
Though Ms. Fox was born in Milan, about two miles away from the hotel where she was interviewed, she moved to New York to live with her father around age 6. Her mother stayed in Italy, and Ms. Fox regularly returned to visit, even attending school in Como for a time.
Growing up in New York, she spent a lot of time in the East Village, especially on rowdy St. Marks Place. It was there, when she was 14, that she met one of her current stylists and best friends, Briana Andalore.
As teenagers, they were drawn to each other’s blind confidence and readiness to scheme, scam and steal. “I would do anything to get into a club,” said Ms. Andalore, who traveled with Ms. Fox to Milan. “We always just knew what we wanted.”
Around this time, Ms. Fox’s personal style (“dominatrix couture,” she calls it) began taking shape; she worked briefly as a dominatrix at a Manhattan dungeon, she said.
Then, in her early 20s, she and Ms. Andalore started a fashion line, Franziska Fox, finding moderate success with cutouts and cat suits, similar to those dominating runways and sites like Fashion Nova today, they pointed out. (At the time, Franziska Fox was even sold at Dash, the clothing store once owned by the Kardashians.)
Ms. Fox also pursued art when she was in her mid-20s, releasing two books of photography (both grimy, druggie, emotionally intimate and sexually explicit) and exhibiting paintings made using her own blood.
This all was a lot of life to live before the age of 30 — not that Ms. Fox always wanted to be living it.
She said that she struggled with drug abuse for years, on and off, but she stopped using pills and opiates in March 2019. Later that year, when a close friend had an overdose, Ms. Fox said she was officially “scared straight.”
Ms. Fox can still be found on the downtown Manhattan social circuit, vaping from one of two pens (weed or “guava ice” flavored nicotine, since she gave up Newport 100s). But her circumstances have undeniably changed, along with the social status, job opportunities and attitudes of her inner circle. Her other stylist-friend Peri Rosenzweig couldn’t come to Milan because she’d been asked to help with Mr. West’s “Donda 2” listening party in Miami.
At a raucous dinner party for Ms. Fox’s 32nd birthday at Lucien in the East Village, Mr. West gave Hermès Birkin bags to her and four friends, including Ms. Rosenzweig and Ms. Andalore.
The bags start at $10,000, and he picked each variant based on the recipient’s personality: Ms. Fox got an ostrich leather bag in black; Ms. Andalore, who is somewhat guarded and suffers no fools, received an indigo bag that appears to change color depending on the light.
But almost a month later, Ms. Andalore said she hasn’t carried hers yet. Ms. Fox carried the Birkin for just a few days before it went back in the box.
“I don’t know if you know about owning a Birkin when you’re not a rich person, but it’s like the most anxiety-inducing thing ever,” Ms. Fox said. “You’re checking on the Birkin, making sure it’s still there, that it didn’t magically grow wings. It’s scary to have a Birkin. It’s a lot of pressure.”
‘I take it as a compliment.’
“The world is going to be gagged,” Ms. Andalore said to Ms. Fox in the hotel room. “Do you love?”
Ms. Fox’s makeup was now finished, her eyes two bright marbles emerging from small piles of ash. Her hair had been pulled back into a slick, tight, high ponytail wrapped with “pleasure tape.”
The tape snaked a few feet beyond where Ms. Fox’s hair ended, effectively turning the ponytail into a whip that dragged slightly on the floor. The top curve of the ponytail felt as solid as a bicycle’s handlebar.
“I never heard about pleasure tape,” the hair stylist said, applying gel with a brush to her scalp.
“It’s also called bondage tape,” Ms. Andalore said.
Ms. Fox was running a little behind, which made her anxious. She stripped naked and, with Ms. Andalore’s help, started pulling on the all-black outfit that Versace had lent her for the night.
They moved as quickly as two people could while wrangling human flesh into a tight latex midi-skirt. The top of the skirt hit the center of Ms. Fox’s pelvis, from which two thin straps extended in a wide V-shape up around her hips, connecting across her lower back. The matching top was sleeveless and cropped, with a high neck and asymmetric cutout over the cleavage.
By the time Ms. Fox left the room and descended to the lobby, where photographers were visible through the hotel’s revolving doors, Ms. Andalore realized something was off.
“One glove, Julia?” she said, somewhat exasperated, helping Ms. Fox into her missing elbow-length latex glove.
When the host asked Ms. Fox if she would consider herself Mr. West’s muse, she responded: “Yeah! A little, maybe. I mean, I was Josh Safdie’s muse when he wrote ‘Uncut Gems.’” But “Uncut Gems” was delivered with deep-fried up-speak, sounding more like “uncah jahmz” — at least to the thousands of TikTokers who’ve since parodied the moment.
In the van, Ms. Fox tried to recreate it, but couldn’t quite nail the impression of herself. Her manager, Kendall Werts, came closest.
Ms. Fox finds the TikToks “funny and hilarious,” she said. “People have told me that I have, like, an A.S.M.R. singsong-y way of talking that people could get potentially lost in a trance listening to, so I take it as a compliment.”
Arriving backstage, Ms. Fox was greeted by Donatella Versace, and they hugged and exchanged words in Italian. Ms. Versace was also wearing a full latex look, accessorized with her own bedazzled travel cup with attached straw.