Childhood and the potent memories of scent return to Styles’ thoughts, via the new Gucci fragrance. “I really like Gucci Mémoire d’une Odeur for its freshness, but also the fact that it adapts and changes according to the person who wears it, which I find amusing,” he says. “It probably reminds me of summer as a child. Being by the lake with my friends, where I grew up, and the smell of wildflowers.” One thinks of Henri Michaux’s famous verse: “Night is not like day; it has a lot of flexibility.”
“Many borders are falling—in fashion, but also in music, films, and art,” Styles declares with excitement. “I don’t think people are still looking for this gender differentiation. Even if the masculine and feminine exist, their limits are the subject of a game. We no longer need to be this or that. I think now, people are just trying to be good. In fashion and other fields, these parameters are no longer as strict as before, and it gives rise to great freedom. It’s stimulating.”
Styles and Michele have formed an organic bond. “If Alessandro doesn’t necessarily ask my opinion, we show each other things,” he explains. “It’s cool to have the opinion of someone who isn’t necessarily in your field, but whose work and taste you respect.”
Styles’ new album heralds a dynamic driven by serious writing discipline and the decision to take total charge of his career. “Songwriting is like surfing,” he says. “You can train as much as you want to get on the board, but sometimes the wave comes and sometimes it doesn’t. And yet, we still need to train to become better. You can’t just sit down and decide to write a song and think you’ve written the best song of your life. It takes a lot of work.”
How does this thoughtful young man, who ten years ago worked in a bakery in a small English town and is now a musical sensation who finds himself the subject of countless fans’ fantasies and smack in the stormy eye of media attention, find serenity? “Celebrity is something I am still learning, experimenting,” he says. “I learn to sort out what I like, what I don’t like, what I’m willing to give in my songs, and what I’m not inclined to share. We have to find a balance. We wonder what people will think of such and such words. And it’s accepting to be vulnerable, but at the same time it’s what makes this whole adventure exciting.”
This palpable excitement runs through the new album. Styles hopes that it expresses “a feeling of freedom.” This same vibe of unapologetic freedom is part of the work of his many role models—Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin, and Prince. “When I look at them, I don’t know what it is, but it’s this, this something special,” he says of how these fellow icons inspire him. “They go beyond the limits. In terms of writing, Paul McCartney has always been a huge influence. I had the chance to meet some of them; they don’t stop being great to me.”
Arriving in a car suited for a massive star (private driver, ice cupboard, tinted windows), Styles departs on foot, with a small team, to drink a beer at the local pub.
The scene brings to mind Styles as a scrappy teenager, in a cardigan too big for his lanky frame, eager to invent himself. As the millennial superstar slowly strolls away, the sweet smell of success lingers: a soft-smelling fragrant mist—the romantic mixture of wildflowers, chamomile, and the dreamy mood of Sunday lunch in the English countryside.