The utterly contagious enthusiasm of the actress Margaret Qualley.

Volume 6
Photography CASS BIRD

Stretch lace bodysuit and silk pants.

In Margaret Qualley's New York apartment, you will find a couch, a table, four dining chairs, a bed with a frame, and, she points out with beyond normal excitement, "many a lamp!" This may not seem like a big deal, but then you are probably used to living with those sorts of things. She is not. 

Until recently, "I had a mattress on the ground and one lamp and a cardboard box I'd use as a table," says Qualley, seated side-saddle on a bench in Tompkins Square Park on a balmy July afternoon. She pulls up pictures on her phone as proof, swiping through scenes of an airy and empty light-filled apartment, overturned cardboard box primly set with breakfast for one, napkin folded, fork on the correct side. 

Silk muslin tunic. Stylist's own lace socks.

Cotton jumpsuit, cardigan and metal & lambskin belt.

This had been her life since she first came to the city at 16 to study ballet, and for a while such living represented independence, not to mention a certain bohemian splendor that will be familiar to lots of young New Yorkers. Sure she was a bright young thing with a famous mom (that would be '90s rom-com icon Andie MacDowell) but Qualley was raised in Montana and North Carolina, not Hollywood, and was perfectly happy making her own oatmeal and eating it while sitting on the floor. But a decade in, the living situation was becoming, she says, a little embarrassing. At 26, she was no longer a student but an Emmy nominated actress ("Fosse/Verdon") who'd just made a big splash in a Tarantino movie ( Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood). The older and more accomplished you are, the more it seems people expect a place to sit when they come over. "So I've taken the past few months to change my ways, because I was like, you're becoming an asshole for being like this," Qualley says. "You are too old and you're doing too okay to have no couch."

Chanel Fall/Winter 2021: Haute Couture coat and pants

To be clear, Qualley is doing more than okay. There's her busy and buzzing career, and her supporting and loving, if inconveniently spread-out, family (her mother and sister live in LA, her brother in Montana, her father in Panama). Add to that her newish relationship with what she calls her "Chanel family," for whom she did a runway turn in Paris in early July. It's no small thing, walking in a Chanel couture show--let alone the first Chanel couture show post-quarantine. "I had mad butterflies," she says (she means "mad" the '90s skater way). "I've seen how much time and care and love and thought and precise detail goes into these dresses. Wearing these things feels like a real privilege." The job was also harder than she thought it would be. "There was a high heel, there were very many layers of tulle...there were stairs!" And an audience. "The truth of the matter is that I did kind of trip," Qualley admits. "But I caught myself, and I burst out laughing, and so that's what you see in the pictures: me smiling so much, because I'm like--" here she burst into a sing-song, one of many voices she uses in our conversation to impersonate this person or that, or express the requisite oomph to really get her point across--"I just fell! Please don't notice that! Look at my face instead! Or something...!" It worked. The images that went around the world revealed a beaming Qualley looking every bit designer Virginie Viard's blushing Chanel bride in a long-sleeved scoop-backed gown and veiled pill-box hat.

Stretch lace bodysuit. Beauty note: UV Essentiel Complete Protection Antioxidant Anti-Pollution Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50.

Clockwise from top: Iridescent grained calfskin handbag, gradient metallic calfskin bucket bag and hammered metallic calfskin handbags.

Part of that grace under pressure may come down to her training as a dancer. While she preferred the Dance Moms-style competitions she participated in as a kid in North Carolina, with their distinctly "NASCAR vibe," ballet, she says, seemed like the "classy" progression from that scene. "But the thing is, I loved dancing like that, I fucking loved it," she says, recalling trips to Myrtle Beach with her dad and sister Rainey for the Showstopper finals where everyone just danced their butts off. "It was so much fun. Really. It was some of the best times of my life."

We will all get to see Qualley dancing her butt off when she appears as Ginger Rogers opposite Jamie Bell (of Billy Elliot fame) in the upcoming feature film Fred & Ginger. Why does a dance movie feel so right, right now? "I've been thinking a lot about this particular moment we're in," Qualley says. "Cynicism and the idea of being 'cool' is just so not attractive anymore. And there's nothing less cynical than a musical. Dancing is just so unabashedly pure and daring and somewhat embarrassing in the best way."

Chanel Fall/Winter 2021 Haute Couture dress.

Her latest project, Netflix's "Maid", is more downbeat. Inspired by the best-selling 2018 memoir by Stephanie Land, Qualley's Alex is trying to make ends meet as a single mom and a house cleaner. But the silver lining for Qualley was the opportunity to work with her mom, who has several scene stealing moments as Alex's psychologically unbalanced and deeply irresponsible mother in the series. "I will say probably one of the most special moments of the entire shoot was one of the later episodes," Qualley says. "I'm sitting across the table from my mom and she's telling me she's proud of me, and she's crying. And I know that she was saying it for real. I'll never forget that."

And then there's that lamp-filled apartment. She flips her phone to a picture of her sister, "my best friend in the entire world," snuggled up on that plump new sofa, positioned underneath her housewarming gift, a large wall-mounted trophy fish. "Now I have a full, normal apartment. I can have people over and they can sit on chairs if they would like, or a couch. That feels really good." She's left a big open space in the living room so that every morning when she wakes up she can dance for fifteen minutes to her favorite music, played loud. Really, she says, more than acclaim, awards, or major acting roles, "I feel like my big goal in life is to get as close to the person I was when I first came into the planet." Smart money says she'll get there, dancing all the way.

Stretch silk crepe bodysuit. Stylist's own lace socks.