Petra Collins on Her Gucci Flora Shoot and Working With Miley
Miley Mania is still raging on here at Interview. Today, our Fall 2021 cover star is basking in the sweet scent of Gucci Flora Gorgeous Gardenia—as captured in the brand’s lush, botanical fantasy campaign— which we celebrated in our recent limited edition zine. The director and photographer of said campaign is none other than the visionary artist and filmmaker Petra Collins. There is a bit of Totally Spies, Hannah Montana, and Hungarian children’s cartoons for this “girly, surreal, and fantastical” project, which was born out of Collins’ long-time relationship with Gucci (and a budding friendship with Miley). To mark the launch, Collins spoke with our editor in chief, Mel Ottenberg, about working with Miley, striking the right balance of cute and psychotic, and finding Halloween costume inspiration.
MEL OTTENBERG: So, let’s get into it. Hey Petra, when did you first work with Miley?
PETRA COLLINS: I first worked with her on this Gucci shoot, actually. I’ve been dying to work with her forever, and that was the first time we even met.
OTTENBERG: I think you and I talked about this, but we both have wanted to shoot her for forever.
COLLINS: Yes! I remember. I was always like, “Can we shoot Miley?”
OTTENBERG: And I’d be like, “I know, right?” I thought she was great.
COLLINS: She is. I was definitely a huge Miley fan before and I really don’t get starstruck by anyone, but she’s such an insane presence. You’re like, “This is literally a star.” I was blown away by her. Also, working with her was like getting to see a free concert, which was amazing. Her voice is to die for. She would sing some Dolly Parton and I would basically die.
OTTENBERG: I’ve always been a fan, but I’m a real fucking fan now.
COLLINS: Same! She’s a professional star. She’s so talented and is the most polite and amazing person on set. The easiest, most fun person to work with. It’s rare.
OTTENBERG: Thank you, Miley.
COLLINS: Yeah, really.
OTTENBERG: This Yelp review is…
OTTENBERG: Very positive. Ok, so what was the collaboration process like between you and Miley?
COLLINS: Right before Gucci Flora, I hit her up and was like, “I would love to do something with you,” and then it happened. I ended up getting her number and texting her and we just bounced stuff off each other. We’re similar. She gets it and I get it. We have a similar vibe. It felt like we went back in time and I was an actual director and she was an actual movie star. She takes direction, but she’s collaborative, too.
OTTENBERG: Right. She’s giving child star, but also someone that’s so at ease and cool in their body. The rad thing about working with people who were child stars is that they’re fast and confident and know how to do all their shit. But it’s also cool when someone is just really comfortable and knows what they’re doing.
COLLINS: It’s funny, too, because we’re the same age. I grew up on Hannah Montana, so I watched her grow as I also grew.
OTTENBERG: That’s fantastic. Let’s talk about the creative for this, the whole anime fantasy. What was your psychotic vision here?
COLLINS: There’s obviously anime influence, but we always wanted it to feel like a ‘90s psycho sitcom. It is a bit like Sabrina the Teenage Witch. That’s how I described it to her.
OTTENBERG: I see it.
COLLINS: We’re also taking everything that we grew up with as well, and making it surreal and fun.
OTTENBERG: To me, it’s like “Black Hole Sun” and to you guys, it’s more like Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I’m seeing exaggerated domestic bliss.
COLLINS: Exactly! Also, both her and I lean a little masculine. It’s fun for us to play with this idea of femininity. It’s hyper-feminine and hyper pink. Her voice is low and smoky and she likes to go more rock & roll and dark. It was so fun and subversive for us to play into all the stuff we grew up with. There is a bit of Hannah Montana and Totally Spies.
OTTENBERG: Wait, what’s Totally Spies?
COLLINS: It was an animated show when she and I were young. It was a show for young girls. It was about these three spies, super poppy and colorful. That was a big reference. I also grew up on these Hungarian folk cartoons from the ‘70s and ‘80s that were so psychedelic and crazy, but they were for children.
OTTENBERG: I mean, wow. The things I missed. Are those things that you’re always turning to for inspiration? Is there one thing that you’re doing on this one where you’re like, “It’s my go-to 2021. It’s my spot.”
COLLINS: I think my go-to of 2021 were those Hungarian folk tales.
OTTENBERG: I love it.
COLLINS: I’m gonna text you this video.
OTTENBERG: I need to know. [Gets text] Oh my god, this is insane. I’m watching. It’s incredible. Ok, wow, wow, wow. Ok. I see it now. It’s twisted and I’m very with it. Hey Petra, describe this fragrance in three words.
COLLINS: Girly, surreal, and fantastical.
OTTENBERG: I think that that’s this and that’s you, man. That’s you in a motherfuckin’ three-word nutshell, no?
COLLINS: [Laughs] Yeah.
OTTENBERG: Petra, you’ve been working with the brand as a model, director, and photographer since 2016. That’s actually really cool. I met you in 2013 and it’s cool that they caught on to you in 2016 and they’ve been so supportive which is so great.
COLLINS: It’s crazy. Kudos to them because they really find people when they’re at the beginning of their careers. It’s important, instead of waiting for someone to get to a certain place. They put so much trust in me so early. It’s been so fun and such a dream. Everything that I get to do with them is always like balls to the wall crazy. I’ve got to go to so many crazy places to shoot. I have nothing bad to say.
OTTENBERG: Where was this shot? Malibu?
COLLINS: Yeah, and then at a historic Victorian house somewhere in L.A.
OTTENBERG: Are there fires there?
COLLINS: Yeah, it’s fire season.
OTTENBERG: I know, and I’m coming there on Friday for the Gucci thing. We’re gonna hang out.
COLLINS: I’m so excited.
OTTENBERG: What are you wearing right now?
COLLINS: I’m wearing a Russian red t-shirt from the airport and Levi’s jeans. Then I took a scrunchie and put it on my foot for some reason.
OTTENBERG: Sounds thrilling. What color is the scrunchie?
COLLINS: It’s black.
OTTENBERG: It sounds very Gucci Flora Gorgeous Gardenia, I think. What else should we talk about? What are you wearing for Halloween?
COLLINS: I’m doing Lana.
OTTENBERG: Oh my god. What album cycle?
COLLINS: Remember when she wore that red Ferrari jacket?
OTTENBERG: Yes, I think this is Ultraviolence music festival Lana.
COLLINS: I’m doing three costumes. I love Halloween so much.
OTTENBERG: What are the other costumes?
COLLINS: So, Lana, Cicciolina, and then a character from my fairytale book.
OTTENBERG: Oh my god. Hot.
COLLINS: The last one is gonna be really fun. I have these scaly boobs I’m going to wear. Also, when people get struck by lightning, they get this really insane botanical pattern on their skin so I’m gonna do that too.
COLLINS: My vibe is always: ran away from the compound, fallen angel.
OTTENBERG: I love those things. I don’t have an outfit planned. I’m at one of those Halloween moments where I’m so busy that I think of Halloween as an excuse to hide in the Sunset Tower.
COLLINS: You know what I was about to text you? Your Bob costume.
OTTENBERG: The Bob costume is great and I could always go back to it.
COLLINS: It’s why I have it screenshotted on my phone.
OTTENBERG: I’m actually wearing the full Bob outfit right now. A black t-shirt, Levis, Levis denim jacket, and a brown leather jacket. All I need is that fucking wig. Well, thank you for the inspiration. Maybe I’ll be Bob and maybe you’ll invite me to go to some cool Halloween party with people from your generation.
COLLINS: [Laughs] Yes.
OTTENBERG: So I’m going to be Bob. You’re going to be a fairytale fantasy struck by lightning and Lana 2014 Ultraviolence and Cicciolina. Hot.
COLLINS: That’s a lot.
OTTENBERG: I mean, it’s a lot, but you know what? One needs to express oneself as part of the fantasy way that one envisions.
COLLINS: Thank you.
OTTENBERG: When you go to the Gucci event, will you be wearing Gucci Flora Gorgeous Gardenia?
COLLINS: Yes, I will be. The outfit I’m gonna wear is very me in high school. That style’s coming back around now. I’ll text it to you.
OTTENBERG: What year did you graduate from high school?
COLLINS: Maybe 2011.
OTTENBERG: Oh, dude. That time period is 100% coming back. That’s my time period being your age in New York City. I’m super into it.
COLLINS: Wait, this is me when I was 15.
OTTENBERG: Oh, I can’t wait for this text to come through.
COLLINS: I would just wear full lace.
OTTENBERG: [Gets text] Wow. Good for you, Petra! All right, well I love you and I hope to see you this weekend. I don’t even know what the Gucci thing is, I’m just psyched to go to L.A. and see people.
COLLINS: It’s gonna be at the Chinese Theater. It’s gonna be major fun Hollywood vibe.
OTTENBERG: I was thinking it was gonna be a Hollywood Walk of Fame vibe.
COLLINS: It is. They’re walking down it. That’s the runway.
OTTENBERG: That’s hot.
COLLINS: They’re gonna walk out of the theater and down the street. They donated a million dollars to fight homelessness in Los Angeles. Only a brand can do that.
OTTENBERG: It’s really cool to be giving back to the city. That’s cool.
COLLINS: Also, the Hollywood Walk of Fame is the perfect vibe for that 2014 era.
OTTENBERG: 100%. We’re coming for it. See you this weekend.