Tallulah Willis Believes In The Healing Power Of A Good Outfit (And Therapy)
Tallulah Willis was still two weeks from being born when she made her first national press appearance, on the Late Show With David Letterman in January 1994. “It’s a special treat. It will be my third girl,” her then-32-year-old mother, Demi Moore said, clad in ’90s cool girl uniform of floral babydoll dress, black Mary Janes, and white ankle socks. “It’s kind of special this time. I don’t know if I’m more in touch, or maybe she’s gifted, but I hear a lot of weird rumbling.” Letterman nuzzled his head against Moore’s stomach. “It’s like a Magic 8-Ball isn’t it?”
Maternal bias aside, the youngest daughter of the Demi Moore/Bruce Willis brood has always had a self-awareness that is rare for Hollywood offspring. “I came into this world being an observer of self and others, and how my behavior affected people,” the 26-year-old tells me on a call earlier this month from her family’s longtime getaway in Sun Valley, Idaho. Her phone voice is a mix of ease and unbridled enthusiasm.
In journalistic and social encounters over the past decade, I’ve watched Willis gracefully navigate her pedigree while her peers pretended to be too cool for their rich and famous parents. As a teenager in 2011, she jumped at the chance to follow in her sister Scout’s footsteps and attend the famed Bal des Débutantes in Paris. There, I saw her take in a scene of international royalty and French socialites with charmingly unpretentious “pinch me” enthusiasm — gleefully smirking, eating cake, dancing with her dad. Running into Willis at various fashion events over the years, her crisp, close-cropped haircuts and vintage clothes stood out in a sea of mermaid-length extensions and trendy cocktail dresses. (“It wasn’t a protest, it wasn’t a statement. I just wanted to be interesting,” she insists.) When I interviewed her about her struggles with substance abuse and self-esteem for Teen Vogue in 2015, she seemed more interested in destigmatizing the issues that put her in a 45-day inpatient program than in doing crisis PR. So it comes as no surprise that her recently launched fashion line, Wyllis, doubles as a platform to advocate for mental health awareness.
“I’ve been very transparent about the impact that my life has had on me. I’ve never had a lack of gratitude for the privileges and the platform it has brought me. Yet the specific nature of having what should have been private made public, and being bullied, has played one of the most paramount roles in my mental health,” she explains.
When we speak, Willis is in a good place both mentally and geographically. As the coronavirus pandemic took hold, her parents (who divorced in 2000); her older sisters, Rumer and Scout; and her boyfriend, film director and photographer Dillon Buss, hunkered down together in idyllic Sun Valley. For a family of distinct personalities, whose big moves and estrangements are breathlessly speculated upon, their shelter-in-place antics of fake mustaches, group art projects, buzz cuts (Bruce gave Tallulah the full G.I. Jane), and matching green and white striped Leveret pajamas (even for her dogs Cowboy and Tooch), were surprisingly relatable.
Quarantined with her family, Willis says, “I was having these feelings where I was like, ‘Am I 10 years old again, or am I an adult?’”
But as weeks faded into months, boundless family time inevitably spawned an all-too-relatable regression into kind of adolescent state. “It’s this double-edged, pointy little sword for anyone who has navigated intimate inter-relationships in shared spaces during the quarantine. When you’re sharing that space, things are coming up in a more activated way. There’s this opportunity to face things head-on that you didn’t want to talk about or deal with,” explains Willis. “I was having these feelings where I was like, ‘Am I 10 years old again, or am I an adult?’”
She dove into fantasy fiction books, online shopping, and early episodes of Fear Factor, and unapologetically took up to four baths a day. Though her quarantine look, for one stretch of weeks, devolved into a printed gauzy robe and nothing else, Willis has long believed personal style can be a tool of self-confidence. “Throughout my mental health journey, clothing has always helped me with my self-identity and the battle of the mirror,” she says. “Outfits can change my mood and make a day elevated, and a little bit brighter, and have helped me figure out what kind of person I am, what kind of adult I am, what kind of woman I am!”
She is ditching the robe (for now) with Wyllis. What started as a line of graphic tees and sweatshirts emblazoned with Willis’ artwork has evolved into a fully realized quirky yet sophisticated vintage-inspired collection. Willis has help from friend and streetwear designer Rachael Finley, who acts as brand manager. “This is just the appetizer of what’s to come for the fall collection,” she explains of the current pieces that include a stretch linen sundress, printed separates, bodysuits, leggings, block heels, and coordinating kids’ wear.
Willis set out to challenge two of the fashion world’s most infamous intimidation factors: size and economic exclusivity. “It wasn’t an afterthought; that ethos was on the table before we even started designing,” she says of the pieces, which range in size from XS to 3X and price from $58 to $275. “I didn’t want to make clothes just for my body. I wanted to make clothes that felt like they were really for as many different bodies as possible. I’ve said this before: If somebody doesn’t like my designs and my clothes, rock on, so be it. Find your own path. But I never want a woman to be like, ‘Oh, I love this, but it doesn’t fit. I can’t afford it.’ [I know] how disappointing it is to walk in somewhere and find this one-of-a-kind beautiful garment, and it’s just not for you. I wanted to do my best to reverse that. I want people to feel genuinely seen and safe, and also not having to sacrifice style.”
If somebody doesn’t like my designs and my clothes, rock on, so be it. Find your own path. But I never want a woman to be like, ‘Oh, I love this, but it doesn’t fit. I can’t afford it.’
Between her trailblazing mother, sisters, stepmother Emma Heming, and two younger half-sisters, the women in Willis’ own life serve as a sounding board for her latest endeavor. “It’s a collaborative feeling. We’re all such unique people with unique needs. I get their insight and perspective on what they love, what things inspire them, what they wear,” she says. It also doesn’t hurt that Willis seeks inspiration (and some pretty righteous hand-me-downs) by pawing through Moore’s fashion archive of collector’s items and celebrated film and red carpet looks, located in a state-of-the-art warehouse in Idaho and meticulously coded by category and date.
“My mom has been an avid collector since she was 16. I love it when I send her something [from Wyllis], and she’s like, ‘That’s great!’ Many of the pieces I [designed] got the ‘Demi Moore seal of approval’ on, and that is amazing. Because, look, she’s my mom, but she’s also my icon. I’m like, ‘Your opinion is God to me.’”
Launching a company during a global pandemic and time of racial and political upheaval has taken a certain amount of tact and intention on Willis’ part. “My meditative mantra was: Slow is fast. Let’s pause, be thoughtful. Let’s not act impulsively, let’s not be manic or frantic,” she explains. “Early in the pandemic, I chose to pause on all promotion of the brand on social because it felt inappropriate to be pushing things when there was just such a collective grief happening and a real fear.” The launch of the current collection was postponed after the latest wave of Black Lives Matter protests began. “We didn’t want to clutter or take away from all the incredible information, educational tools, and the resources that were coming in for the Black community, and for the white community to learn from.”
As part of its commitment to mental health awareness, Wyllis will donate 10% of the proceeds from its collection for one month to The Loveland Foundation. Founded by writer and activist Rachel Cargle, the organization provides access to therapy and healing to communities of color, especially Black women and girls. Willis has also been donating to the foundation in the names of all the influencers and A-listers who are being gifted Wyllis pieces. “I’ve had the privilege of real access to therapy and professional support throughout times in my life... I think the work that Loveland is doing is so crucial and profound.”
Back in 2015, a 20-year-old Willis confided in me that she had been “a big tornado of doubt, of self-hate, uncomfortable in my own skin” since she was 11 years old. She spoke candidly about her mental health at a time when A-listers like Kendall Jenner, Chrissy Teigen, and Prince Harry had yet to be so public discussing their struggles. I’m curious where she stands today with her ongoing battle with body dysmorphia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and dissociative outbursts.
“I have deep scars on me that are still not fully healed. These wounds can still be opened and are present, and they affect how I live my life. I would say that it is an ongoing evolving process. It’s not 100% clean, wrapped up in a bow. But I am the closest to my authentic self that I’ve ever been, and that took massive amounts of work,” she says unapologetically.
She credits herself for asking for help and feels lucky to have received it. “Not just from family and friends, but from real professionals. They have helped me move through a lot of old narratives that were blocking me from celebrating myself and to see my success or even wanting to reach success.” Acutely aware of the privileged nature of her upbringing, she says, “I had such immense guilt that I should not ‘complain’ and that paralyzed me, and created a feeling of unworthiness that I should just curl up in a ball and hide from the world and not try.” Wyllis’s greater purpose — the brand ethos and mental health advocacy — gives her a platform to forge her own identity and, most importantly, pay it forward. “Recovery and self-compassion are attainable,” she says. As this Magic 8-Ball states, It is certain.
Photographer: Tory Rust assisted by Dillon Buss
Hair: Tallulah Willis
Makeup: Amy Oresman
Fashion Director: Tiffany Reid
VP of Creative: Karen Hibbert