I think it was the moment Julia Fox did a make-up tutorial for her signature “Black Swan after five bumps and a bottle of Gordon’s” look that I realised we were witnessing history. Specifically, the moment she accidentally smears black powder all over her cheek, huffs “I’m done”, and walks off for a bit before coming back to try again.
The video is shambolic, unedited, awkwardly framed like a nan getting to grips with Zoom. On the surface, yes, it’s a woman spending 17 minutes quite badly applying eyeshadow like she’s in a tent at Boomtown getting ready in a phone camera. But it’s also a lightning in a bottle moment; a temperature check on the direction of celebrity in general.
Muse to Josh Safdie, Kanye West and the person who popularised “goblin mode”, Julia Fox has become the defining figure of this particularly lawless era of pop culture. Thanks to a lot of moments that would be completely insignificant if it wasn’t for her personality, her name hasn’t had a day out of the headlines all year. Julia Fox declaring her unfinished memoir “a masterpiece, if I do say so myself”; Julia Fox delivering a slurred rendition of “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey while her one-year-old son cries in the background; Julia Fox pronouncing words weirdly (“Uncuh Jams”, “it looks like iiiiiiit”), which becomes news because when Julia Fox pronounces words weirdly it’s funny and iconic, whereas anyone else pronouncing words weirdly is sad and embarrassing; Julia Fox then telling everyone to leave her alone because she was stoned at the time (she is stoned a lot, it seems).
She’s an It-Girl in the most faithful sense, ascending out of the blue from cult name to fashion icon, red carpet staple and one-woman headline generator for every publication from Just Jared to Vogue. Then of course there’s the origin of her come-up in the first place: a highly publicised date night with Kanye West, which she set the narrative of by blogging about it herself.
Since then, Fox’s name has snowballed towards omnipresence. Every public appearance dressed like an aristocrat on their way to Berghain has spurred more headlines, every headline has spurred more memes, and every meme has contributed to her mythology. Every day, a new question swirls around Fox like Dorothy’s belongings in the tornado that whisked her to Oz. Was Julia Fox and Kanye West’s relationship real? Is Julia Fox joining Real Housewives of New York? Julia Fox pairs a slashed-in-half dress with… dishwashing gloves?
Of course, she’s in on it all – the memes, the attention. It’s a symbiotic relationship with an audience that reality TV stars pioneered, playing the roles of the observed and the observer simultaneously, but is now integrating itself more naturally into the lives of anyone in the public eye. If Julia Fox’s name hasn’t had a day out of the news all year, it’s because she hasn’t let it.
Until 2021, Fox had a kind of pin-up-adjacent girl next door vibe going on. She was often pictured sipping Coca-Cola through a straw with a soft bob, or uploading personal photos to Instagram captioned with poetic mini-essays detailing a specific childhood memory or a trip to Nebraska. Model meets Americana; Anna Nicole Smith by way of Lana Del Rey. Before her breakout role in Uncut Gems, she was a dominatrix, the co-founder of a “sexy knitwear” brand, a downtown New York party girl. She’s a celebrity with a history, a person with star quality whose life didn’t necessarily point in the direction of fame, and this comes through in most things she does.
The magic of Julia Fox is that she can straddle all worlds simultaneously. Legacy publications love her for her acting credentials and genuinely intriguing style, and tabloids love her for smashing their traffic targets every time she hacks up a pair of jeans into a bag and a boob tube to create “an ensemble”. When we talk about her online or through memes, it’s mostly with goodwill because she toes the rare line between relatability (making genuinely hideous eyeshadow your “thing” – very indie sleaze) and the kind of absurd, maximalist behaviour that only people with access to certain circles of society can get away with (claiming to date West just to "give people something to talk about" during the pandemic).
At a time when Lady Gaga mostly spends her time belting out jazz standards in a respectable gown, Julia Fox arrives at the function with bleary eyes and a dress that is quite literally choking her. When “eat the rich” is the political mantra du jour, Julia Fox reinforces her allegiance to dating billionaires. While born-into-it moguls like Kim Kardashian and Molly-Mae are alienating people with meritocratic messaging about working hard, Fox does the opposite by describing owning a Birkin bag (a birthday gift from West) as “anxiety-inducing” and “a lot of pressure”.
For all the talk about “relatable” celebrities over the last decade, the meaning of it has been lost in translation. “Relatable” has become synonymous with having broadly progressive opinions, or doing ~crazy things like “eating a Big Mac in bed” that are so mundane they become absolutely meaningless – but relatability is more ephemeral than that. What we’re interested in is the serendipity of someone’s ascent and the candid way in which they handle themselves in the spotlight. We’re looking for someone whose behaviour and tastes are familiar enough to feel on a level, while also knowing there’s something unique about them that attracts the spotlight.
We’re not looking for saviours, we’re looking for good performers – and, much like Doja Cat or Robert Pattinson, Julia Fox is one of them. “Celebrities are not that fucking important,” she told The Cut back in February. “You can tell us about your stupid fucking date. We’re in a pandemic. Give people something to talk about. Do your fucking service, do your job.”
So far, this year has a mischievous air about it. There is a tense, unsettled atmosphere that typically gathers before a storm or Curry’s opening their doors on Black Friday. Traditionally big events like the Oscars, the Grammys and Glastonbury are happening properly for the first time since 2019, but something feels off; a certain combination of futility and intensity, a push-pull of entertainment and morality that causes a slap to define the news cycle for over a week.
Perhaps it’s because we’re all desperate for the relief of normality but still apprehensive about it, oscillating between flashes of optimism and moments of shell-shocked solemnity. Perhaps pop culture is having an identity crisis. After two years of mass anxiety and dread, who knows how things will shake out. It’s a mesmerising sort of chaos, really, not unlike “Uncuh Jams” itself. And in the midst of it all, stroking a bag made of human hair like a criminal mastermind, is Julia Fox.