Maya Hawke just turned 24. That means she isn’t old enough to have really experienced the golden age of Y2K teen movies, but she did recently star in Do Revenge, a Netflix film that referenced pretty much all of them. She’s too young to have lived through the heyday of Hollywood legends like Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, both of whom were the subjects of her dad Ethan Hawke’s most recent documentary, The Last Movie Stars, but she did give him tips on the framing. And she was born six years after Kate Moss’s iconic 1992 Calvin Klein ads ushered in a new wave of more-raw-less-glam sex appeal, but she did just star in the brand’s latest underwear campaign.
Forget being wise beyond your years. Hawke’s recent projects may feel nostalgic, but one of her talents appears to be looking at the past with fresh eyes. “The temptation to try to be somebody else, or to try these things that are already proven to work, is so strong,” she says in an interview. “But I’ve tried, and I’ve failed. So I just have to figure out how to work with whatever the thing is that is me.”
To be a member of Gen Z is to be raised by the Internet and its infinite references, and to assume you will be able to find anything about anybody at any given time, like, ever. But despite that, and despite her famous parents (her mother is Uma Thurman), Hawke is working hard to carve out a space that feels personal. “Rather than pursuing someone else’s perfect coolness that they had in that time, you can find your own, based on the inspiration and that feeling.”
Of course, that doesn’t stop people from drawing comparisons, especially when they’re creating photographs inspired by the ones that are practically etched into the backs of our brains. “There were moments when we were shooting the campaign and people held up those images [of Kate Moss] to me, and they were like, ‘We want it to look like this!’” Hawke says. “And I was like, ‘Yeah … of course, you do.’ Everyone wants everything to look like that! That’s perfection!”
There’s one shot in the campaign that seems to reference Moss pulling up her Calvin Klein bra in her second campaign for the brand in 1993. (On Calvin Klein’s instagram, Hawke commented on that very photo: “Thank you for having me guys. This one is my favorite,” followed by a heart emoji.) The pose is similar, but Hawke’s photo still feels different. Moss is a bit demure in hers. She’s turned to the side as if she’s trying to stay slightly out of view, fingers peeking through the top of her bra in a very “Will I or won’t I take it off?” manner. But in the shot of Hawke, she is photographed straight on. Her arms are crossed over her chest, shoulders back, her mouth slightly open like she’s about to say, “This is all you’re going to get.” She has on men’s boxers, the fabric puddling around her right hip.
Hawke says the idea wasn’t on the original shot list. It was something she dreamed up with photographer Gray Sorrenti (whose father, Mario Sorrenti, famously shot the 1993 Calvin Klein campaign of his then-girlfriend Moss.) “I love wearing those boy boxers to go to sleep,” she says. “And it was like, ‘Why don’t we try to capture this way I authentically feel really sexy?’” The image took only minutes to capture, because it was the kind of look Hawke puts on where her “confidence is just there.”
But maybe it’s also that she’s an actress, and the boxers helped her tell a story. “That boxer look implies one of two different things,” she explains. “Either it’s the kind of underwear you like to wear, or you’re wearing someone else’s underwear and you’re with somebody you love and trust, and it’s playful and free.”
Her generation loves—and sometimes demands—authenticity. And Hawke’s photo feels as authentic as it comes in the slightly outré way the youth of today prefers, as they try to redefine what it means to be sexy in exceedingly unsexy times. “I remember really wanting to figure out what it meant to be sexy as a teenager,” Hawke says, listing out different archetypes like sexy starter packs. “There’s the Victoria's Secret sexy. And then, there’s your mother’s lingerie … like, La Perla sexy. And then, there’s Calvin Klein sexy—and that’s the only brand I saw that was the kind of sexy I wanted to be.”
These days, it’s “core” this and “core” that, but Calvin Klein has remained a bastion of sensual simplicity. Hawke attributes that to its intimacy. “It feels like it’s for you, not for somebody else,” she says. “And it feels bedroom-y and casual in a way that just doesn’t die. That kind of sexy that is bedroom-y, personal, for-you sexy. It’s always going to be cool in a way that performative sexiness, which has its moments, can’t be. It just doesn’t last in the same way.”
When I try to suggest that maybe decades in the future, people will ask models to re-create her own photos the way they’ve tried to re-create Kate Moss’s, she’s skeptical. “Oh, I just don’t know!” she exclaims. “There is an iconic quality to some people and the way that their image kind of shifts the cultural eye in terms of what is beautiful, and I don’t think you can know whether or not you’re making something like that. I think if you’re aspiring to make that, you’ll inherently fail. You just have to try to be yourself and see what lasts.”
But like the coyness of Moss’s Calvin Klein campaign, the “for you” sexiness of Hawke’s feels like the kind that might linger in your mind for years, long after your memories of the trendy aesthetics of this era fade.