This is me, aged 12, on the beach. I’m wearing a pair of black trousers and a black buttoned-down shirt with the the collar popped up. I was living in a small town in the north-west of the US, nobody else looked like me, especially at that age, and I tried diligently to not fit in. When we moved to the US [from Italy], my mother suggested that I try harder to fit in, but I was very anti that idea, so I went in the other direction. Robert Smith and the Doors were my style inspiration and this was a typical everyday look for me – but I was very upset about being made to go to the beach, so it called for this look in extra effect. I’m wearing boys clothes, bought from a skater store, because the girls’ clothes on offer at that time were all floral and I wasn’t having it. Everyone made fun of me at the beach but I liked that I looked so different. I felt much more comfortable being the oddball.
One of my most famous looks is the “nearly-naked” dress that I wore to the VMAs [in 1998], but that was a protest. [McGowan has said this was her first public appearance after being raped.] That was: “You want to see me? OK, let’s play.” My style was always very much my own until I got to Hollywood and they started dressing me. They discover you for what you look like, then mould you into something else. I didn’t enjoy a lot of what I wore while working in Hollywood, it made me feel weird. I was embarrassed: you’re told you have to pay someone to dress you, but that person doesn’t really know you. The next thing you know the car’s there, you have to go to an event and it’s too late to change.
I wish I could just wear a kaftan every day and be done with it; putting together separates is not my favourite thing. I like mixing it up and going high-low with my style; I like vintage stores and I like Vivienne Westwood. I have a few statement pieces, but most of the time I still feel like that 12-year-old girl. I would be happy to wear that outfit now.