It only took a 20 minutes on the phone with Gucci Beauty's latest campaign darling Dani Miller for me to want to see a movie made about her life, and even less time to understand why the luxury brand was partnering with the creative multi-hyphenate for a second time to roll out its first-ever mascara, Gucci Mascara L'Obscur ($35). With her choppy two-toned mullet, double gap-teeth, and an affinity to paint on her face a lá David Bowie, Miller might not seem like the obvious choice for the face of an indulgent beauty campaign. Thankfully, head of the house Alessandro Michele isn't looking to make obvious choices for Gucci Beauty.
"I designed Mascara L'Obscur for an authentic person who uses makeup to tell their story of freedom, in their way. When we asked the talents to do the campaign, we looked for somewhat eccentric personalities who really wear their makeup in this way," Michele shared in a press release. "We called it L’Obscur because this word balances charm and mystery."
Miller first caught Michele's eye by chance, while she was eating lunch by a statue, unassuming. Fast-forward a few short months, and Miller became the stand-out face of Gucci Beauty's first-ever campaign for its lipstick debut, washing away contrived narratives of what advertisements for beauty, and lipstick especially, should look like. Her NYC-based punk band Surfbort — whose music touches on sexuality, mental health, and politics — played the opening of Gucci's Wooster Street store in New York's SoHo neighborhood, and shortly thereafter was featured in the brand's Pre-Fall 2019 campaign, shot in Sicily by Glen Luchford. It's been a whirlwind couple of years for Miller, whose outspoken, free-flowing nature, and authentic energy has made her one of Gucci's most interesting muses to date.
"I guess it's weird," Miller tells NYLON of the newfound spotlight. "I've always felt public. I've always felt like I'm just always screaming at the moon, and I'm always here to dance and sing with people and connect with people. It's not really fully about me, either. I just see it as more of [waving] a freak flag, welcoming all the freaks and all the weirdos to just love themselves. Even the freaks who don't look like a freak but feel freaky inside. Just for everyone, a call for more self love."
Ahead, Miller opens up to NYLON about her power makeup, watching her dad rebound from the 2008 financial crash, and why we as people will always need each other. Read highlights from the conversation, below.
Something that's stood out to me in all of your other interviews is you kind of started your band, Surfbort, as a joke, and you connected with Gucci's Alessandro Michele by chance. What did you envision you'd be doing today before all of these unexpected paths unfolded?
Yeah, I started the band as a joke. I had no clue what I'd be mainly doing, and I had no clue I would ever be modeling or working with Gucci. But I've done so many different jobs. I was a barista, I did coat check, I was a construction worker. I also was really into filmmaking and worked with Darren Aronofsky and did set design; I've done so many different things. But the more I unleashed my inner self and found freedom in that, the more I was able to move into just being myself for a career and doing only art, which is really cool. It was a long process but then, meeting Alessandro, he just recognized my unapologetic freak vibes. He's just so inspiring, I think we just feed off each other and inspire each other. He's an awesome person. I'm so glad that we connected in this life.
So you always knew you wanted to do art, but the how that was going to play out was a mystery?
Yeah, I'm an entertainer at heart. I love making people laugh and smile and have fun, and I'm also a clown. I think it's cool to never be one certain thing. I think it's cool to just follow your heart and try everything. I'm also acting more and going into acting. You don't have to just be one thing and live in a box. You can do whatever you want. I don't know, I think it feeds your soul more.
Was that a mindset you picked up on as you grew up?
I guess my dad, during that crazy 2008 crash of the stock market and everything, I think I just saw him chameleon into whatever came his way to survive. So I picked up on that and was like, 'OK, for survival, you can learn any skill.' Then art-wise, I was actually talking to Fred from [the band] Dead Moon, and he was like, I'm going to give you advice. And that was the advice he gave me, and it kind of just stuck with me. I was like, Oh wait, I love painting, I'm going to paint a mural this day. I love cooking, I want to eventually have a cookbook. I want to be the author of my own book. I want to be a huge actress. I think once you're an artist, or your brain just works in that way, I think any kind of art and expressing yourself makes you happy. I just learned over time, you don't have to be just one thing.
This Gucci campaign isn't your first with the brand. What did it feel like when they told you they wanted to work with you a second time?
I was super stoked. I don't know, once you're part of the Gucci family, you're just a part of the family. And it's cool, it's like this huge group of artists and entertainers and people who just inspire each other. Before joining I had no idea what it would be like. It's the most fulfilling, exciting kind of team, and family, I've ever been a part of. They just support you and take care of you. Me and Alessandro, we are always DMing each other ideas, and showing each other art. It's just a super cool kind of connect happening. I think they initially liked that I was just screaming on stage and going wild. I think someone told me once, 'You do the '80s style of when everyone didn't give a fuck and they would just rave all night in New York City and just go wild,' and think he saw that energy. And I think that's cool for people in the high fashion world or any other world that is meant to be traditional, and I like that they can recognize beauty in the freaks. They have a good balance of glam and freaks.
What was your relationship with beauty when you were younger?
People would make fun of me. I had friends that were considered hot, so I would be next to them but I was always the ugly kid. But they didn't fully faze me. I recognized from an early age that haters fade away. It's just boring to be a hater. I always was on a discovery, in figuring out beauty and stuff. My mom had a sweet makeup box with cool lipsticks and mascara, but she wasn't a pro either. So we kind of just experimented and discovered together. At really funny points, where I wore a full face of makeup, tons of mascara, tons of lipstick and blue eyeshadow to church, my mom was like 'OK, go for it.' But I realized everyone at church was freaking out. And I really liked that feeling of, I think this is beautiful and this makes me feel good and powerful and I don't care what anyone else thinks. That was kind of an intro to beauty.
This Gucci campaign announces, makeup for everyone, no age, no gender, no perfection. I think that's what I've always lived by.
Do you have a specific makeup look for when you're playing shows?
My ritual before going on stage is putting on my power makeup. I put on my favorite lipstick right now which is Gucci's Rouge à Lèvres Satin Lipstick in Agatha Orange. It's a mix of red-orange. I do a ton of mascara layered on, maybe three or four layers, and then I do a crazy giant wrestler cat eye. It makes me feel electric and so good. It's an extra ... It makes me feel like I'm wearing my inner freaky soul on my face for everyone to get to know and hang out with. I think that's what makeup is for me.
Do you feel like you've come to your music with that same energy of being open and for everybody?
Yeah, totally. My dad taught me when I was super young that everyone is human and looking for love and human connection. I always just hang out with everyone, and I think the time right now is so freakin' weird and gnarly. It just doesn't make sense a lot, cause the more support we give each other and the more we have each other's backs and the more welcoming we all are, the better things will go down. And the more fun we'll have. Surfbort is definitely welcoming everyone into the freak Surfbort family.
What are some things you're currently obsessed with right now?
Of course, Gucci mascara, duh. I'm also into Junglepussy, she's so badass, super inspiring. I've been TikToking. I don't know why I'm obsessed with TikTok. It's so much fun just making videos. What else? I've been getting into makeup tutorials, being in the studio, my vibrator, thrifting, I don't know, I'm into having fun.
Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?
Oh, I would say Juliette Lewis.
Would you want a movie about your life?
Yeah, I guess so. Mostly, because I think a lot of people are like, how did you do this or get into doing art? And I kind of want to tell people the secrets of how to have the most fun and be happy. I get depressed, too, but I've kind of found a sweet spot of making art and being happy. If I could share that with people, that would be awesome.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.