Gwen Stefani knows how to make an entrance. The 37-year-old multi-million-selling rock star and fashion icon walks into the room wearing tight indigo Stella McCartney jeans, a blue cashmere jumper from her clothing line L.A.M.B. and black lace-up Alexander McQueen stiletto boots. Her hair is artfully piled high, her face is punctuated with the neatest eyebrows ever, and she's wearing a slash of sheer red lipgloss. An unashamed grooming fanatic, she is one celebrity that you will never see photographed without makeup, looking tipsy or buying a litre of milk in her PJs. "If you're going out of the house, it's better to realize that you're probably going to have your picture taken, get ready properly and think 'Well, it's just part of my life,'" she says, helping herself to a bottle of water before sitting demurely on the sofa. "Even if I'm not getting my picture taken, I've always enjoyed the process of getting ready. I have a high tolerance for sitting in the makeup chair. I'm the kind of person who spends most of my time getting ready for a party and then leaving within half an hour because I'm bored!"
The arrival of Kingston
It's a good job that Stefani is so Zen about those prying lenses because her pregnancy and the subsequent arrival of her son, Kingston, last May were the source of a million paparazzi shots. "It was weird being pregnant in a fishbowl situation -- especially on the days when you feel really fat and disgusting and not cute," she says. "Pregnancy was challenging in a way I didn't expect. I was on tour and I was so sick -- it was like PMS times a million." Of course, we don't like our celebrities to be fat -- baby belly or no baby belly. Stefani admits that she felt this pressure. "I worked out with my trainer throughout the whole pregnancy until about two weeks before," she says. "I cried during my last session. I was like, 'I can't breathe. I can't do this anymore. What am I doing?' It was crazy. All my life, I've had to work hard to stay in shape -- I've always struggled with it. I was a little chubby when I was younger and I didn't want to be that person forever. I became a swimmer at school -- but only because I wanted to be skinnier! I'm extremely vain -- I like wearing cute clothes!" On cue, her sweater rides up an inch or two to reveal abs that would give David Beckham a run for his money. Now, a year after giving birth, Stefani looks so toned and healthy, it hurts. How did she do it? Boring, old-fashioned hard work, she reveals. "There aren't any tricks," she says. "It's simple math: you put this much food in, you burn that much working out. I worked out with my trainer five days a week, with weekends off. I would really recommend doing weights. I'm not into yoga or pilates -- they don't work for me, and I don't have the patience. I'm more like a man: I like going to the gym and lifting weights or doing a little boxing."
Stefani also got back into a healthy eating regimen thanks to her mom, Patti, and her dad, Dennis. "Gavin [Rossdale, former singer with the rock band Bush and current singer and guitarist with Institute] was away working, so my parents came to stay with me and Kingston and we all ate healthily together," she says. "It's great once you start seeing results -- like when I could actually fit into my big sweatpants again! And I had three L.A.M.B. collections sitting in my closet saying 'Wear me, wear me!'"
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A weighty issue
Now that Stefani's back in her size 6 jeans, what does she think of the size 0 debate? "It sucks that that is what is supposed to look good and what everyone strives to be," she says. "There's more to life than being on a diet. Clearly, I spend time thinking about my weight; it's something I've had to deal with in my life. But as I get older, I try not to focus on it -- it's boring and a waste of life. What I have learned is that people don't seem to mind whether I'm fatter or thinner -- they like me either way. It's more of a big deal in your own mind than in anyone else's." She's similarly level-headed on womankind's other favourite obsession: cosmetic surgery. "Each to their own," she says. "I enjoy a great surgery TV show as much as anyone -- I watched a lot of those shows when I was pregnant -- but it's pretty bizarre that that's where we're at: that you can place an order for how you want to look. People take it pretty lightly, but it's a big deal. I've thought it over, but I'm not at that stage yet."
Life in a dual-rock-star household
When she's not making records or designing clothes for L.A.M.B., Stefani likes lying around, watching TV and doing nothing with her son and her husband in their new home in Los Angeles. (They have another house in London's Primrose Hill but spend the majority of their time on the West Coast at the moment.) Stefani and Rossdale met in 1995, when she was touring with her ska-punk band, No Doubt, and he was doing the same with Bush. After conducting an on-again, off-again romance for years -- they were often kept apart by touring commitments -- they eventually got serious and married in 2002. Is it hard living in a dual-rock-star household? "There are positives and negatives, but, for the most part, it works," she admits. "He can tell me about things that are going well or badly, and I can totally relate to them. But when we're both working, it's hard to see each other." They try to keep those job-related absences to a minimum. "We know that it starts to get messed up after three weeks," she says. "We were very lucky to find each other, and we have this crazy ongoing love affair that has hills and valleys like everyone else." Presumably, one of those valleys was the discovery in 2004 that Rossdale is the father of his old friend Pearl Lowe's then-15-year-old daughter, Daisy. The DNA paternity test and subsequent court case -- the outcome of which has never been made public -- were said to have upset Stefani, but the marriage survived and she has moved on. "Having Kingston has been the most romantic thing to happen to us," she says.
The Pit-Jolies and the Stefani-Rossdales
As is often the case with new parents, the Stefani-Rossdales enjoy hanging out with other couples with kids. One of those couples is Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. "We saw them after we had our babies, which was really fun," she says. Stefani melts when asked if Shiloh and Kingston played together. "Yeah! They were like two little blobs when they met." Maybe they'll get married when they grow up? "That would be cute!"
Stefani's new album, The Sweet Escape, is the delayed (blame Kingston) follow-up to Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Stefani's phenomenally successful solo debut in 2004. It marked a departure from No Doubt's trademark ska-punk sound into hip hop, dance and pure pop. She has been with No Doubt -- which is currently on hiatus -- since she was 17. It was her older brother Eric's band (he later left to become an animator on The Simpsons), but after the suicide of depressed lead singer John Spence in 1987, the band decided to regroup with Eric's little sister on lead vocals. They plugged away on the local Californian rock scene for many years, living on a smelly tour bus and out of a suitcase. Stefani was certainly no overnight teen pop sensation: it wasn't until their number one single "Don't Speak" in 1997 (remember her blue polka-dot vintage tea dress in the video?) that No Doubt struck gold and Stefani found her songwriting mojo. The song detailed her painful split from Tony Kanal, her bandmate and boyfriend of seven years, but, despite effectively washing their dirty relationship linen in public, the two remain close friends to this day.
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The sweet escape
Musically, The Sweet Escape sees Stefani sticking with what she knows (insane single "Wind It Up" aside, with its Sound of Music-inspired yodelling), and many of her collaborators -- notably Pharrell Williams and Linda Perry -- remain on board. The latter -- a former rock singer who has sprinkled her writing and production gold dust on the works of Christina Aguilera, Pink and Courtney Love of late -- has known Stefani since the mid-'80s, when they were the only two girls in bands on their label, Interscope. "Gwen is very humble, intelligent and very dorky -- I like that about her," says Perry. "She's like a secret weapon -- her humility means you don't realize how powerful she is."
Visually, like any self-respecting chameleon, Stefani has moved on for this album, dropping the Alice stuff in favour of a trashy-sexy new look inspired by Michelle Pfeiffer's character Elvira Hancock in the gangster movie Scarface. "I was in Lake Como, filming a video, and went out to dinner with a girlfriend who was wearing a really long, clingy, peach polyester dress," she says. "It really reminded me of that movie. I worked the look into my spring/summer 2007 L.A.M.B. collection, and it rolled over into the music too."
Fashion and style... long term
Although the celebrity-clothing range is often shorthand for ego gone wild, Stefani -- who launched her streetwear line in 2005 -- seems to genuinely enjoy designing clothes. Yes, it's an extension of brand Stefani -- a lucrative merchandising machine -- but to give the girl her due, Stefani does have some previous experience: with a mother and grandmother who loved to sew, she grew up making her own clothes and scouring thrift stores in the unremarkable southern California town of Anaheim, gradually developing a sense of style that -- in a world of glossy Hollywood clothing -- is unique. As her stylist, Andrea Lieberman, puts it, "She touches on the glamorous, the tomboy, the rockabilly girl and the disco queen. Without a shadow of a doubt, she is the most innovative woman in music." Believe it or not, though, Stefani says her entry into the world of fashion was a nerve-racking time. "I was so naive growing up," she says. "I knew about buying fabric from the store and making clothes, but I didn't know about real fashion. I didn't go to a fashion show until I was 30 -- and that was Vivienne Westwood in New York. I met her, and it was so scary -- it was like meeting the Queen. She's got such an edge. I was shaking when I met her."
Gwen's style icons
But the respect is mutual. "I love that she loves clothes and getting dressed up," says Westwood. "You have a much more interesting life if you wear impressive clothes." Around that time, Stefani also attended a John Galliano couture show for Dior and admits to being reduced to awestruck tears. "That show was so mind-blowing -- that someone could have those ideas. It was like a living, walking art show." She composed herself enough to meet and become friends with Galliano, and he designed her wedding dress in 2004, which she wore to ceremonies in L.A. and London. "John seems shy at first, and you don't believe that he has all that in him. But then, when he starts to talk about what he loves, it's just passion."
Stefani sees L.A.M.B. as a long-term career, not a short-term cash-in. "It's something I want to do for the rest of my life," she says. "I've always done it, but I'm doing it on a larger scale now. And I don't care if anyone criticizes it -- it's not going to make me give up if someone says 'Oh, you're a celebrity.' I know I'm right at the beginning and I have a long way to go. But I've gotten far really fast compared to the music. Every collection gets better."
Building on the L.A.M.B. brand, Stefani has landed a deal with Coty Inc. to release a line of fragrances this fall. "Creating a fragrance is one of the most prestigious things a designer can do," she said after the announcement. "For me, it's like another thing you can wear and another thing I can creatively be a part of."
Movies and acting
Aside from fashion and fragrances, Stefani has also dabbled in the film world. She auditioned for Mr. & Mrs. Smith -- "They were clearly looking for a certain girl, and you couldn't get more opposite than me and Angelina!" -- and eventually made her movie debut in The Aviator, playing the 1930s screen siren Jean Harlow to Leonardo DiCaprio's Howard Hughes. It was a three-second cameo, but it became an Oscar-winning Martin Scorsese movie. Have the offers been flooding in ever since? "Not at all!" she says, laughing. "Of course, if Scorsese called me up, I'd be there in a second, but it's not something I'm thinking about all the time. Right now, I'm enjoying the music, the fashion and the baby." Life, she concludes, couldn't be sweeter. "I still read a menu and think 'Look at the price -- I can get that.' It's insane what's going on in my life -- I just can't believe my luck."
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Gwen's look: The lowdown
Want to look as hot as Gwen? Check out her must-haves and beauty and fashion tips!
Must-have beauty product? "Red lipstick."
What handbag are you carrying? "A L.A.M.B. Kingston bag."
Your favourite item of jewellery? "Anything by Cartier."
The sexiest fashion item you own? "A G -- for Gwen! -- string."
Favourite designer store? "Vivienne Westwood in London."
Got a fashion tip? "Watch Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface."
All-time favourite designer? "It's a toss-up between Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano."
Your most expensive fashion buy? "It was my first designer purchase: a Vivienne Westwood corset that cost $850. At that time, that was a lot of money!"
Style icons? "Bob Marley and Suggs from Madness."
Your biggest fashion mistake? "I don't believe in fashion faux pas!"
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