She was a pop princess at the age of nine and poised for movie stardom by 11, having been cast as “Annie” in an update of the beloved musical, but right now, just two days shy of her 13th birthday on Halloween, what Willow Smith wants to be more than anything is a seventh grader. Sitting on a velvet couch in her mother Jada Pinkett Smith’s luxe, earthy-chic office at Sony Pictures in Culver City, that’s exactly what she looks like, dressed in a purple vintage sweatshirt with flowers and butterflies on it, striped sweatpants and Doc Martens, her typically wildly colored and cropped hair now black with girlish bangs.
As it turns out, seventh grade is “really hard,” says Willow. The reality of storing your books in a locker, finding your classes and “being responsible for your own stuff” is new territory for someone accustomed to tutors. And then there’s all the schoolwork. However, she says, “I’m enjoying just being independent and doing my own thing.”
This past February, Willow officially dropped out of “Annie,” which her father, Will Smith, is producing alongside Jay-Z, having decided that her heart wasn’t in it. “I just wanted to chill, and be at home, and decompress, and just find out what I wanna do and where I stand on this planet, with the little tiny place we have.”
These are big, heavy questions coming from one so young, but then it was her poise and self-possession that had everyone from Justin Bieber to Ellen DeGeneres smitten when “Whip My Hair” first dropped in 2010. Of course, her fearless, innate fashion sense didn’t hurt either.
“I can never tell what I’m gonna wear,” Willow says. “I kind of just put on what feels right. Sometimes that’s Converse and a t-shirt, sometimes it’s Givenchy heels and leather pants.”
Karl Lagerfeld certainly took notice. For the shoot featured here he asked Willow to bring some of her own pieces to Paris so they could mix it up. The boy-drag boxer shorts and oxford shoes? Straight out of her closet. Willow describes Lagerfeld as “very, very friendly and open.” She giggles. “I thought he was gonna be really mysterious, like peering over his glasses, evaluating. But he was just awesome. I don’t have words, because he’s such a huge icon.”
Not that she has any plans to do more modeling. “I just wanna do things that make me feel good and not stressed”: these are her rules. After being an active presence on Twitter, sharing her life philosophies and her crush on the literary misfit Holden Caulfield, she has stopped tweeting, preferring to sit in her garden with her Yorkie, Abby, and “meditate and get the energy from the flowers.” She doesn’t have a meditation practice per se, “I just chill and open my eyes and think, just relaxing and being silent. Because the world is so loud.”
It’s almost unfathomable that a girl on the cusp of her teenage years would turn away from the very things her peers dream of, but this is the extraordinary being that Willow is. One moment she’s a kid, talking about watching Daria after school, eating In-N-Out burgers, and re-reading the “Twilight” series in bed at night, the next she’s discussing self-help books and how listening to the ‘70s all-girl band The Runaways “just makes me feel so powerful, as a woman, just like, yes! I know who I am! Roarrr! Know what I mean?”
She hasn’t given up making music; it’s part of her daily life, particularly now that her brother Jaden is recording music and her mother has revived her band, Wicked Wisdom, which Willow describes as melodic heavy metal. But, perhaps after the to-do caused by her last single, “Summer Fling,” whose subject matter some felt was too grown-up, she says she wants to “keep it for myself.” Occasionally she’ll put something up on SoundCloud, like the song “Drowning” that she wrote and recorded with her friend Mecca, but she’s being patient and holding her cards close.
“I just feel like I want to do it different than the world’s ready for,” Willow says. “It’s like a pearl — I’m reading that book right now. You put a piece of sand in it, which is the imagination. You close it over a bunch of years, making it awesome, and then bam! It comes open. And I’m it! I’m the pearl.”