Incredible Women

Francesca Hayward and Lauren Cuthbertson star in our Incredible Women podcast

We are delighted to present NET-A-PORTER’s Incredible Women podcast series. Season one, Celebrating Togetherness, invites you to listen in on conversations between pairs of Incredible Women talking about the unique ties that bind them. For our final episode, LAUREN CUTHBERTSON and FRANCESCA HAYWARD, principal dancers at the Royal Ballet, talk about seeing each other dance for the very first time, unforgettable moments on stage and the vastly different ways they’ll be welcoming in the new year – with Hayward performing in The Nutcracker and Cuthbertson bringing her newborn baby home. By ALICE CASELY-HAYFORD

Lauren Cuthbertson (left) and Francesca Hayward

Episode 6

What better way to round off our podcast series, Celebrating Togetherness, before the festive period than with ballerinas Lauren Cuthbertson and Francesca Hayward, as they discuss their unique experiences of being principal dancers at the Royal Ballet, how their professional lives have changed during lockdown and what it’s like having neighboring dressing rooms. *Spoiler alert* – it involves lots of NET-A-PORTER deliveries arriving at their adjacent doors.

As our two Incredible Women sit down in the recording studio, having not seen each other in a while, they talk about getting into character, surrendering to each role, and both having had the experience of playing Juliet in the classic, tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet. Hayward recalls unexpectedly crying on stage after she’d taken a fatal sip of poison, feeling remorseful for the pain she is about to inflict on her character’s parents.

Throughout this episode, the mutual respect and admiration between the pair is palpable. So, until we can see them share the stage again, when Cuthbertson is back from maternity leave towards the end of 2021, sit back, relax and get into the holiday spirit with this cheering and inspirational conversation.

To listen to this and other episodes of Celebrating Togetherness, subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify*, Google Podcasts, and many more.

Read highlights from the podcast below…

On their first memories of seeing each other

Francesca: “I remember when I was a baby swan in Swan Lake. And as the baby swans, we ran on around Darcey Bussell. We were really, really excited. And you were in the swans. And you said something… you made a joke to me. Yeah, I remember, I didn’t know how to take it because I was just so scared to talk to you. And look where we are now!”

Lauren: “The first time I remember watching you dance was at the Young British Dancer of the Year awards. And you came on and you did Giselle – it was Giselle’s Act One solo. You came on and, the minute you entered the stage, you were Giselle. And that was so inspiring – to see someone so young already captivating those real emotions in a short space of time. That was like two minutes, or maybe even less, that you had to show that. That was definitely the first time we thought, ‘Wow, I’d pay for a ticket to watch this girl – 100 percent’.”

On the moments after coming offstage

Lauren: “Once I stayed in my changing room until 4am. The security man kept knocking on my door saying, ‘Lauren, are you staying here for the night?’ And then, by 4am, he said, ‘Look, do you want a lift anywhere? One of our guys can give you a quick lift. Well, where do you live?’ It was so sweet. I had a lot of flowers and I just wasn’t ready to go home and acknowledge the reality of everything. So I just sort of stayed in my bubble in my changing room.”

Francesca: “It’s like, one minute you have a crown on and people clapping for you, and the next, I’m in my pajamas on the sofa having a beer by myself – watching TV. It’s a crazy life, but we love it.”

On how their New Year’s Eves will differ

Lauren: “I’ll send you a good-luck picture from the hospital. Actually – what a contrast – you’ll be there on stage and I’ll be there in hospital, with a newborn. And then, maybe, by the end of the year, we’ll be sort of sharing the stage together. This has actually been really nice, to chat with you, Frankie. We should chat more often.”

Francesca: “Exactly. It’s been so good. A proper chat has been really lovely – and to see you before your life changes completely.”

Lauren: “I’m really happy to be here. Thank you very much. Good luck with the run of The Nutcracker!”

Episode 5

“I look at schools as dream-making machines,” says Petra Němcová, who has been responsible for building disaster-resilient schools in areas of the world that have been ravaged by catastrophic natural events. Along with her friend and fellow powerhouse philanthropist Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, they are models on a mission. The friends met – over email – 13 years ago. “And I saved that email because I could feel how passionate you are, how determined you are and how pure your intentions are,” remembers Němcová of Coursaris Musunka today, as the pair catch up for our podcast recording. “I felt it so strongly, that you’re going to achieve so much in your life.”

That was the year – 2007 – when Coursaris Musunka founded the community organization Malaika in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which today provides water and literacy to thousands of people, and is most famous for its joyful Malaika school, which educates nearly 400 girls.

Němcová’s All Hands and Hearts, the volunteer-powered disaster-relief organization (which has helped more than one million people whose lives have been torn apart by natural disasters) was founded after she survived the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand in 2004. Her fiancé, Simon Atlee, lost his life in the tragic event.

While the pandemic has stopped Coursaris Musunka and Němcová traveling for work this year, the friends have been staying in touch via WhatsApp, sharing pictures of their young families and supporting each other’s initiatives. Coursaris Musunka has been grounded in the UK and Němcová decamped to the Dominican Republic, where she has been living in the heart of nature and nurturing her baby son, Bodhi.

The quieter-than-usual holiday season this year has given them both the opportunity to savor intimate moments and comforting traditions with their loved ones – Coursaris Musunka attempting to cook a turkey dinner for the first time, and Němcová stringing fairy lights on the palm trees outside her home and baking traditional Czech cookies for Bodhi’s first Christmas.

To listen to these and future episodes of Celebrating Togetherness, subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify*, Google Podcasts, and many more.

Read highlights from the podcast below…

On modeling together for Max Factor

Noëlla: “We’d been to some events together, some fashion events, some philanthropic events at the UN… But shooting a campaign together?! It was great when they gave me the names of the girls who were selected for the campaign. It was very special to be together.”

Petra: “And what was so beautiful about that project for Max Factor was that it was bringing together role models. And obviously you are a role model for me. And spending more time together – creating, having fun, learning more about each other – that was really, really precious.”

On the importance of schools to communities

Petra: “I look at schools like dream-making machines. They can help children to achieve their dreams and give them empowerment. But also, when there’s a school, it helps the families, so both parents can go to work and earn a living to take care of their children. It instills hope into communities and, what we’ve seen after natural disasters, is when there’s a school, it also helps the whole economy. You see small businesses coming back.”

Noëlla: “Malaika school was closed for lockdown for five months. In all the years, I’d never seen the school empty, so that made me sad. But the girls were even more sad than me because, not going to a school, they were not able to have their breakfast, their lunch… They were not able to have the education; they were helping their parents every day in the field. Their health was not secure at all; we lost three girls because of this lockdown. That was very, very tough.”

On celebrating the holiday season

Noëlla: “I never really celebrated Christmas when I was younger because I left Congo when my father died, then grew up with families in Belgium [and] they never really celebrated Christmas. So, having my own kids, I really wanted to give them everything that I never had. This year, I want to make it very special. And it’s my birthday, actually – the 25th of December. But every year I donate my birthday to Malaika to raise money for the school. And we’re going to do a virtual birthday this year on 17th of December – for me and the Malaika students.”

Petra: “I grew up in Czech Republic. Every Christmas, it’s all about family and fairy tales. It’s so engrained in me – the magic of Christmas. We have many different traditions, which I absolutely love. For example, on Christmas Eve, we put honey on each other’s cheeks and there’s literally, like, a little honey war between the family – and then your hair sticks to your cheek. It’s a tradition, for things to be more beautiful and sweeter next year. And for the whole family to be more sweet and kind to each other.”

Noëlla Coursaris Musunka (left) and Petra Němcová
Mother and daughter Keri (right) and Yara Shahidi

Episode 4

For the fourth episode in our Incredible Women podcast series, Celebrating Togetherness, Keri and Yara Shahidi join us from separate rooms of their family home to discuss their unique mother-daughter relationship, reminding each other of the importance of downtime and the invaluable lessons they’ve taught each other.

Earlier this year, actor and agent of change Yara, beloved for her roles in critically acclaimed TV shows Black-ish and Grown-ish, joined forces with her producer mother to launch their own production company, 7th Sun – all while Yara has been juggling her studies at Harvard University. (Yes, she is just 20.) Together, they will lead on creating new narratives that will be available across cable, streaming services and broadcast, making space for richer, more diverse storytelling and uplifting underrepresented voices.

As they share in this inspiring and moving episode, throughout their lives and careers – and particularly this holiday season – they are thinking about how they can give back and, in their own words, “how they can be of service to others”.

To listen to these and future episodes of Celebrating Togetherness, subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify*, Google Podcasts, and many more.

Read highlights from the podcast below…

On carving out quiet time for yourself

Keri: “Sometimes, you just need to stare at a wall.”

Yara: “We have always used that as a reference point for doing nothing. And I absolutely love it. There are some times where I’m like, I just have to stare at a wall. My friends don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s so particular, but I mean, it kind of takes me to something else that has definitely been in play during the past seven months, and that’s finding what brings us joy. And it’s been funny, the really small things that have become a part of our systems, like taking a family walk at night and realizing, ‘Have we ever walked around our neighborhood before?’”

On how their similarities and differences shape working together

Keri: “I think, when people look at our relationship, and [the reason] I think why we work so well together, it’s because we do have different energies [but] are very similar, very similar… One thing that’s so interesting is our goals align in the world of production, even in the world of endorsements. When we’re in a relationship with clients, we always lead with philanthropy, you know; we always lead with any chance we get to talk to a major corporation about, ‘Ooh, we can support young artists’ or, ‘Ooh, we can give money to this organization,’ or, you know, it’s great to have a doll that looks like you. But what’s even greater is to be able to support financially an organization that’s working with young women with housing instability. I think we work really hard and we reap the benefit of being of service.”

Yara: “We are a very creative family. And I feel like we’ve almost landed in the jobs that we held just by nature of being creative, but not necessarily because my passion project is to be an actor. I guess what I’m getting at is that I think our creative wants and desires feel so large. So, there was something about production that felt really empowering, the idea of taking that step that we had already begun to take, being behind the scenes on other projects, but really officially cement the idea that we have value and things to contribute, and spaces of just blossoming ideas and really allowing ourselves to honor everything that we want to see in this media landscape.”

On the importance of family

Keri: “When I hear you repeating things back, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I am my father.”

Yara: “I know. I just texted Nona last night like, ‘We haven’t done our daily call. I miss you. Hope you’re good. Talk tomorrow.’”

Keri: “My parents and my grandparents were such a big part of my life; my cousin’s such a big part of my life. To see that play out with my children, I feel like my work is done. You know, my families are connected.”

Episode 3

BlacKkKlansman and Hollywood star Laura Harrier and stylist Danielle Goldberg met seven years ago, when the former was modeling and the latter was a stylist working with the Olsens. The two bonded over shared aspirations of a career change, neither realizing how their paths would cross again when, fortuitously, Goldberg was put forward to style Harrier for her first press tour following her breakthrough role in Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2017.

Fast-forward to now, and the dynamic duo has traveled the globe together countless times for red-carpet events, fashion shows and glamorous shoots – a world away from the basement they first met in many moons ago.

As close friends and collaborators, Goldberg’s role as Harrier’s stylist is made even easier by a shared vision and esthetic, plus a mutual desire to strike the perfect balance between work and play. The pair share a fondness of late-night dance parties and champagne, as well as an ability to still make it to work promptly the next day.

Soon to be reunited again when Goldberg moves from NYC to LA in the New Year, in episode three of our podcast they discuss the importance of physical human interaction, missing creativity and the joy it brings, and how they’ve stayed motivated and optimistic, despite the challenges of 2020.

To listen to these and future episodes of Celebrating Togetherness, subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify*, Google Podcasts, and many more.

Read highlights from the podcast below…

On the first time they met on a shoot seven years ago

Laura: “I feel like we were just kind of bratty because we both didn’t want to be there, to be totally honest.”

Danielle: “What do they say: misery loves company?”

Laura: “Yeah, it was a little ‘misery loves company’ bonding moment. We kind of became friends because of our shared misery. I remember telling you I was doing acting classes. And you were telling me how you wanted to style actresses. I remember so well, sitting in this fluorescently lit basement, and being like, ‘One day I'll be an actress, then you can be my stylist.’”

On working together

Laura: “It always seems so effortless because we have such similar esthetics. We think the same things are cool. We never try on a million looks… we’re always kind of on the same page of what we want, and you’ll bring a couple of outfits and then, usually, once I try something on that I like, that’s it.”

Danielle: “We’re just like, let’s go drink… There’s never more than a rack for anything. I mean, if she has a red-carpet event, there’s maybe three gowns. I think the whole purpose of styling is editing. So why would I present Laura with a store of clothing? I want to show her what’s the best for her. And I think that’s one of the things that you understood really early on and I think it made your eye for what works for you even that much stronger… You always knew what you liked, but now you move even faster.”

Laura: “And you know how much I hate trying on clothes.”

Danielle: “Try to get Laura in something that has a tight neck. I wish everyone the best of luck. She will murder you.”

On creativity and feeling connected

Danielle: “I feel like it’s an important lesson for everybody to learn, because I think so much of our communication is done through these 2D dimensions, when really I just want to hug my friends. I remember when you came to New York in June for a job. She got here, we hadn’t seen each other in almost a year, and we didn’t know what to do. And then we were like, forget it, we’re hugging. I’m not gonna not hug. We all have different rules in our minds of what is safe, and I respect that for everyone, but I think it’s so important for the human body to connect physically with the people that you love. A hug is so important. I want to just have more of that in 2021; I want to be more connected; I want to be more collaborative. I miss collaborating so much. Even doing things like, you know, shoots via FaceTime and things like that, those are the things that kept me going through quarantine and being able to like, feel like you’re using your creative muscles.”

Laura: “I feel like it’s so hard to feel inspired and creative when your day to day is exactly the same. You know, when you’re not having new experiences, you’re not meeting new people, not going to new places.”

Laura Harrier (left) and Danielle Goldberg
Sandra Choi (left) and Mimi Xu

Episode 2

Whether debating the best shoes for dancing in or trading details of a recently discovered hole-in-the-wall noodle joint, the friendship between Sandra Choi, creative director of Jimmy Choo, and Mimi Xu, the musician and DJ, is rooted in mutual support – and fun.

The pair originally met over a long, languorous lunch in Ibiza – and while their relationship might have been forged in the fabulous world of fashion, the moments of connection, curiosity and humor that they share extend far beyond the heady world of weekend gigs in Tokyo and red carpets bathed in the flashbulb’s seductive glare.

Choi, who has been sole creative director of Jimmy Choo since 2013, admits she’s a little “green-eyed” about Xu’s nomadic musician lifestyle; while for Xu, her friend personifies the dauntingly high-achieving “dragon mother” archetype she feels she can never be herself. But as 2020 has thrown the fashion and creative communities many new challenges, they have both been thinking differently about their life and work…

As for the holiday season this year? Both have been able to experience many Christmas traditions from around the world. Choi spent her childhood living in Hong Kong but now enjoys looking for Father Christmas with her children in Lapland. While, for Xu, childhood memories of month-long celebrations in Copenhagen contrast with the dreamy escapism of grown-up Christmases in Ibiza.

To listen to these and future episodes of Celebrating Togetherness, subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify*, Google Podcasts, and many more.

Read highlights from the podcast below…

On true friendships in fashion

Sandra: “Do you remember the time that Jimmy Choo had an event and I needed a friend and I called you, but for whatever reason it couldn’t happen? And then, when I arrived, you were like, ‘Ta-da!’ You showed up. I was so grateful… That’s true friendship; you can count on it and you can actually be honest. To me, that’s very important.”

Mimi: “We are always desperate to find interesting people we can actually talk to! You know, these parties where it’s all taking photos in multiple poses and you have nothing to say to people… When you have a friend who you can actually have a good chat with, you are so excited about meeting up with them!”

On their multicultural upbringings

Mimi: “I grew up in Paris. My father is an acoustic architect – he builds opera houses and museums… anything related to sound and architecture. Then we went to Copenhagen, so I was the only non-blonde kid in my school. I’m always used to being the odd person in the room, and I kind of made it work for me. Norm is a bit boring for me!”

Sandra: “I was born on the Isle of Wight, but at the age of eight months, I was sent back to Hong Kong to live with my grandparents… And then I came back when I was 13.

“I literally arrived at the doorstep with my hair half shaven because I was really into Japanese youth culture… My mom looked at me, like she didn’t really know how to receive me.”

On 2021 and beyond

Mimi: “I want to finish all the music projects I’ve been working on during the past three months. I want to spend more time on music that is related to wellbeing; I think sound can really affect our mental health and our physical health at the same time. So I’d like to explore that side of things a bit more.”

Sandra: “I need to start looking after myself as well… I’m thinking about wellbeing – just to kind of get out of the four walls and be more inspired and look beyond the obvious. I want to make better decisions. I want to influence the rest of the team to make better decisions and steer my universe that way.”

Episode 1

Close friends and creative collaborators Carey Mulligan and Emerald Fennell bring their stellar talents to one of the most audacious and surprising movie releases of the year, Promising Young Woman. Fennell’s feature debut in the writer/director’s chair is a pitch-dark revenge thriller about consent and contemporary rape culture, laced with a seemingly sugary rom-com and a slightly queasy-making candy-hued aesthetic. The film boasts a mesmerizing lead performance from Mulligan as rage-filled Cassie: “I don’t think I felt at risk in terms of telling this story at all. You know, women have been talking about this stuff for millennia. There’s nothing new here,” says Mulligan, who’s barely recognizable in some of Cassie’s more out-there hair and makeup looks, from Kardashian-esque high ponytails to full-on contoured face paint.

Those familiar with Fennell’s oeuvre (she was head writer and showrunner for the second season of Killing Eve) will not be surprised to discover that Promising Young Woman is a tale told through a dark – but distinctly comic – lens. And humor flows back and forth between the director and her muse as they catch up for our podcast – Fennell from her study in west London; Mulligan from her husband Marcus Mumford’s recording studio in Devon.

Listen in to hear the pair talk about bonding over cake and an unfortunate pair of PVC pants, Mulligan’s erstwhile The Great Gatsby co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, and a shared passion for all things Christmassy.

To listen to these and future episodes of Celebrating Togetherness, subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify*, Google Podcasts, and many more.

Read highlights from the podcast below…

Emerald on their first meeting

“We had both been in an episode of (Lynda La Plante TV series) Trial and Retribution as teenagers, I think. Certainly, it was my first job. And I was playing – big shocker – a nightmarish posh girl. I have to say it was a real stretch!”

On rekindling their friendship

Carey: “We met up for tea and you were on your way to the Killing Eve wrap party, wearing a pair of extraordinary trousers…”

Emerald: “PVC! And they’d split at the crotch. I think the first thing I said to you was, ‘What happened to my crotch?’ And then I said, ‘Let’s just eat cake’, so we ate cake.”

Carey on Promising Young Woman

“I had no idea how I would do Cassie, but when you sent that playlist, and showed me the references, and I understood your sense of humor and your wit and your intelligence, I was like, ‘Oh, this is a no-brainer’. I wasn’t ever remotely nervous of how the film would turn out.”

Emerald on the unapologetic female pop soundtrack to Promising Young Woman

“There’s just something so wonderful about those songs. There’s something thrilling about female pop artists in particular. There’s a moment in our film when you hear Toxic by Britney Spears. Certainly, the reaction at Sundance [Film Festival] was that all the women of our age suddenly sat up. It gives you this sort of primal response, somehow.”

On celebrating the holiday season this year

Carey: “It’s going to be ‘rule of six’-ish… It’s going to be little. But don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas.”

Emerald: “My whole family is Christmas-crazy. The stocking situation has gotten so out of hand now; [my sisters and I] have to do it secretly, away from our partners, because it’s too embarrassing to see. We get things for each other’s stockings all year round!”

Promising Young Woman is in cinemas December 25 (US), and March 5, 2021 (UK)

Carey Mulligan (left) and Emerald Fennell

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