"Empowerment is knowing your own voice"

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Gwyneth Paltrow turned 40 last year, not that you would guess it from looking at her.

When I meet the actress, at a breakfast event to mark her endorsement of Hugo Boss perfume Nuit Pour Femme, she is as radiant as I expected and I'm momentarily dismayed to realise she looks younger than me (despite my 10-year advantage).

What I don't expect is how irreverent she is in real life. The mum-of-two is often portrayed as being quite serious, but in our small Q&A environment she's chatty and open and seems happy to let her guard down. One minute, she's talking with intensity about work-life balance and why women struggle with self-belief, and the next she's making a joke about her teenage love of DM boots or how she hates it that her kids spend all their time on their iPads. She's clearly got integrity but she balances this with banter and a natural charm that plays to the audience.

"I'm not great about putting on make-up, I look like a wreck half the time," she says at one point, in a patently untrue but refreshingly un-starry statement.

Becoming a parent seems to have been a turning point for the A-lister, who has two children, Apple and Moses, with Coldplay singer Chris Martin. She makes continual reference to understanding herself more as she's become older and having a better sense of who she is.

She's both quite feminist in her values, talking in detail about how women need to know their own voice, "as opposed to the self your parents gave you, or your partner, or the school bully," and also traditional. "I think that a woman draws her energy from the house," she says at one point.

Read on for Gwyneth's views on parenthood, empowerment and why preppy style is in her DNA...

How has your taste in fragrance changed over time?

My first perfume was when I was 14 – very sweet Anais Anais. I went through a Coco Chanel phase. I guess it's become more complex as I get older, which makes sense. When I was pregnant, I couldn’t wear fragrance. I couldn’t smell anything. I couldn’t smell flowers, I was very sensitive to everything. I could smell orange juice from across the room and I remember thinking, 'I will throw up.'

Do you associate fragrance with certain memories?

For me when I was growing up, some of the happiest times were when we went to a small island called Nantucket off Massachusetts. And we would stay in a hotel called the White Elephant and they had box hedging everywhere. It’s such a specific mix of summer and box hedge and whenever I smell that, I’m seven years old again. It’s incredible, it’s a very extreme way of going back in time.

I’m a real blue jeans girl

What's your favourite thing about being a mum?

I think my favourite thing is understanding the responsibility of raising two human beings and putting them into the world. Giving them the tools to understand the tenets that make life easier to navigate - compassion, intelligence, learning another language. It’s sometimes very difficult but I really enjoy the process of doing that, while being so fascinated by who they are, as they emerge as human beings.

For me, it’s been the most rewarding part of my life and it’s made me understand the most about myself. They teach me so much about myself and what I still have to learn. And then you see your faults in them and you think, ‘Wow, I’ve got work to do on myself.’

You're an actress, an author and a full-time mum. How do you deal with all the different responsibilities in your life?

I try to do one thing at a time to utilise my time well. Mornings and afternoons are my family time and I’m lucky that I can drop the kids off at school, I don’t have to be at the office or anything. I drop them off and pick them up. I really try to maximise my work time while they’re at school.

I cook and I really believe in the family dinner, I think that’s a nice time to bring the family together. I’m a bit traditional in the way that I think that a woman draws her energy from the house. Food is a really nice way of expressing that energy and love, and doing something with care and putting time into it and nourishing your family.

I try as best I can to really put all I can into what I’m doing. A lot of days I fail and there’s too much to do. I do think it’s really important to have time to yourself, whether that’s reading something interesting when the kids are in bed or even having a dog. Sometimes I just take the dog on the Heath (in Hampstead, where Gwyneth lives) for 20 minutes just to get some air, just to be alone – I think it’s important.

You also have to understand what you’re doing it all for. You have to know why you’re rushing about. It’s OK to rush about but it’s important to know what’s driving you, the positives of it and the negatives of it.

As women we're more sensitive, we’re more vulnerable

What do you think is the key ingredient of female empowerment?

I think knowing yourself, but truly. As opposed to the self your parents gave you or your partner or the school bully, or whatever. I think so many people give us ideas of what we are. I think as women especially, because we’re sensitive by nature, we’re more vulnerable, we absorb other people’s ideas about what we’re supposed to think or who we're supposed to be and how we’re supposed to act. And I actually think it ends up killing us, and that’s why we (as women) have 5-to-1 autoimmune disorders, compared to men. I really do. We somaticize that suppression of self, it comes out in our bodies.

I think the most clear, direct way to empowerment is to really know yourself and to really use your voice and to not be afraid of other people’s reactions. And to be really, really true to yourself. That to me, has been key to me in understanding how I want to live the second half of my life. It’s only recently that I’ve really fully understood that.

And is that a message you'd like to pass onto the future generation?

They’re luckier in that we’re all consciously moving towards more awareness and acceptance but we’re also moving towards a very isolated environment, you know my kids are on their f**cking iPads all the time. It’s difficult because it’s a very isolating thing and it also puts forward so much information. So it’s not like a book when you’re filling in the pictures with your mind, it’s very presentational. We need imagination in our lives as room to grow. I don’t think it’s great for development.

You're known as a style icon. What are your wardrobe classics?

I’m a real blue jeans girl, I wear jeans all the time and I couldn’t live without them. Jeans and blazers. And then I have a couple of Couture things that I bought before children. Like a mini Chanel dress. There are some things that you buy that are really timeless and classic and I value them a lot.

ABOVE: Gwyneth's favourite dresses are the Prada gown she wore to Venice Film Festival in 2011 and her Tom Ford Oscars gown from last year

How has your sense of style evolved over time?

In my 20s because I was working on films so much and travelling so much and doing press, I was single with no kids and I think that’s the time when not only are you trying on looks, but you’re trying on personalities – you’re still really forming. When I had kids I sort of went into a hole for a few years and I think when I came out of that, I started to really become myself and know what works on me.

I think my days of trying outrageous things are over. I’m not looking for trends, I just want to be the best version of myself. I also don’t have time to devote to putting outfits together before picking up the kids. I’m a creature of habit and in that way, I tend to just go towards what works for me and what’s comfortable. It’s really important to be comfortable when you’re running around after kids.

I grew up on the Upper Side of Manhattan and wore a uniform to school every day so preppy is in my DNA. It was the 80s and we were allowed to wear our own shoes, so I always wore Doc Martins with men’s boxer shorts underneath my shorts. There was always something a little irreverent. I was just expressing myself, so I think I’ve always had a preppy, classic thing with an edge underneath it and that’s how I would define my look.

Do you like dressing up with your daughter?

My daughter definitely has her own style. Sometimes I look at her, and she’s wearing really skinny jeans and a blazer and she has a punk headband on, and I'm like, ‘Perfect!’ I stay out of it, she loves buying her own stuff. Last night we went to the Justin Bieber concert and she was very conscious of her outfit.

ABOVE: Gwyneth is the face of Hugo Boss perfume Nuit Pour Femme

You've had some sensational red carpet gowns over the years. Which are your favourites?

My two favourites are the white Tom Ford I wore to the Oscars last year and the Prada dress I wore to the Venice Film Festival (in 2011), which I thought was amazing. But I also really love my pink Oscar dress – I recently found that and was happy that I came across it. I would wear it now, it’s nice to have it.

Talk us through your beauty routine...

I think it starts with exercise and sleep and not eating really processed foods. I try to eat raw. My actual beauty routine is pretty simple, I try and have a facial once in a while. I’m not a huge products girl. I have so much going on with work and kids, I just use moisturiser basically. I’m not great with putting on make-up, as well. I tend to look like a wreck half the time.

My golden time is after I drop the kids off at school. I’m usually working on my website (lifestyle site Goop) and checking emails but I try to do something at least once a week – like a facial or a visit to the osteopath – something to bring myself back into my body.

When I turned 40 in September I thought, 'I have to really make sure I have time to myself,' because it’s very overwhelming to be taking care of so many people. I think part of a beauty routine is how you feel and checking in with your inner self, and so I made that commitment to myself to do that.

Gwyneth Paltrow is the face of Hugo Boss Nuit Pour Femme

Words: Anna Brech, Photos: Rex Features/Hugo Boss