Vogue — June 1989
— by Stephanie Mansfield
Winona Ryder fishes through her 1950s thriftstore purse and pulls out a silver bracelet dangling with silver hearts. “I love charm bracelets,” she says. She also loves spider pins, funky hats, vests, comic books (Batman in particular), antique pocket watches, vintage men’s suits, and retro sunglasses. Offbeat and disarming, with a quirky charm and eclectic tomboy taste, she’s part Annie Hall, part Holly Golightly. She is a haunting beauty reminiscent of a young Vivien Leigh who uses words like “rilly” and “funnest” and says she’s just begun to discover her own “girliness”.
At seventeen, she’s also on the verge of stardom, her clean good looks and deliciously weird sensibility already having wowed the critics. She played the wacked-out daughter in Beetlejuice, the chapeau-loving tough in Heathers, and is about to be seen this month, opposite Dennis Quaid, as the young bride/cousin of rocker Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire.
Born Winona Horowitz, she grew up in San Francisco, the daughter of Cindy and Michael Horowitz, Haight-Ashbury veterans who own a bookstore specializing in works by the Beat poets and sixties writers. It was definitely a counterculture lifestyle. As a child, Noni, as she is affectionately known, “fixated” on certain costumes, according to her mother, whose own taste in clothes runs to comfortable pants and embroidered chinese slippers.
“The funnest thing to do is to dress up,” Ryder says one evening in her New York hotel room. “But nothing ever fits me, because I’m so small.” She curls up on the sofa, wearing size two faded jeans, a punk T-shirt, little white cotton socks with lace trim at the ankles, and a navy blue Nike baseball cap pulled over her chin-length hair. She has flawless skin, light-flecked brown eyes, and an easy laugh. She took the stage name Ryder (“My dad picked it out of a hat”) when she was thirteen and tapped for her first role in Lucas. “Noni Horowitz just wasn’t gonna sound good,” she says, wrinkling her nose.
The buzzer announces dinner, and a waiter sets down a plate with a steak large enough to feed a lumberjack. “I’m a growing girl,” she says, cutting into the meat. And definitely not a vegetarian. “I don’t like killing animals, I just like eating them. Ha!”
She is asked about her unusual taste in clothes. “My personal style, huh?” she says with a laugh. “You see, every single day I dress differently. It just all depends on how I feel when I wake up. The music I listen to. That always determines who I want to be that day.” A perennial favorite is the soundtrack from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “I always want to get up and look for my little black dress, look for my shoes in the flower box.” She giggles. “When I was growing up, you know like thirteen, fourteen, people could never put me in a certain clique because I always dressed differently.” One year, she wore nothing but vintage boys’ suits. “I had rilly, rilly short hair and used to think I was a boy. I watched a lot of gangster movies from the forties.”
At the age of fifteen, Ryder took the part of pale-skinned, black-veiled Lydia in Beetlejuice. The role brought out her own sweetly macabre instincts, and the costumes reflected her knack for ferreting out flea-market treasures. “A lot of those clothes were my clothes. My skin was actually that pale; they didn’t have to use a lot of makeup.” Today she considers herself “more feminine. In the past year, I’ve found myself looking at dresses more.” She puts down her fork and reaches into the purse again, pulling out a Poloroid of a young woman, head cocked, in a tight-bodiced white dress. On the cusp of sensuality, she is beginning to shed some of the kooky accoutrements of her adolescence, while refining others. She stares at the picture as if it were another creature. “I haven’t really grown into my style yet,” she says.
Or her libido. When confronted with one of Hollywood’s sexiest young matinee idols, Ryder was uncommonly cool. “Quaid, ” she says, “was rilly, rilly great.” But she didn’t fall in love. “God no, he’s thirty-five!”.