I am on a date with Julia Fox — at least, that’s what it feels like. We’re in the dimly lit VIP suite at Body by Brooklyn, a spa inconspicuously tucked under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Clinton Hill. We’re wearing fluffy terry-cloth robes; there are rose petals inexplicably strewn all over a bubble bath, which neither of us will get into. And about a minute and a half after I meet her, right before we’re about to get massages, she gestures at me to take my bathing suit top off.
“Wait, babe, you have to take off the thing,” she says in her signature drawl, a hybrid of Drew Barrymore’s SoCal lilt and deadpan alt-left podcast-host vocal fry. “How are they gonna touch your back through your bathing suit?”
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It’s a fair point. I had worn the one-piece to make Fox feel comfortable — but also, having recently seen Fox in a see-through glass bustier at Cannes, and having had a kid within the past year, it struck me as borderline masochistic to be naked in front of her. She’s amused by my prudery, but understanding. “I want you to have a great massage experience,” she says.
R&R does not come easily to Fox these days. She is a woman who wears many hats: model; actor; muse to Josh Safdie in Uncut Jahhms, per the infamous viral clip; influencer; former paramour and Carbone dining partner to the world’s most famous rapper-slash-anti-Semite; and mom to two-and-a-half-year-old son Valentino, whom she will pick up from day care shortly. When I meet her, she is quite literally wearing one — a baseball cap from Diesel, paired with ruffled white shorts, bejeweled flats from Dsquared2, and a T-shirt of three Middle Eastern female bodybuilders, her hair dyed a vibrant shade of puce. (She looks fucking incredible, and, no, much like everything else Fox wears, you cannot pull it off.)
In October, Fox will be donning another hat: that of a memoirist with the release of her book, Down the Drain. Over spring rolls and pad thai, Fox says she wrote the book in a “vortex,” on the two days a week when her ex, Peter Artemiev, has custody of Valentino. As a child, writing a book was a dream of hers, though she gave up on the idea after having one of her pieces read out loud by a middle school English teacher and mocked by her classmates. “I was like, ‘I really can’t ever share how I’m feeling because it’s not going to be received well,’” she remembers thinking. “If I was shut down then, that really sealed it for me.”
After reading Down the Drain — or, for that matter, after hearing Fox talk in pretty much any context, anywhere — it’s hard to imagine a time when she was ever unwilling to share. She is the queen of self-disclosure, giving tours of her messy apartment on TikTok, speaking openly about her past with drugs and sex work, and famously penning an account of her date night with aforementioned ex Kanye West for Interview Magazine (though, as she recounts in the book, that account was far less straightforward than it appeared).
“If you can’t handle the truth, that’s your fucking problem,” she says, and Down the Drain does not disappoint in this regard. It’s full of harrowing tales of overdoses, abusive relationships with drug addicted ex-boyfriends, pregnancy loss, sexual assault, parental neglect, and shitting in the locker of a bullying rival dominatrix (though technically Fox did not shit in the locker so much as shit in a toilet and scoop it out).
But in truth, the version of Fox that the public has become acquainted with is distinct from the one in Down the Drain. The condom tube tops, the high-profile relationships, the extreme smoky eye — Fox’s memoir makes clear that these are essentially armor. It’s one of many ways in which a woman whose youth, glamour, and beauty have prompted people, mostly men, to project their own desires onto her, resists them doing so.
“It’s performative,” says Briana Andalore, Fox’s stylist and longtime best friend. “She has to feed the baby, right? She has to put a roof over his head. Our mentality has always been, you gotta do what you gotta do. That’s been our mentality our whole existence. It’s a survivor mentality.”
Fox has become so synonymous with New York City that it’s hard to imagine her living elsewhere; in a city of transplants, she seems a rare orchid, albeit one in horse-tail and latex assless chaps. But she was actually born in Italy, living with her mother and grandfather there until she was six, then moving to New York to live with her itinerant father.
“I wanted to have men like me and fawn all over me. I didn’t care if it took a toll. It [took] a lot of denial and a lot of lying to yourself”
IN “DOWN THE DRAIN,” Fox describes a childhood in which she was treated largely as a nuisance and left to her own devices, making caramels with sugar and a lighter in front of the TV at her grandfather’s, or being locked in her room and using the cat-litter box for a bathroom while her dad was at work. “My childhood was definitely fucked up,” she says. “But now that I’m a parent, I can have more understanding and see where my dad was not equipped. He was doing what he thought was right.” Fox is far less generous toward her mother, who lives in Italy with her younger brother: “She’s very anxious, very cold. [As a parent], I just try to do everything the opposite of her.”
With her parents out of the picture, Fox largely grew up unsupervised, shoplifting from Upper East Side department stores and experimenting with drugs and sex starting in middle school.
In Down the Drain, Fox writes about being sexualized at an early age, getting high and fooling around with a 26-year-old at the age of 11 and taking pride in the eighth-grade boy who would grope her and compliment her ass whenever she walked down the hall at school. Life “was about surviving for the both of us,” says Andalore. “We could just lock arms and live together without words, seeing eye to eye. Scheming and scamming was our love language.”
In many ways, Down the Drain is a book about objectification: both about the psychic toll it takes, as well as Fox’s efforts to navigate the world by alternately resisting or embracing it. “I think for a long time, I was a ‘pick me,’” Fox says, using a term for women who seek out male approval. “I wanted to be hot and look good and have men like me and fawn all over me. I didn’t care if it took a toll on who I really am. It [took] a lot of denial and a lot of lying to yourself.”
Very quickly, Fox learned that while her looks could open some doors — “It helped us get into clubs,” Andalore says — they could also lead her to some dark places. At 14, she met her first great love, a drug dealer who is identified as “Ace” in the book, whom she alleges was both physically and emotionally abusive, tracking her whereabouts and sending her threatening letters. Andalore, who lived with Fox at the time, says witnessing the relationship was deeply painful and that it had a long-standing impact on Fox: “It creates trauma that you don’t deal with in the moment,” she says. “Trauma comes in waves. You might not be experiencing it today or tomorrow or a month from now, but you never know when it’s going to creep up and affect you.”
At the time, Fox blamed herself for the abuse. “I have a lot of shame around it,” Fox says. “When women are put into abusive situations, we often [are] like, ‘How could I have been so dumb to let that happen?’ That part was probably the hardest, just having to reopen things that I had really pushed out of my mind.” She ended up in a mental institution from the stress.
It was that experience with Ace that prompted Fox to come out last year in support of another widely misunderstood female celebrity, Amber Heard, at a time when no other celebrities were doing so. She felt compelled to defend Heard, even though she received panicked phone calls from her team telling her not to. “I said to my friends, ‘The tides are gonna turn eventually,’” she says. “And that’s the thing: If I just know and believe in my heart that I’m right, then I don’t give a fuck what anyone else has to say.”
When she was in her late teens, Fox started working as a dominatrix, which appealed to her, she writes, due to the lack of penetrative sex involved and her “experience in hating men.” (She also came up with a fairly ingenious way to use a funnel, though squeamish readers may wish to skip that part.) “It was like, ‘Listen, I’m gonna be objectified either way,’” she recalls thinking. “‘So I might as well just capitalize on it and own it.’”
Fox loved the job; after years of her sexuality being weaponized against her, she found being able to monetize it empowering. “I went into it thinking, ‘I’m a piece of shit, I’m not worth anything.’ No matter how many times someone would tell me, ‘You’re beautiful, you’re so hot,’ the only thing I listened to was the money. I’m getting booked the most often. I have the most clients. So I could quantify it. I could see it. And then I had to believe it,” she says. “So it really helped with my self-worth.”
It’s easy to see why she was so successful: In person, Fox is warm without being ingratiating, and gracious without being irritating. But there’s also an aloofness to Fox, who rarely smiles and tends to fix her unblinking blue eyes on you, as if she’s trying to gauge whether you’re compelling enough to be worth her time. “Inside, she’s warm and sweet and loving and giving,” says Andalore. “But there’s a very hard and intense exterior on the outside.” You get the sense that this quality would be devastatingly appealing to a certain type of man who would view it as a challenge, and also that she largely had to develop it out of necessity.
“I’ve always been intuitive in that way, where I have a pretty good track record of being like, ‘That’s such a bad person,’ and then arguing with my friends over it, and then fast-forward, they’re a bad person. And I’m like, ‘See, I told you so,’” she says. “When you grow up in the city, and you’re on your own, you kind of have to be hypervigilant. You do get to learn to read people and read between the lines and hear the unspoken things.”
Throughout her twenties, Fox became well-known on the downtown party circuit, briefly running a fashion line with Andalore that was financed primarily by Fox’s boyfriend at the time, a wealthy older man she met through her work as a domme whom she identifies as Antoine in her memoir. Fox characterizes this period as intensely stressful — not just because her livelihood and those of her friends were dependent on her relationship, but because of the psychic toll of performing for Antoine, who she says nicknamed her “poupée,” French for “doll.”
Older men “saw me as the version of me that they created in their mind, like a young, carefree, spirited, adventurous, attractive, youthful, energized [woman],” she says. “In reality, I was jaded, and hanging on by a thread. But obviously, I wasn’t going to shatter their expectations, because that doesn’t benefit me. So I’m going to act like I am these things until it wears on my soul.”
Eventually, the seams started to show. As Fox writes in her book, the relationship with Antoine ended when he discovered she was sleeping with another man, and she and her friends had to scramble to support themselves. “She had to grow up really fast and figure things out and take care of herself and hustle and grind and provide for herself,” says her best friend, model and photographer Richie Shazam, who lived with her at the time. “And she always found a way. She literally always found a way.”
Before the fashion line ended, Fox invested the majority of her savings in a club with the other man, a relationship that imploded after he allegedly attacked her at the club. Fox publicly spoke out against him, and much like Amber Heard, she says, she was “ostracized and punished” by her social circle for doing so. “At every corner, there were people talking about me and calling me crazy and saying that I was jealous and made it up,” she says. (Through a lawyer, the ex previously denied the charges to the New York Post.)
I manifested being a single mom for myself. Just because I’ve learned that men fuck everything up.
After that, Fox left New York, briefly moving to Louisiana. She started using heroin more regularly, staying in contact with old friends only intermittently. “That was petrifying for me,” Andalore says. “I was afraid she wouldn’t wake up one day.” When a friend invited Fox to meet in New York and fly down to Miami on a billionaire’s private jet, she jumped at the chance. On the jet, she alleges in Down the Drain, she was roofied and sexually assaulted by an unnamed billionaire, an incident she did not report to the police. “I already knew what happened when I tried to call the police and stand up for myself,” she says. “There was nothing I could do. So the only thing that seemed like the rational thing to do was pretend it didn’t happen.”
Fox’s breakout role as Julia, the vampy mistress of Adam Sandler’s sleazy diamond dealer in 2019’s Uncut Gems, could not have come at a better time. On paper, the part, which the Safdie brothers wrote specifically for her, could have easily fit into the category of manic-pixie-dream-hottie roles that older men projected onto her. But Fox says it did not, largely because she played an active role in shaping the trajectory of the character (it was her idea, for instance, to have Julia trash Sandler’s apartment during their breakup scene). The success of the movie not only catapulted her to mainstream fame virtually overnight, but brought her something she had rarely experienced before: acclaim for something other than her looks. “Having that was so validating,” she says.
But the success of Uncut Gems was something of a double-edged sword. Its release coincided with the overdose death of her friend Gianna; in Down the Drain, Fox writes of sniffing oxy with her right before shooting a love scene with Sandler. Now, Fox was in the position of having to grieve her while promoting the film. “Everyone was talking to me about this one thing, but there’s this glaring other thing in my brain,” she recalls. “In a way, maybe it was a blessing. Because if I hadn’t been able to have the distraction of having to show up and do that, then I would have probably gone off the deep end.”
Prior to Gianna’s death, Fox had gone on the anti-addiction drug Suboxone, and had tried to persuade Gianna to go on it as well. She has been open about being in recovery: “I do want to talk about the Suboxone, and I do want to raise awareness, because I feel there’s a stigma around these maintenance drugs, but they really do fucking save lives,” she says.
But this openness has been used against her. Last year, Azealia Banks attacked her on Instagram for her history of drug use, referring to her son as a “crackbaby.” “If people want to harp on that, it’s like, ‘OK, you’re part of the reason why people don’t get treatment,’” Fox says. “So if I have to be a pioneer for that, then sure, whatever.”
In Down the Drain, Fox writes that West accused her of hiding her history of drug use from him, with West claiming he had only found out about it when his ex, Kim Kardashian, told him. (Fox has never directly spoken to Kardashian, but says she was “a fan of hers” before dating West: “It was interesting to get a bird’s-eye view into that situation,” she says of witnessing the end of their relationship.)
Those who followed the breathless recounting of Fox and West’s short-lived courtship in the tabloids will be pleased to know that there is, indeed, a section about the relationship with the rapper, whom she refers to in Down the Drain as “the artist.” Fox was hesitant to write about him, knowing that “everyone’s gonna focus on it. But I felt like I had to mention it. It was such a pivotal moment for me.”
In Down the Drain, Fox paints an unflinching portrait of her whirlwind relationship with West, meeting him in Miami on New Year’s Eve and getting scuttled from hotel room to hotel room for public outings, with him approving her wardrobe and criticizing her body to the point of offering her a boob job. She describes the relationship as completely chaste, playing Uno and dictionary games on their first date and only getting physical when the cameras were on. “It wasn’t [sexual] at all,” she says. (Of West’s anti-Semitism, Fox, who is not Jewish, says she saw none of that during their time together, and that he primarily talked about his creative projects and his issues with Kardashian. “It caught me by surprise as much as everyone else,” she says. “It just felt like religious psychosis or something.”)
She says that at the time, she was largely motivated by anger at her ex for what she perceived as his lack of involvement and support for her and Valentino, blasting him on Instagram for being a “deadbeat dad” (she says they are on better terms now), and she says West had similar intentions. “I think it kind of warped into weaponizing me to get back at his ex-wife. That’s why the relationship only lasted a month,” she says. The infamous Interview Magazine article about their date, she alleges in Down the Drain, was largely fictional and written at his team’s behest. That was the first “red flag,” she says. “When I realized what was happening, I was like, ‘I don’t want to be part of this.’”
When discussing the benefits of the relationship on her career, and the opportunities that exposure afforded her, Fox is clear-eyed: “I made a lot of money. That was great,” she says. But Andalore, who styled Fox during that period and continued to work for West for a short time after the breakup, characterizes it as “demonic and scary” for Fox, saying it caused her “emotional distress.” Fox also struggled with articles painting her as a starfucker and a gold digger, as well as the example it would set for her son. “If I wasn’t a mom, I probably would have stuck it out longer,” she says. “If I was still that version of myself, I would have probably just been like, ‘It’s a good opportunity, just do it.’ Now that I’m a mom, I have a higher moral standard for myself.”
Motherhood, says Andalore, is Fox’s guiding principle: “The number-one thing that she is is a mom. That’s the only thing that’s really important to her at the end of the day. All the other stuff doesn’t matter.” Fox and Valentino live with Shazam and Shazam’s boyfriend in an uptown railroad apartment, a dynamic Fox describes as “like that movie Three Men and a Baby, but it’s girls and gays and theys.”
Every day, she drops Valentino off at day care, cooks him dinner, and falls asleep in bed with him watching The Magic School Bus or Go, Dog, Go!. “I’ve always felt Julia has always been a mom figure,” says Shazam. “[And] Valentino is her biggest priority.” Occasionally, they’ll go to Tompkins Square Park or hang out with Fox’s other celeb-mom friend Emily Ratajkowski, but other than the two days a week Valentino spends with Fox’s ex, she largely parents by herself.
“I always knew I was going to be a single mom. I manifested that for myself,” she says. “Just because I’ve learned over time that men fuck everything up.”
Finding a traditional type of co-parent is not something Fox is particularly interested in. She is on Raya, but rarely uses it: “I’m like, where are the celebrities? It’s all investment-finance bros at this point.” Having had to use sex as currency for much of her life, she says she is, and mostly always has been, largely uninterested in sex. “The cons outweigh the pros — like, having to get that close to somebody, letting someone in your space, and all the things that come with that,” she says. “My experience has been that sex either ruins everything, or complicates everything. And I just don’t have the bandwidth at this point in my life.”
In truth, she has a lot going on. Fox is set to host a reality-TV show she helped develop about fashion upcycling, and she recently shot a small role as a real-estate agent in an upcoming Steven Soderbergh film, having already worked with him in 2021’s No Way Out. (She has stayed in touch with the Safdies, but has no plans to work with them anytime soon: “They’re doing another movie with Adam, but they didn’t ask me to be in it, so whatever.”)
She also wrote a movie that’s in preproduction about two girls who accidentally kill their sugar daddy. The movie, she says, is essentially about the lengths young women must go to to navigate the world without family support. “If you’re looking at the girl who has the rich dad and the nice car and you want the car, too, you’re gonna have to make some decisions that you’ll then have to live with,” she says. “I feel like that’s kind of what the theme of the movie is.” (Her dream casting for the lead is the one thing she told me during our conversation that was off the record; suffice to say it is, in true Julia Fox fashion, both off-the-wall and kind of perfect.)
It’s a fitting screenwriting debut for a woman who, as Andalore describes it, has adopted, and will continue to adopt, a “survivor mentality” throughout her entire life, one that is encapsulated by one scene in Down the Drain, when Fox is at a famous rapper’s party in Miami Beach with West. After being chastised by a member of his entourage for twerking on the dance floor, a chastened Fox scans a “sea of neon party dresses and BBLs” looking for West. Of the women, she writes, “they willingly fade into the background, waiting for their come-up. They’re party decorations, ornaments to be admired. I’m not like that anymore. I already had my come-up, and I’m not going back to being objectified and used as fuel for the egos of insecure men.”
I ask Fox if, when she was writing this passage, and when she was dating West, she was thinking at all about Antoine, the older French millionaire who had treated her as his poupée. She says she saw some parallels. “[I was thinking], ‘I had already been chosen, [and] reaped all the benefits, and then lost it all,’” she says. “And I already knew that that wasn’t the road to happiness for me. I’d already gone through that whole cycle. And it was like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m being told to get back in line.’ No. I can live without this. I’m good.”
Hair by JOHN NOVOTNY for OPUS BEAUTY using ORIBE. Makeup by JULIAN STOLLER for OPUS BEAUTY using SHISEIDO ARCHLINER INK STYLO EYELINER INK. Styling by BRIANA ANDALORE.
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