Lenny Kravitz likes things quiet. This might come as a surprise, considering he’s one of the biggest rock stars ever to have wielded a guitar. But that’s where he finds his inspiration — and he’s finding a lot of it these days. Having decamped to his sprawling home in the Bahamas to ride out the pandemic, Kravitz has managed to carve out a subdued, relatively normal life for himself these last few months.
“The silence and quiet inspires me,” he says. “In many ways, my life is the same now under quarantine as it was before. I live in a small village of about 400 or so people. For the most part, everyone goes to bed early and wakes up early. I’m living the same life; I just have more time than normal. I’m thankful for the time.”
After eleven albums, 40 million records sold, and countless worldwide tours, it’s no wonder the 56-year-old hippie rocker is in a pensive mood. He also just released a new memoir, Let Love Rule – a reference to his debut album that was released, somewhat unbelievably considering how profoundly relevant Kravitz and his work continue to be, more than 30 years ago. In the book, Kravitz reflects on his first 25 years in rock and roll, and the formative influences that shaped his life and career. Seeing the Jackson 5 and James Brown at an early age instilled an early love of soul music; later, discovering Led Zeppelin, Kiss and Steely Dan formed the inspiration for his signature rock-soul sound. But one artist cut through the noise: “When I saw Prince,” he says, “I saw myself.”
Turns out, others saw a little bit of Prince in Kravitz, too. In a review for his debut album, Rolling Stone portrayed Kravitz as a not-so-distant disciple of The Purple One, noting his undeniable ability to “ignite a groove,” referring to his blend of rock and soul – a distinct shift from the dominant hip-hop and dance sounds of the time.
The following decade saw Kravitz’s star rise fast. He established his signature sound in five smash records and flaunted his boundary-pushing red-carpet style long before gender fluid dressing entered the mainstream. After four big Grammy wins between 1991 and 2002, Kravitz didn’t just become a bona fide rock star – he became a legend. And his commitment not just to his music, but also to ideals of individuality, peace, and equality that has been the reason for the longevity of his career — and his cool factor. Being cool, though, can be fleeting. But Kravitz, a singular artist who has always stuck to his guns, has managed to feel both ahead of his time and totally timeless.
“So many lines have been taken down, boxes, of what a man is supposed to be, what masculinity is. People are taking more and more chances and men are generally, in a wider sense, wearing things that men necessarily wouldn’t have worn 10, 20 years ago. It’s great.”
In addition to his career as a recording artist (and occasional scarf influencer), Kravitz has taken on another side gig: interior designer. His firm Kravitz Design has designed the interiors of condo buildings in downtown Manhattan to luxury hotels in Toronto, bringing his vision for polished scruffy-chic aesthetic to life in new contexts. And he’s always open to unique projects that combine his many loves and interests, like his recent collaboration with Steinway on a custom piano, the #KravitzGrand.
His ability to find common ground in different scenes and subcultures speaks to his early journey of navigating the disparate parts of his identity as a mixed race, half Jewish kid from New York. In the 1970s, fandom came with strict rules about how you looked and who you were; today, you don’t pledge allegiance to a scene through your taste anymore – you can be whoever you want. At his core, Kravitz has always done just that – and he’s still here.
Nowadas, the boundaries of identity aren’t as rigid as they once were, and Kravitz is the perfect representative of these changing times for a new, freer generation. “So many lines have been taken down, boxes, of what a man is supposed to be, what masculinity is,” he says. “People are taking more and more chances and men are generally, in a wider sense, wearing things that men necessarily wouldn’t have worn 10, 20 years ago. It’s great.”
As the new global ambassador of Yves Saint Laurent’s Y Eau du Parfum fragrance, where he joins his daughter Zoë in the YSL Beauté family, Kravitz is excited about men’s freedom to experiment with style. “I think it’s wide open,” he says. The partnership with YSL was born out of a real relationship with the brand. It’s simple: Saint Laurent makes clothes for rock stars; Kravitz is the ultimate rock star. “I feel like the clothes are being designed for me,” he says. “They really fit my aesthetic, my silhouette. They always have a rock and roll edge and an elegance. It fits me so well.” For Kravitz, scent is an extension of style. “I put it on for myself just because I want to feel a certain way,” he says. But it also transports him back to his childhood: watching his mother spritz perfume before for a night out; his hardworking grandfather’s signature cologne. For Kravitz, these elements aren’t just a way to express himself, they’re a powerful connection to his past.
At the outset of the global pandemic, Kravitz was in the middle of a two-year world tour. He was forced to put the remaining dates on pause, and retreat to his home in Eleuthera, a small island in the Bahamas archipelago. He’s been living there, surrounded by plants, palm trees, and his precious collection of musical instruments and studio-quality recording equipment, for the past six months. “As much as I love touring, recording is my favorite part of my artform,” says Kravitz. “To sit down without a tour or a commitment to be in the studio and actually practice is something I haven’t really done since I was a teenager.” Turns out the downtime agrees with him. He’s currently halfway through recording a new album.
For many, quarantine has zapped their productivity and creativity, but it’s only invigorated Kravitz. “I’ve been able to get quiet. That’s where it starts for me,” he says. “I look at nature, and music comes to me. I don’t sit down to write. I wait until I hear it. I’ve been hearing a lot of music in the last couple of months after being here.”
THE COLLABORATION OF A LIFETIME
Sometimes, a pairing just makes sense. Oysters with a good Sancerre; a white T-shirt and well-fitting jeans. And now, Lenny Kravitz and YSL Y. The brand’s signature men’s fragrance is a refreshing mix of bergamot, sage, and ginger underpinned by base notes of balsam fir, cedar, and ambergris. Which is to say it’s a sharp, ambitious scent — a rockstar of a fragrance inspired by the youthful adventures of Yves Saint Laurent Himself. “I’ve always been a fan of Yves Saint Laurent. Of his work, his aesthetic, his lifestyle, his boldness,” says Kravitz. “He was super eclectic and drew from so many places. I also happened to already wear a lot of Saint Laurent. Always have. This was not something I had to fit into or think about. It’s been part of my lifestyle for so many years. It’s a very organic collaboration.” What more can we say?