Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, 1992: Three-year-old Dakota Johnson is awakened in the night by her couple-of-the-moment parents, Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, returning home from a party—Griffith still in her brown fur coat, her hands icy cold. “She smelled like snow, her perfume, and cigarettes,” Dakota recalls now, wrapped in a fluffy white robe and cradling a cup of tea. She closes her eyes. “I remember it like it was yesterday.”
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Scent memory has always been strong for Johnson. “I guess my olfactory organ is really on point,” she says. As a face of Gucci Bloom, she brings a certain ethereal physicality to the otherwise intangible nature of smell: See her plunge, fully gowned, into a picturesque lake alongside model/actress Hari Nef and artist Petra Collins in the fragrance’s dreamily romantic ad. She hails the new Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori, a green twist on the original that’s launching this month, as “wearable art” devised by Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele and perfumer Alberto Morillas. “There’s something mysterious and otherworldly about perfume,” she says. “It can really create an atmosphere. And isn’t making yourself into an atmosphere such a beautiful thing to do?”
Not all of Johnson’s beauty stories conjure such lovely imagery. She credits her serious coconut oil habit to filming the forthcoming remake of Italian horror master Dario Argento’s lurid thriller Suspiria. “We were in an abandoned hotel on top of a mountain. It had 30 telephone poles on the roof, so there was electricity pulsating through the building, and everyone was shocking each other,” she says. “It was cold as shit, and so dry. The only thing that helped was dousing myself with oil every night. Now I can’t get enough.” She’s also devoted to using sublingual CBD drops to summon sleep during travel (“I try to knock myself out on planes; otherwise my whole world falls apart”) and a new biotech moisturizer developed by German stem-cell scientist and family friend Augustinus Bader.
Johnson’s A-list DNA can be detected in everything from her soft, clear-as-a-bell voice (thanks, Mom) to the patrician angle of her jaw (which evokes that of her Hitchcock heroine grandmother, Tippi Hedren) to the sophisticated mixture of grit and vulnerability she brings to her characters. “I’m very aware that I come from a special family,” she says. “I’m so lucky to have those two women as my matriarchs. I don’t have to look elsewhere for guidance or inspiration.”
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With the Fifty Shades franchise in the rearview mirror, and Suspiria—“which, no lie, fucked me up so much that I had to go to therapy”—now wrapped, Johnson is focusing on her own production company. “I’ve come to terms with the fact that the projects I want to work on don’t exist, so I’m going to have to create them for myself,” she says. “I feel incredibly grateful that I’m in a position to do that.” She’s nailed psychodrama (2015’s A Bigger Splash), comedy (2016’s How to Be Single), and adventure (the upcoming The Peanut Butter Falcon), and yet, she says, “there are many more experiences to have. It’s really good to still be learning the thing I love.”
As for that hyper-astute nose? Johnson thinks it could work into a role one day, too. “Maybe there will be a character who’s super into essential oils,” she laughs. “I could really do something with that.”
Top photo: Sequin-embroidered top, $5,200, silver rings, all, Gucci, gucci.com
Hair by Clayton Hawkins and makeup by Kara Yoshimoto Bua, both at Starworks Artists; manicure by Nettie Davis at the Wall Group; floral artist: Maurice Harris, founder of Bloom & Plume, Los Angeles; produced by Chris Charlton at Bam Productions; bottle still: Richard Majchrzak/Studio D
This article originally appears in the April 2018 issue of ELLE.