Facing up to la dolce vita of Monica Bellucci

As the star of Dolce & Gabbana's latest make-up campaign, life really is sweet for actress Monica Bellucci. The Italian beauty tells Rebecca gonsalves about her long-standing relationship with the designers and what glamour means to her

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Since Dolce & Gabbana launched a make-up line in 2009, it has won commercial and critical acclaim. Luxurious formulations housed in elegant packaging are given the Sicilian designers' typical Italianate spin, most brilliantly with a leopard pattern embossed on a limited-edition Anamalier bronzer compact. Having previously worked with younger actresses Scarlett Johansson and Felicity Jones for the brand's make-up and fragrance launches, this season, Dolce & Gabbana has reverted to one of its favourites: the Italian beauty Monica Bellucci.

"I was a young model when I first met Domenico and Stefano," says Bellucci in a candle-lit, flower-filled room in the designers' vast Milan headquarters, the day before the autumn/winter show in February. "I did one of my first fashion shows with them, and then I've done fashion campaigns and beauty campaigns. It's crazy – and it's beautiful, too – that this relationship is growing up. Actually, working with them is not working – it's beautiful, it's friendship and affection. I think it's amazing that after all those years we still have the opportunity to create things together."

That Bellucci has been able to grow up so visibly with the brand is encouraging – after all the beauty industry is even more notorious than the fashion industry for fetishising youth and it seems to have started something of a trend. This season, Marc Jacobs cast Jessica Lange as the face of his make-up line, while Nars announced that Charlotte Rampling would be the star of its next campaign. "I think Domenico and Stefano love and respect women so much because the idea of using the face of an adult woman means that 'beautiful' is not just because of youth," says Bellucci.

"In French, we call it la beauté du diable – the way that, when you're very young, you're protected by that youth. Youth makes everybody beautiful, it's natural. But then when you're around 40, 45, 50 or over, it's more about the battles that you went through, so the beauty is more about the person, the soul – not just about the body or physique." As one of the most beautiful women in the world, it's easy for the likes of Bellucci to believe in such a philosophy. And for the rest of us, there's make-up.

For the first time, the brand's make-up campaign was shot by Domenico Dolce, who two years ago published Campioni, a book of photographs of young international footballers, with art direction from Stefano Gabbana.

"I was very touched," says Bellucci of Dolce's new role in their relationship. "It was the first time that I felt watched by him, through the camera. I was a bit 'Oh my god', you know? Actually he took very beautiful pictures. I think it's great he has these ideas and the courage to prove himself as a photographer."

While she may have been nervous, with her friend behind the camera Bellucci knew she would be in good hands. Something of a veteran of photoshoots and filming, it's safe to estimate that she has picked up some helpful tips over the years. "Good light, that's the secret," the actress says, laughing. "Good light does everything. Good light is great if you have shiny skin – so drink a lot of water, use good moisturiser and also to work on your soul is very important." The last tip may seem a bit esoteric, but as Bellucci reminds me: "Your face tells your story."

As Dolce & Gabbana Make Up creative advisor, Pat McGrath is responsible for creating the beauty look that completes the story for the brand's catwalk spectaculars and their advertising campaigns. "Monica is so fabulous and working with her is such a joy," says McGrath. "She is so effortlessly flawless and a true screen siren. I wanted to keep her make-up quite simple here – we didn't really use a huge selection of products, mainly because Monica's radiance and Italian spirit shines through so naturally.

"There are two beauty looks for the new campaign, explains McGrath: "The first, the 'red lip look', is sensual, dramatic and exudes Italian spirit. I think Monica looked so stunning with the fiery red lip." Of course, red lipstick is one of the eternal classics of the beauty world: "Sometimes I go outside in the morning and I see girls in red lipstick with jeans and a T-shirt and I like that very much, it means you start the day in a good mood," says Bellucci, dressed in Dolce & Gabbana's signature lace. "Lipstick really means something to girls, to women. My grandmother, at 80, would put on red lipstick to go to church, and that was such a beautiful gesture."

Working on more than one campaign look was important to Bellucci as well as to the creative team: "A woman has so many facets and when you create an image you have to play with all the different moments of your femininity, not just one thing because everybody can get bored. A woman has so many secrets, so many facets – we can be so many things. When you're in front of the camera you have to try to create different emotions, because even the person making pictures of you needs inspiration. To be 'you' means nothing – you can be so many yous."

"I come from a family where women are very strong, but also very feminine. Sometimes when we think about femininity, we think also fragile. But I think you can be feminine and very strong. I think make-up goes with that femininity. I think it's a natural gesture for women and one they do more for themselves than for others. I remember when I was 14 and I wanted to be a grown woman, at that time I loved make-up. When I do put some make-up on, I think it's for myself first of all."

Given the plentiful supply of lotions and potions from which Bellucci has to choose, it's perhaps no surprise that she likes to experiment with her beauty look: "Sometimes, I want to be in the spotlight so I put on some red lipstick. Other times, I like more natural shades, or coral. I couldn't pick just one because it depends how I feel, it's great to have all those choices. But to be glamorous? Just a touch of eyeliner and red lips is glamorous."