The Reinvention of Kirsten Dunst

A few weeks ago, at a party for the second Chelsea location of 303 Gallery, a crowd of downtown creative types milled around, outfitted in ’80s Ray Bans and indie rock T-shirts. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore was the guest DJ, and the Virgins, a New York band of perfectly disheveled young men whose songs have been featured on Gossip Girl, performed onstage next to a pile of rubble. (The gallery was still under construction.) Around 7:30, 26-year-old actress Kirsten Dunst quietly arrived with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Matt Creed. Ms. Dunst, dressed in a cream-colored, polka-dotted ’50s dress that hit just below the knee, roamed around, dodging the cameras. The pair departed early for the after-party at the Beatrice Inn, where Mr. Creed is the resident DJ and Ms. Dunst has become a regular.

In this crowd, the sighting of Ms. Dunst was hardly unusual. Since March, when she moved to New York (and into a $3 million Tribeca penthouse she bought last year) to star in Andrew Jarecki’s All Good Things with Ryan Gosling—after a stint in rehab at the Cirque Lodge in Utah, which she told the press she entered for “depression”—Ms. Dunst seems to be everywhere. In the past few months, she’s been spotted walking in Soho in black shorts and a flannel shirt, hair tousled, Barack Obama Rolling Stone cover visible; in a white T-shirt dress, walking with Dave Ransone, the tattooed bartender of the Rusty Knot and East Village bar Black and White; sitting on a stoop on Broome Street while chatting on her cell phone in cut-off shorts and rugged vintage boots; watching the British indie pop group the Ting Tings at McCarren Park Pool in Williamsburg in a loose green dress and a white headband (à la Arden Wohl); strolling with Mr. Creed in a straw fedora and floral vintage dress; lunching at Café Cluny in the West Village; and dining at Freeman’s on the Lower East Side, saying to a group of people at her table, “I’m so glad I met you guys!”

One member of the downtown music scene was introduced to her as she walked up Fourth Avenue with the Strokes’ manager, Ryan Gentles. A 28-year-old music writer once encountered her walking down Hudson Street in a men’s V-neck T-shirt tucked into high-waisted ’70s jeans. “She was super pale and had that look of someone you know, but not in a famous way,” the music writer said. “It was like, ‘Does that girl date a friend of mine and have I met her at their birthday?’”

Ms. Dunst’s open courtship of the downtown scene has resulted in typically jaded New Yorkers’ own fascination with her. There she is! Among us! Just sort of there, hanging out!

“She hasn’t been around here in like a year, and then she was nowhere, and then she just shows up in New York being seen every single night,” said a 28-year-old male model who lives in Los Angeles and is part of the bicoastal Beatrice-Chateau Marmont crowd. “She’s going to like every concert and every event, and people there are, like, obsessed with her!”

Much like the new kid at school, Ms. Dunst has picked her lunch table of downtown cool carefully. The new Kirsten (as she’s known around town) rolls out of bed, throws on one of her several pairs of Ray Bans and wanders around lower Manhattan, puffing on American Spirit Blues. She doesn’t care so much about Hollywood as she does about her image outside of it; being just another downtown brooding artist seems somehow truer than being a done-up L.A. celebrity. (Ms. Dunst’s publicist, Steven Huvane, declined to make her available for an interview.)

Ms. Dunst is never photographed hopping in and out of chauffeured SUVs in five-inch heels. Instead, she roams around in Worishofer sling-back sandals—the grandma shoe that’s become part of the downtown vintage aesthetic—portraying a kind of new, seemingly accessible celebrity that Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams personified by moving to Brooklyn and walking the streets without the bodyguards or disguises employed by their Los Angeles counterparts. “The Beatrice was Heath’s haunt,” the male model said. “You could always find him there, having a drink on his own at the bar, his bike locked up outside. I think it taught all these other stars how to be that kind of cool and how much people there appreciate it.”

“She clearly seems to be into that scene right now, but we should applaud her!” said the music writer. “It speaks well of her that she’d rather hang out in Lower East Side dive bars than lunch at the Ivy.”

It’s a kind of celebrity that others with Ms. Dunst’s level of stardom, like Mary-Kate Olsen, have attempted, but failed, to cultivate; Ms. Olsen may look the part, but she’s rarely without her black Escalade and beefy bodyguards. And just a few years ago, Ms. Dunst seemed to be heading down a path well-trod by many lithe blond actresses before her. A star since the age of 11, when she kissed Brad Pitt in Interview With a Vampire, Ms. Dunst has also played a tortured young girl in Virgin Suicides; the captain of the cheerleading squad in Bring It On; and the title role in Marie Antoinette.

The Reinvention of Kirsten Dunst