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Renée Zellweger Boosts Tommy Hilfiger Charity Initiative

She is the latest celebrity to create a handbag with the designer for the Breast Health Institute campaign.

MILAN — Renée Zellweger is well respected for her versatility and a dose of pluck in taking on challenging roles, from the goofy and lovable quintessentially British “singleton” Bridget Jones, which won over plenty of naysayers displeased that Zellweger hails from Texas, to the feisty Civil War-era farm girl Ruby in “Cold Mountain.” Her off-screen role as ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger in its support of nonprofit organization Breast Health Institute is also one she takes very seriously.

This story first appeared in the April 7, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“If there’s a positive way to experience having a public persona, then this is certainly it,” Zellweger said in an interview at Hilfiger’s Milan headquarters on Wednesday. “I understand there’s a curiosity about people in films, music and entertainment, or those who are perceived as taste makers — what they are interested in, what they are wearing, where they are going. If this in some way can raise awareness about the initiative between Tommy Hilfiger and BHI, then great, all the better.”

The petite Academy Award winner, wearing an azure Tommy Hilfiger summer dress with a sweetheart neckline, spoke passionately about the project and said that her involvement was “very, very selfishly motivated,” referring to her own friends and family members who have gone through cancer treatment.

Zellweger made a point to focus on the project, fielding questions during an earlier press conference, where any other topic was off-limits. One exception was Bridget Jones. Responding to a reporter who asked how Zellweger felt about women identifying with that character, or whether she wanted to somehow move on, the actress said: “In a roundabout way, it’s flattering. I don’t usually care about public perception, but Bridget Jones is beloved. I made a lot of friends because of her. If women relate and she makes people curious, why, it’s one more gift. There are no negatives there, nothing to overcome.” Again, that role also helps her reach out to promote the cause, she said.

First launched in 2007, the limited edition bag is the fifth created by Tommy Hilfiger to support the Breast Health Institute. Zellweger follows previous ambassadors such as Carla Bruni, Helena Christensen and Milla Jovovich. Photographed by Alexi Lubomirski, Zellweger poses carrying the light brown suede bag, which will be available globally starting in mid-April in Hilfiger flagships, selected department stores and specialty boutiques, and on tommy.com. The bag, which is embellished with golden finishings, retails at $299. The company will donate $100 from the sale of each bag to Fund For Living, a campaign created by the association to support women battling cancer and to help cover their expenses on a daily basis.

“This is one of my favorite things about this initiative, and I love that Tommy Hilfiger has supported it for five years. It’s very real, very direct, helping women in their personal struggles, buying a wig or allowing them to hire a babysitter or to take a taxi when they don’t feel like they can ride the bus,” said Zellweger.

Daniel Grieder, chief executive officer of Tommy Hilfiger Europe, said the designer himself strongly pushed to get Zellweger involved. “The way she can express this is so important for us,” said Grieder. “We have several wish ambassadors, but we don’t just go down the list; it’s how you are behind this project [that matters].”

Of modeling for the photos versus acting, Zellweger said, “It’s a different performance, it’s a day of play, you go dress up and hang out with friends in a beautiful place.”

The actress flew in specifically for the event, which included a cocktail party in the Hilfiger flagship later Wednesday evening, followed by a dinner at Milan’s historic Giannino restaurant. “I love that it’s an event, there is so much energy around it,” she said, allowing herself to digress into fashion-land. “I’m excited about the dress I’ll be wearing tonight. I want to hear what you think of it, I love it,” she said of the brand’s emerald green silk taffeta strapless cocktail dress.

Asked if she would consider endorsing a fragrance or an apparel line like so many of her peers, Zellweger demurred. “I haven’t really thought about it. Occasionally, I have my dream shoe line in my head…” she mused.

The actress didn’t discuss any movie projects and said she’d just been in Liberia, accompanying a girlfriend. “She’s a journalist and she was doing an article on gender issues,” she said without elaborating.

Looking out at the sunny, spring day in Milan, and at her quick trip to the city, she said it was “not hard to get here, but very difficult to leave.”