"She was so smart and badass!” Lily Aldridge is enthusing about her current screen idol, who, much like the model herself, is a beacon for female power, peaceful ideals, intuitive resolution and looks hella good in a bodysuit. For Lily’s current girl crush is none other than Wonder Woman, the feminist-in-knickers superhero whose big screen reinvention this year might just be the most subversive attack on sexism in Hollywood of the last 12 months.
And what a year it’s been; from the Women’s Marches in January protesting US President Trump’s human rights stance, to the snowballing takedown of sexual impropriety in the entertainment industry following the Weinstein allegations, 2017 will be remembered as the year that women found, and exercised, a collective voice.
Dress, Dhs15,495, Etro. High jewellery Giardini Italiani earrings in white gold with diamonds and pavé diamonds, Bulgari
“It’s a very powerful time in our industry right now. Lots of women are standing up for their rights. Their right to say no, to stand up for themselves, to have boundaries. It’s an amazing time as a woman, as a model, as a mother,” she says.
Lily, 32, started modelling – for US clothing giant Abercrombie & Fitch – at the age of 16, and in 2010 became a Victoria’s Secret Angel. The might of such behemoths protected her, she believes, from the more insalubrious elements of the industry. “I have been so fortunate in my career to have always worked with incredible companies,” she explains on the set of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia’s December cover shoot in New York. “I was very fortunate to start with big brands that always protected me and had my back.” Is she surprised at the extent of revelations regarding abuses of power in industries from modelling to acting to politics that are dominating headlines right now? “As this intrigue goes on you learn about all these imbalances of power, people taking advantage of people. I think it’s so important right now to just make sure that you know your boundaries,” Lily urges, adding the rallying cry, “Speak up, share your stories, spread the word. We have to have each other’s back and stand up proud for each other.”
In 2012, Lily gave birth to her daughter, Dixie Pearl, with husband Caleb Followill, the front man of rock group Kings of Leon. Her maternal instincts extend, she says, to safeguarding the young models she works with professionally. “I love being a mentor and a mother figure. As a Victoria’s Secret Angel there are girls that are much younger than me and I’ve always been someone like, ‘You can talk to me, you can come to me for advice, for tips, for chats.’ So many models were there for me. Carolyn Murphy was there for me, Karen Elson was always somebody I could talk to. It’s important to do that now for the younger generation,” she stresses.
Dress, Dhs5,875, Marc Jacobs. High jewellery Giardini Italiani necklace in white gold with diamonds and pavé-set diamonds; High jewellery Giardini Italiani earrings in white gold with diamonds and pavé diamonds, both Bulgari
In parallel to the abuse allegations sweeping the entertainment industry, there is also a renewed conversation promoting diversity that is gaining traction. While Lily – a white, Western woman with sample size proportions – is hardly a poster girl for wider representation, she is aware of the need for women to be able to recognise themselves among society’s definitions of beauty, and the role that the fashion industry must play in reflecting that. “Women everywhere are all different. We don’t have a size, we don’t have the same beliefs or age,” she says. “I feel like the industry’s changing so much for age, for diversity, for body type. There are no rules any more like there used to be 10 years ago. It’s a very exciting time because we’re all beautiful – every age, every body type – it’s empowering. There’s still a long way to go and I can’t wait to see what the journey is 10 years from now.” Lily’s personal manifesto relies on, “Just accepting each other, seeing the beauty inside each other, being empowering to other women. All that kind of stuff is more important now than looks or what size you are.”
Lily herself has been on the frontline of negativity; all too often a given in today’s digital world. With over five million followers on Instagram, she has witnessed the hate alongside the love. “Bullying in social media is so real, it’s so painful. Anybody that’s been bullied for no reason can understand that,” she sighs. “You know, if you post a picture of yourself and you think you’re looking mah-jor and all these people start saying all “It’s a very powerful time right now. Lots of women are standing up for their rights. Their right to say no, to stand up for themselves, to have boundaries” Lily Aldridge these mean things about you, it really hurts.” Her coping mechanism? Pay no attention and stand up for yourself when required. “Now I have thicker skin about it, I kind of just ignore it. I try not to read all the comments or stress myself out about it because life’s too short. But it took a long time for me to get to that point where I can understand that some people have that bully mentality. But you have to stand up for yourself. Don’t let people bully you!”
Robe, Dhs4,520; dress (worn underneath), Dhs1,480, both Dries Van Noten. Divas’ Dream earrings in white gold with pavé diamonds, Dhs68,000; Divas’ Dream ring in white gold with pavé diamonds, Dhs38,400, both Bulgari
Her main concern is for five-year-old Dixie Pearl and how the net of social media will affect the formative years of today’s youth. “I do worry about my daughter,” Lily confides, adding, “I’m hoping by the time she could get on social media it’s not cool any more. Because things go through waves and eventually the young generation will be like, ‘We want to be more private’. I’m hoping!”
At lunch, Lily disappears to the dressing room to FaceTime her daughter back home in Nashville, excited squeals emanating from behind the door. “You know, I wish I could just be there every second of the day,” she sighs of what she calls “mother’s guilt”, adding, “But then I’m also so proud that I’m a working mom and I always emphasise that to my daughter when I have to go to work. One day I think she’s going to be really proud.”
Oh, the elusive work/life balance and how to achieve it; man or woman. “I don’t even know the answer!” she cries. “Obviously family is my number one priority, always. And I am so lucky to work with incredible clients that I get to bring my daughter with me on trips and she gets to be a part of this magical journey with me. But it’s all balance and all of us are still trying to figure it all out as moms or businesswomen – all those things. Just try to be the best you can be.”
Dress, Dhs12,850, Valentino. High jewellery Serpenti Seduttori necklace in pink gold set with tourmaline, emeralds and pavé diamonds; High jewellery Serpenti Seduttori earrings in pink gold set with rubellites, emeralds and pavé diamonds; High jewellery Serpenti Seduttori ring in pink gold set with rubellite, emeralds and pavé diamonds, all Bulgari
Lily’s sunny outlook is infused with such infectious positivity you can almost see it spill over to everyone around her. “I think you can have it all as long as you have a good head on your shoulders, that you’re humble and sweet and kind to everyone,” she declares. “Those are the things to me that matter. That’s having it all to me; having a home life and a life and friendship. It’s a balance of everything, it’s not just career.”
True to her word, there is none of the hauteur often associated with models of her stature, and zero diva antics on set. “I’m just myself,” she shrugs of her professional persona, “I always try to treat people how I’d want to be treated. I think that’s one of the simplest things to go by because there’s nothing more humanising than imagining yourself in somebody else’s shoes. You know how nice it is for somebody to say ‘Hi’ to you or to acknowledge you. Those kinds of things can really make a difference. If you’re not saying ‘Hi’ to everybody then the vibe isn’t as pleasant.” She practices what she preaches, and all that good karma is positively tangible. “It’s so important to respect people. If you respect people, people respect you back and it’s a give and take,” she smiles. “If you’re rude to people, people are going to be rude to you. I’ve always found that if you are nice and courteous, you get that in return.”
It’s a guiding principle that goes beyond career. “I try to make sure my daughter knows how blessed we are, how hard we’ve worked to get where we are, how important it is to give back and to share,” Lily explains of the values she aims to instill in Dixie Pearl. “She’s getting to a point now where she’ll be like, ‘Shall we donate these toys?’ And that kind of stuff to me is really important. Just teaching your child or the youth how important it is to be generous and to give back.”
Having Dixie Pearl has also opened up a new social group to Lily – famously part of Taylor Swift’s #girlsquad and appearing in the singer’s Bad Blood video. “I’m entering this new amazing chapter of my life where my daughter is getting older and I’m starting to make friends with her friends’ moms and it’s such a fun new chapter of friendships,” she says. “It’s harder to make friends the older you get. When you’re kids you’re just on the playground, having fun, you’re like, ‘You look cool!’ And then the older you get, especially when you’re working, it’s harder to make those bonds and those connections. But it’s valuable and it’s so important to have friendships. Obviously the girls I grew up with modelling, they’re all like my sisters and we all have each other’s backs. And that’s the thing about friendship – you’re just there for each other.”
Dress, Dhs8,080, Marc Jacobs. Shoes, Dhs1,435, Le Monde Beryl. High jewellery Serpenti Seduttori earrings in pink gold set with rubellites, emeralds and pavé diamonds; High jewellery Serpenti Seduttori ring in pink gold set with rubellite, emeralds and pavé diamonds, both Bulgari
For all the surface glamour, it can be easy to forget that modelling is a profession with its own demands and challenges. Lily stresses that in order to sustain a career beyond your twenties it’s important to remember that. “It’s a business and a job and it’s not a lifestyle where you should be out partying,” she counsels. “You can have an amazing long career if you treat it like a business instead of a time to party or go out and be seen.” Lily’s own professional goals extend beyond the catwalk to developing her own brand. “I definitely would love to be my own boss one day. She-boss!” she smiles. “My goal is to create my own business, whether it’s fashion or beauty. I work so much right now. I’m a mom. I’m just taking baby steps to see which direction we’re going to go. In 10 years’ time the dream would be to have my own company.”
Lily has been the face of Roman jeweller Bulgari for over a year, and perfectly embodies the house’s blend of Latin glamour with a rock ’n’ roll edge. “I always love the Serpenti line. It’s just so sexy and cool and seductive. It’s timeless,” she smiles of the many fabulous Bulgari jewels she gets to wear for work. It wasn’t always thus. “My earliest memory of jewellery would be rifling through my mother’s jewellery box and trying to steal her jewels,” she laughs, “and asking about her wedding ring and if she’s going to give it to me one day. Jewellery has such sentimental value, you can look at a piece of jewellery and you remember the moment you bought it. In my case I got jewellery from my grandma and when I see it I’m like, ‘Grandma!’ and it really brings you back to that memory of somebody.”
Dress, Dhs8,080; turban, Dhs2,920, both Marc Jacobs. High jewellery Serpenti Seduttori earrings in pink gold set with rubellites, emeralds and pavé diamonds, Bulgari
Ultimately, though, beyond the diamonds and the mega-watt smile, Lily believes in doing – as well as looking – good. “It’s so important to have a voice, to stand up for what you believe in and find that thing that you want to speak up about. For me it’s around children’s charities and raising awareness for that. But there’s a lot of amazing woman in the world right now that are standing up for women’s rights, bullying, all these different kinds of issues and it’s amazing,” she says, concluding, “It’s so important to be intellectual and intelligent and inspirational.” Wonder Woman indeed.
Dress, Dhs8,455, Céline. High jewellery Serpenti necklace in pink gold and snakewood elements with diamonds and pavé diamonds; High jewellery Serpenti bracelet in pink gold and snakewood elements with diamonds and pavé diamonds; B.zero1 ring in pink gold with black ceramic in two bands, Dhs5,000, all Bulgari
Photography by Alexi Lubomirski. Stylist: Tina Chai at Streeters. Group fashion stylist: Anna Castan. Stylist’s assistant: Claudia Torres- Rondon. Make-up: Romy Soleimani at Streeters using Clé de Peau Beauté. Hair: Bryce Scarlett at The Wall Group. Manicurist: Ana-Maria at Bernstein & Andriulli. Lighting director: Max Hoell. Photography assistants: Frank Mueller, Emily Ullrich and Alex Morgan. Digital operator: Ben Rosser. Video DP: Stephan Alessi. Prop stylist: Happy Massee at Lalaland Artists. Prop assistant: Joe Arai and Mike Cummings. Producer: Vivian Song C/O Kranky Produktions, Lawrence Akiya, Fernanda Dos Santos and John Warner