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Porter
Cover story

Cool To Be Kind

With

Lily Aldridge

She’s often described as one of the nicest models in the industry, but LILY ALDRIDGE says she has struggled with everything from social-media trolls to judgmental casting agents and her own self-confidence. NATALIE EVANS-HARDING meets a woman rising above – in more ways than one

Photography Alexander SaladrigasStyling Helen Broadfoot
Cover Stories

“You’re the nicest model I’ve ever worked with,” offers today’s stylist as she flicks through the rack with Lily Aldridge, who has indeed been as sweet as pie on this cover shoot. It’s a statement Aldridge likely hears a lot. Just one shot down, she’s befriended the entire crew, hooking them up with the best hot-chicken joint in town and advising on the honky-tonk to party at here in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives – in her words – “a wholesome, humble life”.

Aldridge is a picture postcard of 21st-century wellness. She’s into crystals, incense, meditation and self-healing, and writes gratitude mantras daily (today’s will include this shoot; coming, of course, behind “snuggles with my daughter this morning”). After she gets Dixie, five, ready for school (her favorite thing to do), Aldridge can be found working out – she’s a devout Ballet Beautiful fan – and she mentions on numerous occasions how much she loves to exercise. She has also been toying with the idea of starting a book club, since she’s an avid reader with a penchant for fantasy novels and anything related to the Second World War (“I have read every WWII book, from Winston Churchill’s to all the novels set in that time. I am just fascinated with that history; there were so many devastating stories happening all over the world at this one specific time.”) She tries to read the Pulitzer Prize winner every year, too, and will be taking her copy of The Underground Railroad on the family vacation next week to read on a Caribbean beach.

“My career has been such an evolution. I was typecast as ‘commercial’ and therefore not fashion or edgy. I wanted to be part of those sets and where the magic happened”

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When she’s not flying around the world, Aldridge is at home in Nashville with her husband, Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill, who will either be penning lyrics at her side or cooking up a storm in their kitchen, while Aldridge makes science experiments with Dixie; everything from creating slime to volcanoes. “My daughter is my best friend and the only person that I want to hang out with. We like to go to the park, where there’s an amazing science center. She loves science,” beams the model.

But, despite this envy-inducing life, flecked in all the mentions of feeling grateful and fulfilled are moments of real talk. Aldridge began modeling at 16, and has experienced her chosen career’s sharper edges at times over the years , from the paparazzi culture and online trolls, at times even from the fashion industry and her own self-criticism as she navigates her career and motherhood. This might unsettle any of us, but it seems Aldridge, now 32, is finding her groove, exercising her voice and happily letting some hang-ups go.

“I’m not the kind of person to throw my opinions around,” she says. “But it was the students in the US who recently spoke out about gun control who inspired me,” she says, forking her salad as the birds chatter behind her. “I don’t want to be scared to speak my mind anymore.”

Recently, Aldridge’s social media accounts have started to touch on current hot topics, from #MarchForOurLives to #MeToo. “I was one of the later girls models to get social media. I am a super-private person and I’m particular about what I share; so still trying to be authentic and open… It’s a hard balance,” she shrugs. “Everybody has opinions and judgements.” Her solution to this has been to do her utmost not to read comments. “People do troll me a lot. I remember the first time I was ever paparazzied, I actually couldn’t believe anyone knew who I was, and was like, ‘Oh my God!’ But then reading what people were saying about me broke my heart. They were saying these horrible things; horrible, horrible things to say to a lady. I was just walking down the street! It was my first experience of that and it shifts the way you think when your photo is taken – you start to wonder what the photographers’ motivations are, what people are going to say… So the older I get, I just try not to take it personally, but I am still working on that. I never reply but often want to so bad!”

A source of strength for Aldridge is undoubtedly her close set of model friends, many of whom got together at this year’s Vanity Fair Oscar party. “I just did the red carpet and then ran in to try and find all my friends, because it’s a funny room. You go in and think you know everybody but you don’t – you’re like, ‘Oh, hi! Nope, I don’t know you, Tom Hanks, I just think I do because I’ve grown up seeing you my whole life!’ I just stayed in my little gang of models, staring across the room.”

Aldridge names Gigi Hadid as being the best for girl talk, while Alessandra Ambrosio and Joan Smalls are the girls you want to party with. She is inspired by Karlie Kloss’ resounding good attitude and looks up to Behati Prinsloo for her street style, Adriana Lima for her gym commitment, and Doutzen Kroes for her skills at juggling motherhood and modeling. Karen Elson is her cultural guru; it was Elson who was Aldridge’s cheerleader when the industry was resistant of letting her into the ranks of high fashion. “My career has been such an evolution; it felt like such slow progress. In the beginning, I was sad that people in fashion didn’t think I was ‘cool’ and that was tough. We all have so many different sides to us, different dimensions – instead, I was typecast as ‘commercial’ and therefore not fashion or edgy. For a long time, no one would book me for those jobs and I wanted it so bad, because I love fashion – I wanted to be part of those sets and where the magic happened – and Karen really helped push me in that direction, talking about me to those influential people.”

“If something happened to me in the modeling industry that was bad, I’d tell everybody. I’d never let that person do that to another person ever again. It’s a new day and a new age”

It’s Behati Prinsloo and Candice Swanepoel, though, that she talks to every day, swapping pictures of their children and giving each other advice about schools. “We all had kids at the same time and we have this bond – it’s a really nice community of model moms. I am so proud to be a mom; it’s the greatest achievement in my life without a doubt.” Aldridge is keen for another child. “I definitely think the industry has become more accommodating to moms. But if people in the industry didn’t accept it, I don’t care, I would be like, ‘See you later!’”

She seems to have a quiet confidence now, letting the pressures of the industry roll off her back. “It’s been a while now since I had that moment of having to get back in shape after giving birth, but there should be no judgement; everybody’s journey is different. Of course, as I get older my body is changing, but I love it. I love working out and I love being healthy but I don’t judge myself so much; I don’t care if I have a six-pack any more. I am inspired by all these amazing women who have fuller bodies and don’t care about cellulite. I have cellulite, too, and I have stretch marks. When I was younger I would be like, ‘Oh, my abs need to be firmer’; now I look back and I’m like, ‘You were crazy! Your abs were gorgeous!’”

When the topic of abuse of power in the modeling industry comes up, however, Aldridge becomes a little more careful. She has no #MeToo experience to share, she says, but supports all those speaking out. “I will always be a person that people can talk to or come to if they need help,” she says in earnest. “If something happened to me that was bad, I would tell everybody. I would never let that person do that to another person ever again.” But she does feel the industry is changing. “It’s a new day and a new age and I hope the progress will continue. There are lots of people in the industry who are big ambassadors for safer environments and not hiding things.” And if her daughter expressed an interest in modeling? Would she be supportive? “Um, I am definitely encouraging her to be scientist,” she smiles wryly.

The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown.