The cozy little coffee shop in which I’m meeting Grace Elizabeth is heaving. The combined cacophony of the espresso machine, intense chatter, terrible acoustics and even a barking dog means we can barely hear each other say hello, even after she removes her ear muffs. So, reluctantly braving New York’s polar vortex again, we scuttle back out onto Broadway. Our intended destination is the fancy hotel two blocks up, but, at the first corner, there’s a sparsely populated fried chicken restaurant. Elizabeth’s eyes light up. “Shall we just go in here?” she asks, hopefully.
It’s not the sort of suggestion I imagine many models make. But 21-year-old Elizabeth is from solid Southern stock, born and raised in Florida; dressed the part today in double denim – an Acne Studios skirt and blouse – and a pair of red Chloé boots, she looks ready for some ridiculously stylish hoedown. Even if you’re not yet familiar with her name, you’ll most likely know her face; her extraordinary cheekbones and prominent brows beaming down at you from billboards for Guess, Gap, Ralph Lauren and now beauty behemoth Estée Lauder, or stalking down the runway for everyone from Stella McCartney and Versace to Victoria’s Secret. In person, she looks younger than the smoldering goddess of the ad campaigns, her potentially intimidating beauty offset by a delightful Southern twang, and a slight, very endearing goofiness.
She has just landed back from the couture shows in Paris, opening for Alexandre Vauthier and walking for Chanel, with barely time to catch her breath before she’ll be on the road again, walking in the ready-to-wear fashion weeks. She doesn’t yet know who she’ll be on the runway for, but, she says, “there are brands I’ve walked with for my last three seasons, so hopefully I’ll keep those relationship going: Chanel, Versace… Here in New York I usually do Michael Kors, Jeremy Scott, Moschino in Milan, Alberta Ferretti.” It’s not a bad roll call for a relative newbie – Elizabeth made her debut in 2016. “I remember going into my first fashion-week castings – I’d be sitting there for four hours in a line of 100 girls,” she recalls. “And then someone would walk in that’s very well known in the business and they’d whisk her straight through, no line. Now,” she continues, “I am that girl.”
“In my FIRST fashion-week castings I’d sit for hours in a line of 100 girls. Then someone [famous] would WALK in and they’d whisk her through, no line. Now I am THAT girl”
Born Grace Elizabeth Harry Cabe, she grew up in the small town of Lake City in northern Florida, where both her parents are MRI technicians. It was, she says, “an amazing childhood, playing outside all day, having rock fights with all my cousins, and only coming in when it got dark. There are natural springs through the town and after school, we’d rent an [inflatable] tube for a couple of dollars and just float down the rivers for hours.” While rich in natural diversions, Lake City was not, she says, exactly a style mecca. “We had one mall that had a JCPenney and a TJ Maxx. There was a Macy’s at one point…but that closed down. Fashion didn’t have a huge influence over my town.”
At nine years old, Elizabeth was recruited for a bridalwear show at said mall, modeling bridesmaid dresses. “I really didn’t like it at all. There were much better things to do, like be outside,” she shrugs. But when the same show approached her again at the age of 16 – wearing bridal gowns this time (“16 still feels a bit young,” she notes, wryly) – she “loved being transformed, being dressed up and feeling like this beautiful woman”.
Her mother submitted her pictures to a modeling agency in Miami, who within months had put her on the books of their New York outpost too. In early 2016, she took the plunge and formally moved to New York. “I’d never even spent a night alone in my own house, so it was hard at first,” she says. “In my town, you go to the grocery store and it’s ‘How’s your Momma?’ Everyone knows everyone. And here I was, in this ginormous city of people, and I knew nobody.” Undeterred, she found an apartment and gave herself a six-month deadline. “But my parents had put everything they had into my modeling – put money on credit cards, remortgaged the house. We’d put too much effort in for it not to pan out. And then, at that six-month mark, work started picking up.” She got the call from Miu Miu, with Miuccia Prada herself delivering a pre-runway pep talk. “She was like, ‘You’re beautiful, you’re strong and you’ve got this. You’ve got this.’ It was a statement, but also kind of a question,” laughs Elizabeth. “So I was like, ‘I’ve got this.’ That was the turning point.”
“Miuccia Prada told me, ‘You’re BEAUTIFUL, you’re strong and you’ve GOT this.’ That was the turning POINT”
She breaks off, as the server at the counter is calling her name, and she darts over, returning with a cobb salad topped with a substantial pile of grilled chicken, over which she pours a sachet of honey. “Yes, I’m putting honey on chicken,” she grins. “Now I eat pretty healthy, mainly, but I used to eat fried Oreos for breakfast. I’m from the South. We fry everything – tomatoes, mushrooms, Twix bars.”
Two years ago, just as her career was taking off, she had her gall bladder removed. “I realized that it is my job to feel and look my best, so I started to take really good care of myself.” She’s become so into nutrition, in fact, that she’s studying for an online degree in it. “I’ll be licensed in only six and half years,” she deadpans. “But when I’m forced into retirement from this job, I’ll have another one waiting for me.” Or, perhaps, two: she’s planning on branching out into acting soon. “I want to be in a horror film and a comedy. Not right away, but maybe in the next five years. I like the way Cara Delevingne’s done it – she’s an amazing actress, but still comes back and walks in shows and does campaigns.”
This morning, before we met, Elizabeth has been boxing, and has another session this afternoon. “When I’m in New York, I box at least four times a week – my trainer doesn’t like to do more than that though, because he’s like, ‘I’m not training you to fight, I’m training you to look like a model, so we have to calm it down,’” she laughs. “I do have a giant bruise on my elbow right now.” And she’s recently qualified as a yoga instructor. “I don’t have any classes, but if you’d like to show up at my tiny apartment, we can do some vinyasa,” she offers. When traveling, she’s no less disciplined. “I always have my 5lb ankle weights, my resistance bands and my jump rope in my bag, and I try to wake up at least 40 minutes before I have to leave, so I can do 20 minutes of jump rope and some weights.”
At the fitting for her first VS show, back in 2016, she was shocked, she says, by the weight of the enormous pair of pink wings she was given to wear. “I did squats with dumbbells and bars on my back, and I tied a broom to my back with a scarf, put ankle weights on the end of it and walked up and down the hallway of my apartment,” she laughs. She does, however, appear to have been swept off her feet by her very handsome boyfriend, whom you can spot on her social media. “He is handsome,” she says, gripping her face at the mention of him. “I love my German.” Nicolas Krause doesn’t work in fashion, but she politely declines to give me any more details than that. She will say, however, that maintaining a relationship when one party is a jet-setting model requires a lot of communication. “You have to be spontaneous,” she says. “You have to be able to say, ‘I’m coming to see you at 10 o’clock when I land.’”
With her honey chicken devoured, we begin bundling up again for the brutally cold January outside. Elizabeth confesses that she keeps her apartment’s heating cranked up to Florida temperatures. “But New York does feel like home now,” she grins. “I come in through the door, drop my suitcase, and it’s home.”
“I want to be in a horror FILM and a comedy. I like the way CARA Delevingne’s done it – she’s an AMAZING actress, but still does shows and campaigns”
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