Like the quintessential modern woman, Lily Aldridge, the new face of Bulgari, slips easily between her multiple identities—as a supermodel and girl-next-door, tomboy and fashionista, rock chick and young mum. But she doesn’t see why any one of these should define her.
Gender fluidity has steadily percolated through the fashion mainstream in recent years, but supermodel Lily Aldridge nursed a tomboy streak well before unisex clothing was cool: She played soccer for 11 years when she was younger, and was convinced she would do it professionally some day. “I thought I was going to be on the US women’s Olympic team,” reveals the 30-year-old. Things took a turn when a modelling scout spotted those razor-sharp cheekbones at a school carnival and suggested a slightly different career path. “It was a shocker to all my friends,” she recalls, laughing. “I really thought I was going to [play soccer] for a profession. And I still love it—the women’s World Cup and Olympics are my favourite things to watch.”
That’s right: Despite her lofty position in the firmament of fashion’s most recognisable faces, the Victoria’s Secret Angel, supermodel darling and Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore’s 15th anniversary cover girl, insists she is “still a tomboy at heart.” This, she declares, is the modern woman’s prerogative: “It’s just not one thing anymore. You can be a tomboy who loves to get her nails done. You can’t limit yourself—you can be anything and anyone you want.”
Since booking her first campaign with Abercrombie & Fitch at age 16, Aldridge has leaned into that ethos. With the perfect balance of sultry sensuality meets laidback cool, she went on to conquer both high street and high fashion, earning her wings as a Victoria’s Secret Angel before going on to front campaigns for Michael Kors, Givenchy, Carolina Herrera and, now, the Italian luxury brand Bulgari.
Beyond fashion, the model has also become a boldface name in another milieu—first because of her marriage to Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill, a match made in rock ’n’ roll heaven; and second because of her high-profile friendships with pop princess Taylor Swift and members of the latter’s “girl squad” of female celebrities, sightings of whom routinely spark tabloid and social-media frenzies.
Yet it isn’t immediately obvious that the unassuming, low-key figure who turns up for Harper’s BAZAAR’s cover shoot in New York is the same person from those glossy pictures and headlines. She has a ready smile for everyone and, in unguarded moments, this melts into a disarmingly toothy, childlike grin. Once the camera starts clicking, however, it is a different story. In a playfully androgynous shoot that evokes her dressed as both a captain of a ship and an exotic Tahitian beauty, Aldridge morphs into a series of personas that evokes both Old World and New; masculine and feminine. The new see-now, buy-now collection from Burberry affords this transition and Aldridge showcases both sexes effortlessly.
Some of that chameleon DNA comes, perhaps, from her unusual pedigree. Her father is Alan Aldridge, the English artist who illustrated album covers for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, while mother Laura Lyons is a former Playboy playmate. So although their daughter grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, she is very much in touch with both her English heritage (“I’ve been going to England every year since I was born, and I love a cup of tea”) and her Italian one, which comes from her mother’s side of the family.
A latent Italian sensibility may be one reason why Bulgari tapped her as a brand ambassador, and why the brand has always enthralled her. Personally and professionally, the shoot to launch her as the face of Bulgari was a watershed moment. “It’s a big milestone, shooting such an iconic Italian brand in Rome with Mario Testino was an amazing experience.”
Naturally, among the first to congratulate her was her infamous girl posse. “Yesterday, I got to my hotel room and saw flowers from Karlie Kloss,” says the model, whose sisters, Ruby and Saffron, have fronted campaigns for the likes of Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs. “I sent Gigi Hadid flowers for her Tommy Hilfiger collaboration. It really is a group of girls that genuinely support and are so happy for each other.” The No. 1 girl in her life, though, is four-year-old Dixie, her daughter with Followill, 34. The toddler has birthed yet another new identity for the supermodel, this one trumping all the rest. “You have to balance work and family, but my daughter’s my first priority. She comes with me everywhere, she’s my best friend and just the best person in the world,” she says, beaming.
One thing Dixie hasn’t changed is her mother’s effortless sense of style. Off the clock, Aldridge has always been, and steadfastly remains, a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of girl. “I just think it’s a great look for street style, mummy duty and all of it,” she says. “I try to buy classic things and things that aren’t too trendy,” she says. “Because I feel like trends [come and] go so fast, and you can really only wear them once.”
She might not be one for trends, but when asked about the development in the industry that most excites her, Aldridge has an unlikely answer: Social media, which she feels has let models evolve into more than just passive clothes horses. “It’s so fun to get to express yourself and who you are as a person instead of just being this model with no personality. You really get to let yourself shine.”
At the same time, she is keenly aware that scores of young women look up to her, and is careful about what she posts on her Twitter and Instagram accounts, which she manages herself. “It’s super important; the choices you make on social media. I engage a lot with fans, and they are so sweet and supportive. They ask for beauty or life tips, and I always try to respond. If there’s any way I can help or inspire, I always try.” Whether you’re a girl in New York wondering how to get the perfect glow, or a woman in Singapore trying to balance your different roles in life, you—like Taylor, Gigi, Karlie and co—can count on Aldridge to have your back.
By Alison de Souza
Photographed by Yu Tsai
Styled by Kenneth Goh
Model: Lily Aldridge/IMG
Makeup: Christian McCulloch/Tracey Mattingly using Dolce & Gabbana Beauty
Hair: John Ruggiero/Starworks Artists using Bumble & Bumble
Manicure: Elle/Tracey Mattingly
Digital imaging: Luis Jaime/88 Phases
Producer: Trever Swearingen/88 Phases
Production assistant: Drake Patton
Photography assistants: Nick Parisse, Huel Tavares
Styling assistants: Andrew Franco, Zen Chen Yue Yue
Additional assistance: Danielle O’Neill
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore.