Lily Cole on growing up in fashion and giving back to the land
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My personal style signifier is my undercut. I have a lot of hair and this helps to lighten it. I like the texture of it, how it feels and how it gives me two different looks. Usually I just rock up to a local barber’s – they do it all the time, so it’s an easy option. I also quite enjoy the process of sitting in a man’s barber shop.
The last thing I bought and loved was a beautiful Japanese dress from Hermanas, a pop-up that my friend organises in Lisbon. Every few months a different group of women bring clothes they don’t wear any more and sell them. I want to do one of the next ones – it’s a good way to keep clothes moving.
The place that means a lot to me is Lisbon. I moved there in the pandemic and am exploring buying land in Portugal with a view to protecting biodiversity and rewilding. It’s the primary reason I’m looking to sell my flat above St Pancras station. This apartment has been a labour of love – I bought it when I was 19 and spent my 20s living in it, redecorating and changing every detail – but it doesn’t feel necessary to hold on to. John Burton [the late co-founder of the World Land Trust] was a real inspiration to me, and during an ayahuasca ceremony I had a realisation that I needed to give back to the land. It was coming from a place of asking how we can give as much as possible in a moment of crisis. This was an answer to that question.
The best books I’ve read in the past year are by Kurt Vonnegut. A few friends had recommended him to me, and then someone gave me The Sirens of Titan. I read that, then a collection of his short stories and now I’m reading Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s such a joy to discover a new author you love. I love his writing style, and his humour.
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is a tray and some coasters from the Hilma af Klint exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, which I visited with the cast of the new Hilma biopic, about the Swedish abstract artist. I’ve been so lucky to travel so much in my life, and I do collect a lot of things on my travels. When I first moved into this flat, I brought some furniture back from Morocco: a beautiful cabinet with ornate tiling and a games table with chess and backgammon boards built into it.
A podcast episode I’ve listened to recently is No More Grind: How to Finally Rest with Tricia Hersey, part of Glennon Doyle’s We Can Do Hard Things series. Tricia is an American activist and performance artist who has a practice called The Nap Ministry. Her whole philosophy is based on resting and resisting what she calls grind culture, which she connects to legacies of colonialism and capitalism. She speaks so beautifully – it really resonated with me.
The best gift I’ve given recently is a brooch I was given while filming Hilma, which is based on one that Hilma af Klint actually wore. I have a friend who is obsessed with Hilma, so I gave it to her. Part of me thought, “Am I going to regret that?” It’s a one-off and was made specially. But I know she’ll wear it more than me, and I saw how much she loved it. It also felt fitting with Hilma’s story, which is about sisterhood and feminine solidarity. She was part of a group of women called The Five; I play one of them. Hilma will be available on the streaming service Viaplay in early 2023
And the best gift I’ve received is a pair of earrings from a company called Skydiamond. I came across them when I was looking at different ways people are using carbon-capture technology. Usually it’s quite boring – they put it underground, in fizzy drinks or bricks – but Skydiamond turns captured carbon dioxide into diamonds. I also love a glass mushroom pendant that my daughter bought me with her pocket money.
I don’t collect anything. When I was little I used to collect lots of things – bottle tops and masks – but nowadays I have a different philosophy: releasing rather than hoarding.
In my fridge you’ll always find plant-based milk, miso, tempeh or tofu, and a box of organic vegetables that I get delivered each week. I’m mostly vegan but I call myself a “vagan” because I’m vague about it – I occasionally eat eggs and fish. I became a strict vegetarian when I was 10, and I’ve gone through different phases of being vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and this weird hybrid that I’ve now made peace with.
I recently rediscovered Neom candles. I used to get them years ago because they were organic, and if you’re going to have scent in the air, it’s good to have non-chemical ones. I love Perfect Night’s Sleep. From £18, neomorganics.com
The things I couldn’t do without are my friends. Life would suck if you didn’t have friendships.
An indulgence I would never forgo is having a bath. It resets the world. There’s a beautiful bath in my London apartment – a big, deep copper one. When you’re in it, you feel as if your whole body is submerged, and when I had my daughter it became a ritual for us. It’s quite a womb-like experience.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a peace-silk skirt by Olistic The Label, which means it was made without harming or killing silkworms. The brand also works with different artisans to make their clothes, which are all really beautiful.
An object I would never part with is my passport. I stopped travelling for a while the year before Covid-19 hit, a process that made me realise how much I love it. It’s like there’s a thirst in my soul. Now I take trains where I can, and I offset flights through the World Land Trust.
The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Louise Bourgeois. Her show at the Hayward Gallery was one of the best I’ve seen. Having a giant spider to put in the garden would be incredible, and I also love her textile pieces. Textile work is historically a feminist practice, and often dismissed as craft [rather than art]. Now there are better attempts to recognise these pieces.
The beauty staple I’m never without is Eve Lom Cleanser. I’ve been using it for 10 years and it hasn’t failed me. I used to do facials with [Lom] and she advised me not to use moisturiser, just eye cream. Now I occasionally apply moisturiser, but I don’t use it religiously. It means I can use fewer products. £60, evelom.com
My favourite room in my house is my living room, where there’s a painted ceiling by George Gilbert Scott, who designed the building. It’s the reason I bought that apartment – I saw the ceiling and was blown away. I still am every time I see it. Recently I spent a night here and lay on the floor staring at it for hours. It’s a bit like a mandala – very symmetrical and intricate. It has a really calming effect on me. When I first bought the apartment, I was told it was being painted over with fireproof paint, so I got a company to do a perfect stencil and colour match. It took seven weeks and a bunch of men up on scaffolding, but it was the best art investment I’ve ever made. It was like restoring a piece of art history. It would have been a crime to lose it.
The last music I streamed was by Violeta Parra, a Chilean singer, and the American composer Harold Budd, who created some beautiful music for saxophone. And my friend Richard Zhänig has just launched a radio station in Alentejo called AOM, so I’ve been listening to that – he’s got amazing taste, very experimental. I’ll often Shazam it to find the track, and sometimes they can’t even find it there.
My favourite building is Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, a 17th-century Roman Catholic church designed by Francesco Borromini. It’s all white, so quite minimalistic for that time, but the shape of it is very intricate and beautiful. There are theories that Borromini was trying to give a nod to Copernicus and the different ideas that were circulating at the time, that the earth was not the centre of the universe. To draw the shape of the church, he would have had to put the centre of the compass outside of the ecclesiastical space, so that’s been interpreted as his way of quietly showing some support to the rebellion.
My favourite website is Impossible.com, a platform I created in 2011 and relaunched last month. The original premise was around the gift economy, encouraging people to do favours for each other and to build community. We’ve kept that spirit by talking about the Earth as a gift and trying to reframe how we see our relationship to it, whereby almost everything that we use, touch and experience is a gift. We’re collaborating with a lot of artists and indigenous thinkers. It should be quite beautiful.
The best bit of advice I ever received was from John Burton. I’d gone to him for advice on how to put money into land, hoping for a single solution. He told me that you can only solve problems if you treat each case individually. What I take from that is there’s no silver bullet solution to my question about rewilding and land ownership but also to all the questions that are fundamental to society. We need to have diverse approaches to solutions, and be open-minded about how we find them. worldlandtrust.org/product/john-burton-memorial-fund
When I need to feel inspired, I go into nature. It allows me to rest and reset in a way that creates space for ideas. In England, I love the magical Ashdown Forest, and in Portugal I’ll go towards Sintra for mountains and hiking. Or the wild and rugged beaches along the west coast. Down south towards Sesimbra you’ll also find amazing forests.
In another life, I would have been an interior designer. I really get a kick out of designing spaces, although if it was my job maybe it wouldn’t be fun any more, being bossed around. A more fanciful option would be working with flowers. I have a friend who is a florist and I always think what a dreamy job that is to have a relationship with flowers on a daily basis.
Letter in response to this article:
The contraptions aesthetes prefer to keep out of sight / From John Connell, Bronte, NSW, Australia