Supermodel Lily Nova shares her experiences in the fashion industry
Supermodel, supernova, superwoman Lily Nova is the type of model you experience in rare occurrences in the fashion industry. A mind that communicates strength, perspective and wisdom above her 23 years, Lily has a special ability to contribute to a creative direction with a self-knowing confidence that helps build fantasies with the creative teams she works with. Born in South Australia, Lily made her debut to the fashion world on the AW16 Gucci runway and has since worked for brands and titles such as Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs, Bottega Veneta, W, Vogue, Dazed Korea, British Vogue and the endless top tiered list continues..
Meeting Lily, creating with Lily, talking to Lily was an experience and conversation that needed to be shared. W-E talks to Lily about her successes in the global fashion industry and how those have helped shape her opinion towards the AFI ( Australian fashion industry).
What were your ideas about being a fashion model before you understood the industry?
I started modeling when I was 15, that rough age where you have no idea who you are and even less of who you’ll become. I was sadly infected with “I’m not like other girls” disease. I didn’t really think about models or the fashion industry beyond the biannual nationwide conversation about eating disorders in the industry. In a lot of ways I wish I had taken an interest in fashion earlier, I think it would have made me into the person I am now much sooner. Probably would have made me avoid that phase where I wanted to get my hair permanently straightened too.
How do you define what a fashion model is today, after working and succeeding in the global fashion industry for 7 years?
I think Instagram, with all its pros and cons, has fleshed out models in a way that was impossible before social media existed. It’s humanized the modelling industry somewhat. We’re human beings with voices and causes to fight for and put a spotlight on. You can go from watching someone walk for Versace to watching them make their favorite soup recipe. A long time ago an agent told me that magazines and brands predominantly use skinny models because the fashion industry is a fantasy. That’s what it creates really, it’s an outlet for reality that allows anything to happen – where waifs of girl’s lounge in exotic places draped in couture and expensive jewellery. Personally I think times have changed and the social and political climate of now has no time for that specific fantasy. The viewer is meant to see themselves in an image. Representation and diversity is where the future fashion model lives. Models are for the people now.
How do you define the media landscape globally and in Australia?
I think all models are aware of the hierarchies that are the undercurrent of the business worldwide. Agents and agencies reiterate their views on what’s best, their past experiences of the rivalries between companies until it feels like gospel. Before modelling, with no knowledge of the industry, Vogue and Conde Nast were all I was witness to but now I’m lucky to see so much more. I try not to let others opinions of what I’m shooting or who I’m shooting with affect me. What I like to focus on is the quality and creativity of the work being made and the thoughts and ideas behind it. A title only means so much. Focusing on the name of the publication would takeaway a lot of the importance of the job for me I think. Although that being said it’s hard to ignore the cultural importance of media titles like Vogue – so big that even people far outside of the industry know who they are.
What is your perspective on the Australian fashion industry when you're working and living overseas?
Do you consider it with less importance to the mega-city fashion industry ( NY, Paris, London etc) and why is this?
My perspective of the Australian fashion industry almost feels like one of an outsider and I type that with love. I have always been told that I’m a little too bizarre looking to work much in Australia, when I do work here it’s to create something special – and I love every second of it. I don’t think mainstream (commercial) fashion here has a place yet for people who don’t look perfect. The story being sold has little space for differences. I think we all suffer a bit from being enamored by the overseas market, by the things we’ve grown up seeing in TV and magazines. It feels like even Australian fashion prioritizes the “mega city” fashion brands. It’s something we need to grow out of. Australian fashion always feels like a breath of fresh air - I can’t imagine ever thinking about it with less importance.
What do you think Australia contributes to the global fashion industry and what are we lacking based off your own experiences?
Australia is such a beautifully unique landscape, physically and creatively. The industry here offers stories, fashion and ideas that can only be born out of this country and her lands. It’s a lovely thing, to exist somewhere so special- and right now I feel the global spotlight on us more than ever. After doing so well with Covid we’re the first in the world to be able to give the prestige of Fashion Week justice. I think that though the Australian industry is ever-changing, it still lacks fundamental diversity. Sometimes I often wonder if we sacrifice creativity for digestibility too (though the same could be said for the global industry). It’s true that sex sells, but it does little to inspire and I think fashion should make you feel something.
After reaching the success and validation from the global industry as you have, what has changed the most in your mind about fashion as an industry itself?
What is the biggest thing you would change if you could?
Notions of diversity has changed and grown in leaps and bounds and it’s wonderful to see. I remember when I started modeling overhearing a private conversation where they called every model by name except for the African American model. It’s better now – but there’s still a lot of work to do. I think sample sizes almost go hand in hand with the industry’s diversity problem and I would really like to see change in that. Seeing how small sample sizes are, and how much smaller they have gotten in the last decade, is sickening. I think there is a deep rooted problem of only using prepubescent girls to sell grown women clothes. It creates a disconnect from women and their own bodies.
Who inspires you and why?
I have a couple of friends who live so seamlessly with themselves, with nature and the art world – it’s hard not to be inspired by them. Their lives seem so rich and colorful – I catch myself reading books or watching specific movies just because they remind me of them. They’re the type of people who make you take another look at the world and realize how big and special it is. Perhaps that’s a bit uncool, but by now I don’t think I’m alive to be cool.
What do you love most about the industry?
The fashion industry has become such a cultural tool for story telling - I just love the art of it all. The theatrics. When you can get lost in the fantasy of a collection or a shoot or even a makeup look. I like the layers of it and the characters you can create and become in a working day. Fashion is the future but it’s the past as well. Whether we realize it or not, every image, every thread in every garment, connects us. I like how important it feels too – when you wear an old archival Chanel dress and feel the cultural weight of it on your shoulders.
What are you most excited about with returning to Australia?
and what are you most excited about for when you get to leave Australia again?
I’m most excited about working in Australia as an adult versus the teen I was when I started modelling in Sydney as a wobbly legged 16-year-old. It’s almost exhilarating being amongst the same industry people and feeling like a person compared to a child. I have a voice now where before I was quiet. It may be sentimental but I’m most excited to see my friends overseas again. I finally had such a close-knit community of likeminded friends in New York and London, the kind who make your cheeks hurt and heart warm. It breaks my heart a little bit to remember I haven’t seen some of them in over a year.