Models Muse: Arizona Muse Chats to Lily Cole

By Lucy Cleland

1 week ago

Arizona Muse, guest editor of the Regeneration Issue of C&TH, meets fellow supermodel and environment activist Lily Cole, to talk mothers, modelling and doing it differently.

Fashion Director: Nicole Smallwood; Photographer: Matthew Shave

In Conversation: Arizona Muse and Lily Cole

Dried flower creation by You Don’t Bring Me Flowers and jewellery by Lily Cole x Skydiamond

Lily Cole and Arizona Muse are fellow models  and fellow climate activists. Their success on the catwalk – and in Lily’s case, the silver screen – has given them a platform from which to launch their activist selves. Lily co-founded, a social network aimed at encouraging a gift economy, and has written a book, Who Cares Wins: Reasons For Optimism in Our Changing World (and hosts a podcast of the same name), which explores solutions to global challenges. She also collaborates with brands on sustainable products, including a new jewellery collection for Skydiamond. Arizona was named by Anna Wintour as ‘the new face of American fashion’ before finding her passion in soil regeneration and setting up DIRT Charity, which works to help turn fashion into a climate solution. She also consults to help brands incorporate sustainability into their strategies and, most recently, is partnering with the Founders Forum Group, supported by Tech Nation, to launch a new climate event. Lily Cole and Arizona Muse with flowers

What or who inspired you to take the path you are both on?

Arizona: My mother’s ways are woven throughout the fabric of my childhood which led me to become who I am today. Before having kids, she had many adventures, hitchhiked through Africa in her 20s and had started reading about the divine feminine, so she was already walking a path of transformation which seeded the way for me.

Lily: It’s interesting because Arizona and I have never had this conversation before, but I too credit my mum as having the biggest influence on me. I was brought up by her as a single parent. She grew up on a farm in the south of Wales and describes how every single thing was reused, clothes were fixed, handmade, and passed from generation to generation. She is very conscientious and cares deeply about the issues of the world and she didn’t filter that. And she too hitchhiked around Asia. Our mums need to hang out!

FIRE Swimsuit, Hunza G; Body chain, Lily Cole x Skydiamond

Did you ever rebel?

Lily: There were definitely lots of periods of rebellion. I sometimes challenge specific opinions my mum has about specific topics, but I must admit, the apple probably doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

Arizona: In hindsight my rebellion was to go into the fashion industry because I felt like my whole childhood in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was compelling me to be a farmer and go into earth activism. To venture into the city and experience a different lifestyle entirely was the opposite of everything I had known.

What was fashion to you?

Lily: Fashion happened to me. I was living in London, got scouted when I was 14 and quickly was working internationally. In some ways I was mesmerised by it, it was a real escape from my childhood and the challenges I might have had at that time. There were tons of creative people and I’d always dreamt of travelling. But I quickly started to feel uncomfortable with the levels of waste and wanted to understand more about supply chains. It’s only recently that we’ve normalised this level of waste, whether it’s throwing clothes in the bin or it’s single-use plastics. We now have this disposable attitude. So I started to challenge specific brands and draw attention to specific issues. 

EARTH Cocktail earring, Lily Cole x Skydiamond; Make-up embellishment by Phyllis Cohen @face_lace, using lace made of sustainable cork

And how did your relationship with fashion develop? 

Arizona: I started to feel really unwell. In truth, I started to hate my whole existence. I remember sitting on shoots and feeling like I didn’t have hands and feet anymore, nor a voice. It was partly because of the sheer physicality of travelling so often, as well as the gradual chipping away at my self image and overall sense of purpose. I also already had my first child, Nikko, and so it was a continuous balancing act which really affected my mental health. I’m grateful that my childhood had a positive impact on me, and so when I was invited to a Synchronicity Earth event on biodiversity and heard Jessica Sweidan speak, I was simply entranced and felt like I was returning to the life I experienced while growing up. It brought me back down to the roots of my upbringing and gave me the perspective to think beyond my own world and into the life that surrounds me. It was a big moment for me, and I have felt increasingly more fulfilled ever since. 

Lily: I think [modelling] it is a peculiar job. I’m mindful as I also recognise it’s a huge privilege, but at the same time, I think it’s a very psychologically strange job that’s quite disorientating. We live in a world where everything is commodified and for sale, and there’s something quite intense about that being your body and your face. You are literally selling yourself in the early days of modelling. You go around with a book of pictures of yourself, like a car salesman, but the car is you. 


What would you like to see change in the world?

Arizona: I love imagining life the way it could be if we made the changes we so urgently need, which are threefold; one is government policy about money needing to be spent on things that are having a positive impact. Secondly, we must have more regulation for businesses who choose the easy way forward which doesn’t usually equate to the most healthy future for our planet and society as a whole. And, of course, we need to reconnect ourselves back into nature. The only way we feel moved to protect something is if we know it, and love it.

Lily: I was been lucky enough to be invited to Plum Village last year, a Zen Buddhist monastery in France. Christiana Figueres (see interview on page 96) had organised a retreat there for people working in the climate space. It was teasing out questions, from a Zen Buddhist philosophy, about how we approach activism and the climate crisis with lessons around the connection between our inner spiritual worlds and our mental health and the world we create outside. And it’s about the energy we bring. We are creating the world through the energy and intention and the way we act every day in small gestures. It can be problematic if we come at solutions with anger, frustration and division.

WATER Top and skirt, E.L.V. Denim; Diamonds in water, Skydiamond

What’s giving you joy at the moment?

Lily: In short, my nine-year-old daughter, who’s just a wild ball of energy and fun. The other big joy for me is art and creativity; for the last few years I’ve been really trying to create more space and time in my life for more creative endeavours, like designing a jewellery collection for Skydiamond using recycled gold. It feels good, like an alignment.

Arizona: Being an intentional human being is where joy finds me throughout my life; where I invest my energy, who I spend my time with and how I choose to spend it. I am re-evaluating what it means to say no to certain plans so that I can say yes to things I truly want and need, such as time with my family in nature, which is where my joy awakens. I’m currently asking myself where I can find the most growth, so when I have issues as a parent, for example, I stop and question why that might be. The answer often leads me to something I need to unravel internally, and I’m trying to give myself the non-judgmental space to enquire. The more I learn, and the more intentional I become, the more gratitude I have for the sacredness of being human on Earth. 

AIR Dress, Mother of Pearl. Fabric made from TENCEL™ fibres and filaments

Lily Cole x Skydiamond collection is available now.