PAPER has always been a place of opportunity, a place that spotlights new talent and people who are doing tremendous things. We've spent over 20 years bringing you the Beautiful People issue, which identified amazing people who were doing things differently and using their creativity, ideas and success to transform culture and create new opportunities for artists, audiences and fans. This year, we have decided to rename the portfolio and call it exactly what it is: PAPER People. — Drew Elliott, Editor-in-Chief
Related | Meet the 2018 PAPER People
This power couple is part of a rare echelon of beautiful people, places and things, but trust us: They lead with their hearts more than their achievements. Alexi, a fashion photographer who has shot stars like Beyoncé, Charlize Theron, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (he took the royal couple's official wedding and engagement photos), is a proud ambassador for Concern Worldwide, an Ireland-based global poverty relief endeavor. Giada, meanwhile, began her career in the fashion and photography industries before turning her focus to environmental and sustainability projects. As an advocate and educator, she seeks to inspire others to change their consumption habits and be more mindful of the products they buy and the impact they have on the environment. But even before all that, she hopes to lead by example. She says, "Every dollar [I spend], I think, Does this harm anyone or anything?"
You travel all over for photo assignments, how does that influence your work on set?
Alexi Lubomirski: The role of a fashion photographer is not just taking pictures, but on set you're meeting new people every day and you have this very short intense amount of time where you have to manage egos, be a therapist, be a buddy, be a host of a party, and then finally at the end of it all, you get a picture. It's very much a mental game and I think the fact that I grew up everywhere and traveled so much opens you up to different people and therefore you have to understand different people and where they come from, why they operate like that and why they take differently to you, so you're able to adapt more. Having constant changing and evolving personalities is what helped me a lot in my work. One day, somebody wants to be treated like the Queen of England, and the next day they want to be treated like your best buddy. Some people like jokes; some people like no jokes. The more you experience life with different people, the better it is.
What helps you remain grounded in an industry that can often be difficult to do so?
A.L.: We all live in this fashion bubble where people think, if I don't get these shoes then the whole world is going to crumble. Kids help [get you out of this bubble]. When you go home to kids, they don't give a shit who you shot, they're just going to throw something in your face and tell you to clean it up. And the thing is we're all people with insecurities, problems, and desires, so it's all about being a people person… and just deeply listening.
Do you find that listening is a form of meditation in a way?
A.L.: I think it's definitely about focus, especially in a city like New York. Sometimes at parties, you start talking to someone, and the person you're talking to has eyes that dart all around the room. My mother always told me that when someone's talking to you, you focus on them and that's it, because someone's opening up to you. They're giving you something, and you respect them by giving your full attention.
You wrote a book called Princely Advice for a Happy Life. We live in a time where people are becoming aware and speaking out against ways in which men have historically abused power. Is there something you think men and boys can learn from reading your book?
A.L.: When I wrote it, it was just for my son. I wanted to give him something that couldn't be taken away, and I think with knowledge and love you can achieve this. What I wanted him to know is that it's not about being entitled [and I wanted to use the book as] a medium to teach him how to be a good person. [Princely] things like chivalry, love, romance -- all those things you would think of as old-world, I twisted them to fit a more spiritual, modern-day narrative. I'm not saying you have to throw down your coat when a woman is crossing the street, but there's a lot of things you can do better. Like on the subway in New York, if you see a guy getting on the subway looking at his phone and he sits there for four stops looking at his phone before exiting the train, and during those four stops, he didn't notice there was a pregnant woman standing the whole time, that's a lesson. The book is about being sensitive to what's going on around you. If you take away the word "prince," it's just about being a good person.
On Alexi: Clothing Levi's
Your book donates all of its proceeds to Concern Worldwide. Tell me more about the organization and your work as an ambassador there?.
A.L.: I've been involved with them from 2006 on, initially as a donor. And when I wrote my book, I thought it would be ridiculous for me to try to make money from this because, first of all, what is a fashion photographer doing giving advice? and second of all, it was only supposed to be for my son anyway, and really, Concern Worldwide's mission just sort of encapsulates everything the book is about. I called them up and said, "how do you feel about partnering up on this?" And I sent them the book, and they called me and ever since then we've been patterning up on things, so all of my written books and my photography books, all the proceeds go to charity. It wasn't something I planned on writing and labored for years over. It was a very quick thing -- I thought about it, wrote it, and then I put it out. Then last year, before the royal engagement pictures, we were talking about doing trips together to go and visit some of their sites and then finally this year, we went around to two of their programs and got to see their work in the field. It's one of those incredible things that everyone should do in their life because it completely takes you out of your bubble and it's very humbling.
Speaking of the royal engagement photos, you also shot Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's official wedding photos. You previously said one thing you loved about shooting them was seeing how obvious their love was for each other. I was wondering if there are any similarities between the way they love each other and the love you have for your wife?
A.L.: They are obviously very much in love -- he looks at her how I look at Giada and it's that kind of thing where you know you're in it for good whether you like it or not [laughs]. It's kind of that thing where you're talking to them, even though you feel like they're with you and talking to them, as soon as they glance at each other, no one else is in the room. It's a really cute thing to see. Everybody loves love, so when you see something as pure as that, it's something to aspire to.
How did you and Giada meet?
A.L.: I had my first exhibition in Milk Gallery in 2008 and she was the curator of the gallery at the time and that's how we first met. I bumped into her again at a Christmas party and as I was leaving the party at 3 a.m. finding my jacket, she was finding her jacket at the same time and I was like, "You're the girl from -- !" It was this huge party and we found a seat right in the middle of the craziness and having enough liquid courage in me, I gave her a kiss and I was drunk enough to think if I covered our heads with a jacket, then no one would be able to see us, so we were under there kissing for an hour or so. Then a year later someone sent us a picture of us, underneath this jacket with our legs sticking out from under it. So we have a picture of our first kiss. I never wanted to get married to anybody because I come from a divorced family so I made it a point to always say, "I'm never going to get married," and then three months after I met Giada, I was like, "I want the whole white wedding! I want it to be a Hallmark card!"
What's your favorite place you like to go when you have some downtime?
A.L.: To be honest, very, very boringly, I'm a hermit. When I'm not working, I'm home with the kids. I don't go out at night. I know that I have a finite amount of time with my kids before they think I'm lame, but at the moment, they're still at that age where they think I'm cool enough to hang out with. I get up at 5 am, meditate, cook them breakfast, and take them to school. Also, I just taught them how to meditate, which is fun. The eldest one is seven and the youngest one is four, and they each meditate for seven and four minutes. Rumor has it, you're supposed to meditate every day a minute for every year of your age.
How did you first become so passionate about sustainability?
Giada Lubomirski: For everybody it's different. At first, I wasn't aware of the individual waste I was contributing to, then one day, I watched a play at the National Black Theatre in Harlem by these two incredible women poet artists that opened my eyes and heart to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch gyre in the Pacific Ocean (one of many in the ocean now). They spoke about other environmental issues, but that one subject -- ocean pollution -- really hit a nerve. For me, it was a permanent switch, everything changed after that. I looked at my individual power as something that could help the world. Every dollar I spent, I questioned: "Is it hurting anyone or anything?" So now, I only support local artisans, local farmers and sustainable designers. We aren't a zero-waste family just yet, as I still face challenges with waste, but we are getting there, slowly but surely. It's all about education. As far as clothing, I rarely buy anything new, I only wear vintage or used clothing. It's hard sometimes but I love a fashion challenge and I love to show people that you can be extremely fashionable without hurting someone or the planet. The only thing I buy new is underwear and bras but even those are from a conscious and sustainable company. My belief system now is that there are already so many beautiful things in this world, so why buy new? This goes for clothing, accessories, interiors and more. Aside from that, one of my biggest challenges was gut renovating our home to be sustainable, that's a whole other story though.
How do you teach your sons to be mindful of their impact on the earth?
G.L.: I just do what I believe in and they watch and learn. Showing them action is the best way to teach a child. One of our favorite things to do together as a family is take long walks on the beach and do beach clean ups. We organize them together with their schools or we just invite along our friends or whomever wants to join us.
We do this upstate too and collect plastics near forests. Plastic is everywhere now, so it's our duty to clean up when we can as we are the consumers. Big companies and corporations should also take charge, but we can't just leave it up to them. Every action counts. Our kids are so aware of this now and it's amazing how they can teach grown adults about the importance of our daily actions. They are earth warriors and have fun doing the work. It also makes them feel amazing and proud of their own work. My heart melts when I see how happy they are making a difference.
I asked Alexi this but in the midst of exciting travels and glamorous parties, what helps you stay grounded?
G.L.: I don't know if [our life is] that glamorous but ok…ha! Anyone that has kids, will tell you, they will keep it real. They are my biggest teachers and keep me grounded 24/7…I also like getting into the soil, planting, gardening, showing my kids where food comes from. Picking up other people's garbage in nature will keep you grounded real quick!
What is one of the greatest lessons you've learned in raising your family with Alexi?
G.L.: Balance is everything. We do a lot of our passions together as a family, but also know how important it is to be able to accomplish our own goals on our own time. We learn from one another constantly and our kids will push us to answer very hard questions believe it or not. How to navigate through those answers is very eye opening. Spirituality in our family is also very important. Prayer and being grateful happens on a daily basis. I also meditate.
Alexi shared a cute story about how you met during an event you curated, and kissed under a jacket in the middle of the party. What is your version of events?
G.L.: That is a really funny story. Those blue eyes stole my heart the minute I met him, and it was all over after that.
You often educate people or advocate for issues important to you — like reducing waste and promoting sustainability —on social media. How do you find platforms like Instagram can enhance the work and advocacy you do?
G.L.: Social media is tricky, but I am so grateful for it. I believe it can be a great asset for real change and fast communication. I love when global issues go viral -- everyone needs to know what is happening around the world. People do want to help. Knowledge is power. I do take breaks from social media though because I believe it can get addictive. I gauge what I share by what is going on. I also like to research stories that haven't been told yet. I get a lot of messages from people in different parts of the world being directly affected by climate change, air pollution and more.
For example, one guy named Ray from Harrison, Michigan contacted me a few times to help him out. Everyone in his town is sick from the fumes that the Northern Oaks Waste Management Inc. facility is causing and how the EPA hasn't done anything to help them. He says that after many letters and complaints from the town, they sent some guy to survey but nothing happens. Many of the townspeople have placed their homes for sale but can't sell their homes. These are people who are getting very sick but can't afford to leave their town. These are the types of stories that need a voice, so I am going to work on getting them out to the public through my and my husband's platform to see if we can help.
Photography by Ben Hassett
Styling by Mia Solkin
Hair (Giada) by Joseph Maine at The Wall Group
Makeup (Giada) by Angie Parker at The Wall Group
Nails (Giada) by Julie Kandalec
Grooming (Alexi) by Abraham Sprinkle
Digital Tech: Carlo Barreto
1st Photo Assistant: Roeg Cohen
2nd Photo Assistants: Eric Hobbs and Chris Moore