Nashville was once an unlikely place for a supermodel to call home.
Big hair, fried food, and pickup trucks—none of these things really screams fashion. Yet, over the past decade, the city has become a cultural juggernaut as well as a friendly landing pad for famous creatives who are tired of the grind and ready to experience life in the slow(ish) lane.
Exhibit A: Los Angeles–born Lily Aldridge moved to Music City in 2007 after falling for Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill, who is a longtime resident. In the 11 years since, they’ve gotten married and had a daughter (6-year-old Dixie Pearl), and Followill co-founded the city’s Food + Wine Festival, which has helped put this Tennessee hot spot on the culinary map.
“I’m a real Nashvillian now,” says Aldridge with a laugh. The 32-year-old face of Bulgari, Carolina Herrera, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, and Michael Kors is perched on a blue velvet love seat in the lobby of Noelle, an art deco–era hotel, dressed for the South’s notorious humidity in a floral peasant dress by Dôen, with one long tawny leg casually tucked under her. Her long brown hair is pulled back in a sleek ponytail, and she’s wearing little to no makeup. Aldridge’s wide-set eyes are warm and friendly; she smiles easily and often.
Aldridge was born into a stylish family. Her mother, Laura Lyons, half sister, Saffron Aldridge, and sister, Ruby Aldridge, are all models, while her half brother is the acclaimed fashion photographer Miles Aldridge. She says she virtually grew up on set, arriving at Miles’s shoots in her soccer uniform and helping him with the lighting. Eventually, she became the subject and officially started in front of the camera in 2003, landing her first cover (for Spanish Vogue) later that same year. In 2009, her fame ascended to new heights after she walked the runway for Victoria’s Secret. She earned her wings as an Angel the following season.
“My career has happened organically,” she says. “I was never super-successful right away. It’s been a nice, slow ride, which I like.”
With professional obligations taking her away from home about once a week, she’s become adept at toggling between the two worlds. It helps that Nashville has become a destination for fashion photographers, allowing Aldridge to book plenty of shoots in her adopted hometown. Family, though, is always the priority. “I get to have more of a normal routine here,” she says. A typical day involves rising early to get Dixie ready for school (“my favorite thing”), meditating, fitting in a workout before meeting up with her husband for lunch at Little Octopus, and getting home in time for their daughter’s return. Her work with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the internationally renowned World of Children organization, for which she serves as an ambassador, is also very important to her.
Aldridge admits that her friends had their doubts when she first told them she was heading below the Mason-Dixon Line. “When I’m at a party in Paris, someone will still be like, ‘Where?’ ” she says. “It seems so foreign. People don’t realize how special it is here until they come and see it.” Which is surprising considering that the city is teeming with familiar faces from the runways. “Niki Taylor is here,” Aldridge says of the ’90s-era cover girl, who has called the city home for two decades. “My friend Josephine [Skriver] lives here. And my friend Taylor [Hill] is moving here. I’m like, ‘Welcome to Nashville—come on down!’ ”
She’s also close with Karen Elson, the British model and singer who relocated to town with a rock-star partner (Elson and Jack White divorced in 2013). Though the two models live a few miles apart, Aldridge says they stand a better chance of running into each other at a party in Milan. “We hang out more when we’re not here. Because when you’re home, you kind of want to be with your family and just relax. But when I go to New York, I see all my girlfriends. I talk to them all the time. We’ve grown up together.
“I love modeling,” she continues. “But I want to keep evolving. I would love to create my own beauty or fashion line one day. I feel like I’m just bursting with creativity, and I’m trying to figure out what that next lane is. I always tell my daughter, ‘You can be and do whatever you want.’ ”
Photographer: Alexander Saladrigas. Fashion editor: Julie Pelipas. Hair: Shinya Nakagawa. Makeup: Homa Safar. Manicure: Lisette Garcia.
For more stories like this, pick up the September issue of InStyle, on newsstands and for digital download August 10.