LUX contributing editor and model at Models 1, Charlie Newman continues her online exclusive series, interviewing her peers about their creative pursuits, passions and politics
THIS MONTH: At 16, Lydia Graham applied to an online modelling competition at the now defunct teen magazine, Sugar. She didn’t win but still got signed by Models 1. Now 22, she’s already shot for the likes of Burberry and Kenzo, signed a beauty and perfume contract with Yves Rocher and is set to launch her own brand, Oh Lydia, early next year. Charlie speaks to Lydia about the fashion industry, Victoria’s Secret and versatility.
Charlie Newman: You’re half British and half Thai – what was your upbringing like?
Lydia Graham: I was born in Bangkok, so I’m a Thai citizen, but I’m the furthest thing from being Thai because I don’t speak Thai and I don’t understand it either! I moved to Hertfordshire in England when I was two years old, then onto East Sussex and now I live in Whitechapel.
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Charlie Newman: From when you first started modelling, how do you think the industry has changed?
Lydia Graham: I guess it’s more diverse. I enjoy it better now because I have the choice of saying no, not that I necessarily need to, but for example I’m getting stronger at not letting people cut my hair whichever way they like on set. Still I’ve had the dodgiest haircuts in my time!
Charlie Newman: Are there still things you think could be improved in the industry?
Lydia Graham: For me, the modelling side of things has got so much better, including plus sized girls, shorter girls, it’s much more street cast nowadays. Where I would like to see the industry change is with payment. Even though I get paid quite well as a model, a lot of my friends are stylists or photographers or artists and they work so hard yet don’t get paid. Sometimes I feel bad because I know how much I’m getting whilst I know half of the people on set are doing it for free. I think if everyone got paid then it would just set the standard. It would also prevent the snobbery between commercial and editorial jobs within the industry. The cheaper the brand the higher they pay, whilst the high end brands believe that whoever shoots for them should feel privileged, hence why the pay is so little. But then again, you can’t put the commercial jobs in your portfolio, it’s the editorial shoots that the clients want to see. At the end of the day, it should never be acceptable to work for free, it should all be fair.
Charlie Newman: You’ve been really smart with changing your ‘look’ over the years which I think elongates your career and makes you more versatile. What’s been your favourite look so far?
Lydia Graham: Probably the mullet but I just couldn’t style it myself and I think my hair was too thick for it, I just ended up looking like Dot Cotton! My hairdresser’s amazing but my hair just wasn’t quite right for it. At the moment I’d like my hair to be longer but with a short fringe or maybe go peroxide blonde one day and then get a pixie cut after. But obviously I haven’t spoken to Models 1 about it yet!
Charlie Newman: Within a world where the beauty standard is so narrow, have you found your uniqueness to be an advantage or disadvantage?
Lydia Graham: A bit of both. Even though I’m not a full Asian, sometimes I’m used as the token Asian, which I’m happy to represent so in that example it’s been good. But other times I get backhanded compliments like “Oh you just look so normal, the clothes fit you so good, normally we have to pin them to other models” or “You just look like anyone walking down the street”, I’m like cheers for that! If I wasn’t in the right headspace that could have a bad effect on me, but I obviously don’t give a shit.
Charlie Newman: You’ve got effortless style. If money was no object, who would you choose to wear?
Lydia Graham: I used to really love Gucci but now I just think the designs are too mad. I don’t really have a favourite brand right now, but I love the stylist Mimi Cuttrell, she nails every outfit! She doesn’t just put the same look on all her girls, she styles them all individually, my favourite being Bella Hadid, she always looks sick!
Charlie Newman: What’s been your favourite job thus far?
Lydia Graham: My favourite would have to be for the shoe brand Call it Spring that I shot with my boyfriend Josh. It’s not particularly high fashion but they were just amazing trips. The team were so cool, we would have the best time in the evenings all together. We’ve been to Palm Springs, Lisbon and Berlin – it was the whole experience! My favourite high fashion shoot would have to be with Burberry. I knew everyone on set, the shoot for me is more about the team and the experience than the images that come out of it. In other words, didn’t care about either of those jobs running overtime basically, I didn’t want to rap at 5 like I normally do!
Charlie Newman: You’re currently embarking on creating your own brand called Oh Lydia. Please tell us more about it.
Lydia Graham: It first started because I was getting a bit depressed. I was either working too hard or not enough and was really struggling with the imbalance of my life. If I’m not busy then I’ve got the time for my mind to wander. I was feeling a bit lost but Josh, bless him, was always encouraging me to do more, saying that I had so much more to offer than just modelling. So I thought fuck it, why not run my own business, even if it doesn’t make a profit I want to give it a go.
Underwear is such a big thing for me, I love nothing more than wearing something sexy but comfy – I’m a big advocate for comfort! I remember when Josh and I first started dating and I’d go to Agent Provocateur and buy a nice set of underwear and I’ve only worn it once! Now I see it in the drawer and try it on but take it off immediately because it’s just not me. Then I thought, why can’t I have date night underwear but still be able to wear a sanitary towel? I’m not calling myself a designer, so I’ve decided to just stick with pants and tank tops for now before I get the experience to do more. I’m using a lot of small businesses to help me get to where I want to be because at the end of the day, I’m only a little person in this world! Ultimately, Oh Lydia came about through a mixture of boredom and entrepreneurial spirit. Most importantly it makes me feel happier!
Charlie Newman: What sort of image are you hoping for?
Lydia Graham: The comfort of M&S underwear but in a colourful, 90s aesthetic although I’m making the colours more modern, it’s not just a vintage remake.
Charlie Newman: You’re clearly very interested in underwear and as the Victoria’s Secret show came out only last weekend, I just wondered what your attitude was to their whole brand and their values?
Lydia Graham: I don’t really rate them as a brand. All the girls look beautiful but that doesn’t mean I want to actually go out and buy the clothes. I can appreciate that Candice Swanepoel is so fit, but it all just seems so far out of my reach. I don’t even think ‘Oh I could never look like that’, my brain just completely switches off. But of course I understand it really opens up the girls career and changes their lives. I always hear the girls refer to VS as their ‘family’ but within fashion I just don’t think that exists because however much of a relationship you have with a client, they’ll always need new girls, you’re only ever just a number. I would always call my agency Models 1 my family though, as they’ve been there right from the beginning.
Charlie Newman: Who would be your role model of the month?
Lydia Graham: It would have to be my little 20 year old sister. She’s a carer and earns barely anything considering she works her fucking arse off. She’s such a grafter, always working extra shifts. If she can do it then we all can do it!
Follow Lydia Graham on Instagram: @ohlydiagraham