The Stylish Life of Taylor Hill
Cover Story

The Stylish Life of Taylor Hill

At home in Nashville, the model seeks refuge from the fast-paced fashion industry she grew up in–a notion evident in her relaxed wardrobe.

AB+DM for The Only Agency
DP:
Brett Carlsen
Hair and Makeup:
Meg Boes
Sound:
John Villarosa

When model Taylor Hill logged onto our Zoom interview, she emerged wearing a grey tank top and seemingly no makeup whatsoever (not that she needs it). Her sense of style appeared rather divorced from the ostentatious fashion industry the 26-year-old grew up in—an outward testament to her down-to-earth personality. “I think because I'm pretty go-with-the-flow, my style is very casual,” she says. It felt so relatable until I remembered that just hours before, she’d flown in from a press appearance in Paris with David Yurman. This time, in lieu of a runway, she walked a red carpet.

Hill refers to her modeling career trajectory as magic. In a manner unbeknownst to the teens of the current social media age, she was scouted in Colorado, where she was raised, at age 14. From then on, serendipity (mingled with hard work and really good genes) played a superior role. Now, the model boasts a casual 20 million followers on Instagram, has attended the Met Gala, and posed for countless editorials where she temporarily assumes the identity of seemingly every luxury brand. “People call it luck or chance or fate, but I really feel like it's magical,” Hill says. “Poof.”

Almost immediately after her discovery, Hill signed with IMG Worldwide (she’s remained with the talent management company ever since) and participated in her first season of fashion shows at 15 years old. “I'm from a small town in Colorado. Going to Europe for the first time and seeing London and Paris and Milan—even New York—was pretty eye-opening because I just didn't realize how big the world was,” Hill says. At 16, she walked in her first haute couture show. That same year, she dropped out of high school to commit to modeling full time (though she later obtained her GED). It paid off.

While the budding star began her career strutting high-fashion French and Italian runways in the editorial world (no doubt thanks to her striking blue eyes and feline visage), her path later skewed more mainstream. At 17, Hill became one of the youngest models to ever walk in the now-defunct Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. “It was your dream to do Victoria's Secret because of the exposure,” she says. The lingerie company elevated her to “Angel” status at 18. She continues, “Victoria's Secret was a part of pop culture. It was like being commercialized through the masses whereas high-fashion targets a very specific audience.” Suddenly, Hill was exiting fashion shows to a crowd of fans and paparazzi, slowing down her typical beeline for the subway. People outside of the fashion world now knew who she was.

The increasing popularity of social media was in parallel with Hill's ascent to Victoria’s Secret Angel stardom. With Instagram, models became more than nameless faces hidden beneath designer dresses and makeup. “It was strange because it was kind of like adapt or die,” Hill says of Instagram. “But luckily, I was so young that I just naturally adapted.” Around 18 or 19, already three to four years into her career, she began to notice the effects. “I think I was able to become successful in [that] era because of social media. I love being able to have access to my fan base.”

That same fan base ended up speaking out against Victoria’s Secret in 2018 at the height of the #MeToo era. In addition to challenging the brand’s prescriptive ideals around female sexuality, naysayers found fault in the unrealistic (read: extremely thin) body standards for their angels and models. There was also turmoil within the company. A New York Times investigation revealed that Leslie Wexner and Ed Razek, who then served as L Brands’ (the parent company of Victoria’s Secret) CEO/founder and CMO, respectively, participated in inappropriate behavior with models and women working within the company, which created a toxic working environment. The report also called out problematic campaign imagery and the annual fashion show’s controversial nature.

During this time, Hill and her peers stood in the strange space of serving as the faces of Victoria's Secret, but remaining uninvolved in the creative decision-making. Though Hill didn’t discuss the company turmoil during our conversation, she did reflect on how the callout of unrealistic body standards positively impacted her, as well as many others. “It was a bit of a relief, the shift, even for me internally,” she says. “When I first started [modeling for Victoria’s Secret], I was 18. I had a very different body [than I do] now at 26,” she says. “I was really grateful.” Hill still models for Victoria’s Secret, which today is attempting to promote a more inclusive brand identity.

Though priorities surrounding models’ wellbeing were nothing compared to what they are now (thanks to changemakers like Model Alliance, many fashion brands only work with models over 18), a few still existed during the early days of Hill’s career. That said, Hill was initially not allowed to walk in every show. Instead, she served as a “looks model,” an industry term for a model who spends weeks with a designer and their team as they develop a collection. The clothes are essentially made on their body. “I loved seeing how it happened,” Hill says. “The thought process, the work that went into it, the seamstresses taking a button and moving it there or marking the movement of a pocket and then trying it on again and seeing that it felt better. It was really interesting.”

After seeing these designers and stylists’ creative processes from start to finish, Hill adapted some of these tactics into her own life. “They always have this ginormous V-Flat,” Hill says, referring to a large foldable styrofoam board, white on one side, black on the other. “And they have thousands of pictures pinned to it that have the essence of what they're creating—different images, different fabrics, textures, things that they've seen, imagery that they like.”

Hill invoked this methodology for her own Nashville home—a 3,622-square-foot log cabin built in 1936 that she stumbled upon, fell in love with, and subsequently moved to the city for in 2018. Each room received its own moodboard—some traditional physical boards, others digital Pinterest versions. Hill tacked on inspiring images of favorable homes and coveted items (a brown leather Chesterfield sofa was a must) that informed the vibe of each individual space. “I went room by room and board by board until it was done,” she says.

Top: Rag and Bone; Vest: Free People

Dress: Zimmermann Reconstructed by Nashville-Based Tailor Andrea Lacey

The finished home looks much like a Ralph Lauren ad (Hill served as the face of the brand’s fragrance Romance in 2019 and has walked in numerous shows for the brand) with its wood-paneled walls, traditional rugs, and a giant copper tub. Hill connected specifically with Lauren’s Telluride home—“the mountains were my entire childhood,” she says—and fashioned many aspects of her home after it. Now, Hill has created something with a similar rustic coziness, though she notes it’s “definitely not as magical and chic as his.” (Debatable.) Fittingly, that Ralph Lauren essence leaks into how she dresses, as well. Her closet, which she fashioned after a store with open racks and lounge seating, houses prairie dresses, suede vests, and cowboy boots—a radical departure from the pieces she wore in her early career.

Hill spent her teenage years and early 20s in a doll-like state, passed around from designers to editors to stylists who dressed her up in their wildest sartorial concoctions. “Gosh, [fashion] changing rooms…don't love them,” she laughs. She tested out the style personas of slews of luxury brands from McQueen to Moschino and naturally gravitated towards some more than others. Today, Hill allows comfort to dictate her sartorial choices. In a world of towering platform stilettos, stifling corsets, and restrictive tailoring, Ralph Lauren’s rustic elegance appealed to the Tennessee transplant. “I always loved the way I felt when I would do any shoot for Ralph or walk any of his shows because you feel really chic and really cool, but he still has this easy, breezy element to his clothing,” she says.

Most days, the model is dressed even more casually than the typical Lauren-inspired western wear. Her uniform customarily includes “jeans, [a] T-shirt, blazer, some sort of sneaker, maybe a loafer if I don't feel like wearing socks, and that's pretty much it.” This regimental garb alludes to the model-casting uniform ingrained in Hill’s mind from a young age. An ensemble of black jeans and a black T-shirt was meant to serve as a blank canvas upon which brands could thrust their own visual ideals. “I started to evolve past that, and then I went through a phase of total rebellion,” Hill recounts. Subverting the traditional connotation of that word, she moved from black-on-black to bright colors. Now, “I just have everything under the sun.”

Dress: Etro

Hat: Kemo Sabe Aspen

Earlier on in Hill’s career, red carpet appearances presented themselves to her before the opportunity for a stylist did. Unschooled in the sample-borrowing process, Hill was buying dresses from department stores like Barneys, keeping the tags on, then taking them back to the store—save an Alexander McQueen dress that somehow went unreturned and now serves as a reminder of more humble beginnings. In that vein, Hill is definitely a wardrobe sentimentalist. “I love buying anything vintage because it's from a different era. It has a story,” she recounts. Further proof of this nostalgia lies in her very own denim bar—a hanging display of new and old denim that occupies a significant portion of her closet. One specific pair is nearly 10 years old, but she refuses to let go of it. “They're split. I ripped them on the butt area on both sides,” she says. “I've had them patched and re-patched multiple times and I just can't get rid of them.”

Hill often goes to such lengths to avoid parting with favorite items. She once bought a creamy lace Zimmerman dress for a wedding and proceeded to tear the sleeve on the dance floor. Refusing to give it up, she joined forces with a trusted Nashville tailor to creatively reimagine the dress into a sleeveless two-piece set. “I've done that with a few things,” she explains. “It's a cool way of updating your closet if there's something that you haven't worn for years.”

Hill has been working with stylist duo Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn (the duo also works with Jennifer Lopez, Lily Collins, Jessica Biel, and more celebrities) to select ensembles for her high-profile appearances. “Rob, he always yells at me because I'm like, ‘It's so uncomfortable,’” she laughs. “And he's like, ‘Taylor, you're wearing it for two hours. Suck it up. It's beautiful.’”

The casual dresser is apparently a very low-maintenance client. “In fittings, we present our favorites and nine out of 10 times Taylor ends up wearing the first thing she tries on,” says Zangardi. “We laugh about it every time.” They both take Hill’s love of function into account as they select ensembles. “She loves to wear pants whenever she can,” Zangardi adds (a notion Hill reiterated to me), so there’s always at least one trouser or trouser-equivalent—read: jumpsuit—present at fittings. “He's learned who I am as a person,” Hill muses. “And he'll take that into account and then try and [propose] different versions of who he thinks I could be.”

Dress: Zimmermann Reconstructed by Nashville-Based Tailor Andrea Lacey

Dress: Vintage

Using clothes to assume a role is something Hill’s very used to, in both modeling and her foray into acting (she’s slated to appear in Babylon, set for release this December). Hill notes that it was the clothes she wore more than anything that helped her adapt to the desired energy of a shoot. “I think that was my favorite part, seeing my mood change based on what I was wearing,” she explains.

Hill was lucky that this career path—essentially thrust upon her—fit pretty well. But amidst constant sartorial character play atop runways and behind cameras, Hill had to cultivate her own sense of identity in addition to the typical corresponding conundrums of youth. “I've definitely had moments where I'm like, am I in the right place? Am I doing the right thing?” she says. Though Hill is quick to acknowledge most industries come with a fair amount of rejection, modeling often bases theirs on appearances alone. “You start to learn that it’s because of how you look, not who you are on the inside. Learning to separate that is very, very difficult.”

Today, it appears Hill has jumped off the proverbial hamster wheel she boarded at 14. She sits in the front row at fashion shows more often than she walks them—"I'm getting used to it, but it still feels so strange.” She finds time to curate an entire home sans interior designer. She sets boundaries. Despite her new ventures, Hill has not renounced her initial passion for modeling and everything it’s taught her—a rarity in such a fast-paced, high-energy industry. “I've never really been much of a planner of my career because it started by chance,” she says, later adding, “I love this job and I know I'm meant to do this job.”

Video Editor: Marykate Schneider / Production Director: Jess Sisco / Creative Director: Phuong Nguyen / Associate Producer: Claire Flanagan

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