Laura Bailey has led a peripatetic professional life. The London-based model, who has been the face of myriad fashion campaigns, has turned her attention to the other side of the camera as a photographer. “I think storytelling connects the dots in my career,” says the creative polyglot, who is also a mother of two. Laura is considered part of the cultural cognoscenti, and her finds and fancies — from the latest novel to theater production — are fodder for a rigorously paced weekly Vogue.com column, “Laura Loves” (this week, she recommends Phyllida Barlow’s show at the Royal Academy and a vegan restaurant called “Filth”).
Her interest in storytelling is commensurate with her sense of curiosity, and her years modeling have afforded her a vast swath of the earth to explore. “Modeling gives me a chance to travel in a way I never thought possible and meet extraordinary people. My fashion career has been very connected to an innate curiosity and wanderlust, more than style, even,” she says, “I enjoy joining the dots between different worlds.”
While she continues to model, her concurrent evolution into photography also proves arresting. Her portraits, often female-focused, depict subjects that feel at once familiar and obscure, in time and places that seem contemporary and immemorial. “I’m inspired to write but I often feel lonely and anxious and panicky, and when I take pictures I feel free, and more myself,” says Laura, who is just as happy (perhaps more so) traveling and shooting alone than with a crew of twenty.
“Laura Loves” coalesces her disparate fascinations, and allows her to highlight nascent talent in various disciplines. “I enjoy the mix,” she says, “I like it being as authentic as possible. It seems to work because it’s a bit different than everything else.” Through her years as a creative on both side of the lens, Laura now finds herself in her element. “My ambitions lie in what I am doing; I cherish the in-between time — and how important that is to creative work.”
Tell me a bit about your role at Vogue. It allows me to channel my ideas in one place. When Edward [Enninful] took over, we instantly connected and the last year has been so exciting. It feels like a great moment, and I admire what he has brought to the magazine.
What was the most impactful trip you took? To the Virunga Mountains to see the gorillas. It was extremely impactful to immerse myself in it — obviously the genocide history of Rwanda, and climbing such spectacular nature and seeing the gorillas. I was also secretly three-months pregnant at the time. I’ve traveled a lot in Africa on my own — climbed Kilimanjaro — very formative, but I definitely had a few weekends in Paris that changed my life.
Are there any writers that give you wanderlust? I love Gabriel García Márquez and Tolstoy. Before I’d seen much of the world, it was through those kinds of classic novels that I imagined it. More specifically, my late friend Adrian Gill. I loved his travel writing. And Joan Didion, on America and California.
You’ve lived in both New York and London. How do the cities compare? The truth is, when I lived in New York, I thought it was the best place in the world and that I was never going home, and now I can’t imagine living anywhere other than London. New York was about taking a huge leap and reinvention; it was where I made my friends that are my family. And it represents everything that happens in your twenties: working hard, staying up late, being really good, being really bad. When I came home, I fell in love with London again. It’s where I’m bringing my kids up. So much happens here every day and I never get over it.
What are some of your favorite museums? I love the big-star museums in London. I always take an out-of-town friend to the Tate Modern and the Royal Academy. I often pop into the Serpentine just to buy postcards. I love the Whitney in New York. The Musée Picasso in Paris is the place I’ll go if I’m working intensely and have the last day off.
What are some of your favorite travel purchases or collections? Nothing officially, but I do have a large collection of sunglasses. I am not a hoarder of any kind. I travel quite light and I live quite light.
Where was your last vacation? I crossed the Kalahari by quad bike in the spring, falling in love with Botswana along the way. And then Morocco with my kids in the fall, staying at Jasper Conran’s exquisite L’Hôtel Marrakech in the heart of the medina, and day tripping to Berber Lodge in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains.
Where will your next vacation be? Officially: work trips to Courchevel and Paris. Dream time: Mexico City, Costa Rica and Panama.
The thing you can’t travel without? My cameras. (Leica Q and Contax T2). And Chanel No. 19.
Plane, train or automobile? I love the romance of a train (and a bicycle). But a road trip in my old ’68 Merc is always tempting, even if I’m happiest of all on foot: walking, hiking, climbing.
The people you’d most like to sit next to on a long-haul flight? Empty seat. (Or my kids).
What is your in-flight ritual? I’m a narcoleptic on a plane, usually asleep before take-off. A blessing and a curse as I always have a movie wish list and a book to finish. But I’m lucky if I remember to moisturize.
The language you wish you spoke? Italian.
When were you happiest while traveling? Descending Mount Kilimanjaro, gulping oxygen—a natural high. And up in the Virunga mountains between Rwanda and Uganda, close up with the silverback gorillas, while pregnant with my son.
Desert island or downtown? I’m guilty of the desert island fantasy but if I’m honest, I like a city buzz, the quest and the action. Solitude amidst strangers.
If you could live at any hotel, which would it be? Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc (venturing out to Le Colombe d’Or from time to time).
What is your room service indulgence? It depends where I am and who I’m with, but once in a while I especially love a decadent breakfast at Le Bristol Paris, where even the muesli comes with a flourish of gold leaf. I like to sprawl with the New York Times, coffee and croissants, like an actress in between roles. A brief moment of escapism.
The strangest place you’ve spent a night? A castle outside Florence as a student, with rattling suits of armor, ancient frescoes and a ladder leading up to a tall but tiny velvet bed.
What is your favorite market? On my home turf, Portobello Market in London, for vintage clothes and fruit and veg. But I love the sprawling Brocante du Jas des Roberts near Grimaud in the South of France. I met an elderly lady in the post office in St Tropez who drew directions on my boulangerie paper bag of croissants. And I furnished my first West Village apartment almost entirely from the 25th St Flea Market, so New York thrifting will forever stir my heart.
If you could travel to any place in any epoch, which would it be? I love the idea of time travel through film: the Rome of Fellini, Sweden of Bergman.
What are the show-off spots in your hometown? The secret gardens around Ladbroke Grove. The Courtauld Institute, Somerset House and Spring restaurant (especially in deepest winter). The Electric Cinema. The view from the tower of the Garden Museum (when you enter through a tiny Alice in Wonderland wooden door, and climb.) The Tate Modern. The Serpentine Gallery and surrounding Hyde Park. Clarke’s (the restaurant and the store across the road. Check out the Freud etchings in the private dining room.) Hampstead Heath and the Ladies’ Pond. Late-night music at Laylow or the Globe.
Which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month, and a year?
A weekend in Rome.
A week in New York City.
A month in Paris.
A year in California.
Your biggest extravagance on the road? Hotels. Taxis. Beauty (a boxing class or Thai massage, ideally). Books.
Describe a memorable meal from your travels. El Celler de Can Roca in Catalonia during an adventure with the late AA Gill and friends. He knew I’d have been happy with bread and cheese and wine at a corner café — I was sulky and never keen for a show-off meal. He was right. I was wrong. And the brothers Roca performed with simplicity and grace, in extraordinary style.
Travel hell is? Instagram and Google Maps. (Also heaven.)
Where are you ashamed that you’ve never been? Ireland, but I’m planning to cycle the Wild Atlantic Way and have a notebook full of ideas from a local friend.
Favorite stores on earth? I love any museum gift store, but special favorites include the V&A, LACMA, the Whitney, and Museé Picasso in Paris (even if I’m just buying postcards). For fashion: Opening Ceremony in NYC, Liberty and Rellik (for vintage) in London, and the monthly brocante around Rue de Bretagne in Paris. My neighborhood bookstore Lutyens & Rubinstein, which is a weekend ritual. And the Halfpipe bike and skate store on Golborne Road in London, because they look after my bike, my sons’ skateboards and simply epitomize what a local store should be and feel like.
Most treasured travel memento? The scrapbooks of our travels I made with my kids when they were little. And a photograph Sam Taylor-Johnson took of me at Versailles, windswept and laughing in a pair of hot-pink Chanel shades. Plus an excess of vintage nighties, cheap ankle chains and assorted hats and headscarves.
Why do you travel? To get lost (and found).
Mieke ten Have is a New York City based design and interiors writer, stylist, and consultant. Formerly the Home Editor of Vogue magazine and Design Editor at Large of Elle Decor, Mieke contributes to a number of publications including The Wall Street Journal, House & Garden (UK), Architectural Digest, and Boat International. She is Cultured magazine’s New York Design Editor.