Cropped Denim Jacket With Marine Print
Long before landing her breakout role as Hedi Slimane’s muse during the designer’s tenure at Saint Laurent, Lili Sumner was living in rural New Zealand, dreaming up the kind of woman she’d like to grow into. A voracious reader, her character references were largely pulled from her favourite books: Francie, the tenacious lead in Betty Smith’s perennial coming-of-age classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, was her number one pick. “I was never much of a princess girl when I was a kid,” Sumner says cheerily over an espresso. “Ursula from The Little Mermaid was more my speed. She’s cool, lives under the sea, and wears a lot of black and purple.”
We all know the story... Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a woman called Cinderella’s dream came true when she was gifted a pair of perfectly fitting glass slippers. Known for centuries as one of the most iconic shoe stories in history, this week Semaine and Lili, in a special collaboration with Browns, bring this story to life again on the streets of London, but will our Lili make it home before the clock strikes midnight? First, in this wide-ranging conversation, Sumner discusses inspirational and badass women, her friendship with Slimane, and why it’s ok to write your own fairytale ending.
Semaine: You’ve lived in New Zealand, London, Japan, and NYC. Where is home today?
Lili: New York, and it’s the best city I’ve ever lived in! I moved from London just over a year ago, and I feel like I’ve grown a lot in myself since then. This city pushes people from different circles together, and there’s this expansive energy to it that I love. At the same time, Trump is terrible, and we’re in the belly of the beast.
Semaine: Did you always want to be a model?
Lili: I wasn’t a kid with a dream of being a model or a rock star. For me, it was less about a particular career and more about the kind of person that I wanted to be. I’ve always read a lot, so different characters from novels grew my perspective of what was possible. Today, I look up to the kind of woman who’s around 35, has her shit together, is super chic, but can also get down in the mud. Maybe she has kids, maybe she doesn’t—but she certainly reads a lot of great books.
Semaine: Can name some of these badass women IRL?
Lili: There’s a lot to pick from: Dorothy Parker was a cool woman; Holly Golightly is my New York dream. Then also Simone De Beauvoir, Eve Babitz, Nina Simone, Betty Smith, Penelope Spheeris, Maxine Waters, Lena Dunham, Miranda July, Janet Frame, and Jane Campion.
Semaine: What’s been the most magical moment of your career so far?
Lili: Closing Hedi Slimane’s last-ever Saint Laurent show. I wore a beautiful red dress in the shape of a heart. There was no music, so all you could hear was people gasping in delight as the looks came out and the click of cameras. It was sad because it was the end of an era, but I also think it was extra special because his run at the house wasn’t super long. He created a whole culture at Saint Laurent; it became our world. The people I met there are still my close friends today.
Semaine: We heard you’re writing a screenplay. Please tell us more!
Lili: It’s something I’ve had in mind for a year or so. Right now, I’m about halfway through writing it. Storytelling and developing the characters is the most interesting thing about filmmaking to me. Directors get all the glory, but screenwriting is difficult!
Semaine: When do you think it might be ready?
Lili: I hope soon. I’m planning to shoot a short film first, so you can look out for that. I love it when people write and act their own material, but I don’t think I’ll star in it. Being in film is an exciting step for me because it contains everything that I love. It’s clothes; it’s aesthetic; it’s framing; it’s character; it’s a study of the human condition and an exploration of life.
Semaine: If you could wave a wand over the modelling industry, what would you change?
Lili: Diversity is becoming a lot better, but it still has a long way to go. This last Fashion Week, I noticed that a lot of the big shows still only cast three or four black girls or women of other ethnicities. I think social media is helping to accelerate change, though. People are calling out the lack of diversity, and brands are reacting. The change is good, but it’s not enough.
Semaine: Do you believe in fairytales?
Lili: I’ve never been much of a fairytale girl. Travelling at a young age has shown me that there are so many different kinds of lives you can live and that it’s up to you which one you choose. You have to keep things exciting though. Life’s a big movie, and it’s possible that we’re all on The Truman Show.
Watch this week’s film to see Lili sprinkle sartorial magic throughout the streets of London, (thanks goes out to Jerry and the impossibly chic shoe cupboard at Browns for making it all possible). And read on to discover her spellbinding film picks, essential reads, and just about everything else in between. Only on this week’s enchanted edition of Semaine.
By Elsa de Berker for Semaine.
Photography by Benedikt Frank.
Cropped Denim Jacket With Marine Print
LEGRIA HF R76 High Definition
High-Waisted Skinny Jeans
Blue Tex Chiara 40 Leather Boots
Model Cycle Rickshaw
Brutalist London Map
Silver Integra 90 Leather Sandals
Stove Pipe 27 High Waist Straight Ripped Jeans
Gold Purist 105 Metallic Leather Sandals
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella Original Broadway Orchestra
Ribbed Tank Top
Yellow Cropped Leather Jacket
High Waisted Leather Pencil Skirt
Metallic Silver Eclypse Sneakers
Single Sleeve Check Asymmetric Dress
Yellow And Bubblegum Micro Bold Suede Cross-Body Bag
White And Navy Hangisi 50 Gingham Cotton Pumps
Boots over ballgowns
“I’ve done my own thing style-wise since I was a kid. At school, I used to get detention for wearing purple fishnets or coloring my hair weirdly. These days I mostly buy vintage, with the occasional splurge on an extra special pair of shoes.”
Forget black magic and summon the black Amex. Click to shop Lili’s witchy wardrobe du jour brought to you with Browns.
Books over basics
“Reading is the most underrated activity. I like books of the old-fashioned paper variety, but if you prefer a kindle that’s fine too—whatever it takes to get the pages turning.”
Literature to escape reality—Sumner style.
An Endless Sumner
“I’m from New Zealand, but I’ve also lived in London, Japan, and New York City. Traveling at a young age showed me how many different lives it’s possible to live.”
From Hollywood to Paris, discover Lili’s guide to continent-hopping.
Oversized Logo Patch Cotton Hoodie
Red, White And Black BB 40 Tartan Boots
DMC LX15 Digital Camera
Mid Rise Cotton Blend Track Pants
Pink Aviator Metal Sunglasses
Brown And Black PVC Bucket Bag
“I love to walk down the street with my big headphones on, listening to music—feeling like I’m in a movie.”
A curated playlist for your next feature film—or journey home on the Tube.
Lili answers Semaine’s mixed bag of quick-fire questions.
Liliana Banana, Bunny—and some people call me Lil.
For every person in the world to have a little more empathy— especially Republicans—and for my wisdom tooth to stop hurting.
There’s a guy in my local bookshop and I think he might be an actual angel. Every time I talk to him I leave with a whole new perspective on the world.
A badass woman who doesn’t take any shit.
I can’t tell you, because it’s too weird.
Candy Crush. What is it and why do people play it?
“Something really comfy, like Tevas. It would be horrible, but I couldn’t live in a pair of Louboutins.”
Sumner's silver screen
“Film is the culmination of everything I love. It’s clothes, aesthetic, music, storytelling, and the human condition.”
Eight must-see movies, according to Lili.
"GADJA DILO" by Tony Gatlif, 1997