Lily Gavin comes by her innate coolness honestly.

She is a born and bred New Yorker who lives in London and is fluent in French, a description that almost exclusively applies to it-girls. Her mom, Irena, is a punk documentarian with a nomadic spirit who, at the age of 18, left her native France for New York, in pursuit of a bigger life. Coolness is just in Gavin’s genes. But the filmmaker doesn’t come across as someone who is merely following the glamorous bohemian path laid out for her by circumstance. Instead, she radiates a kind of happy-go-lucky curiosity, a sort of natural playfulness that, you sense, has really been the engine powering her unique and glamorous life.

“When your eyes are open, anything is possible,” Gavin tells me as we chat on a bench in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park. As a tomboyish teen, Gavin used to play basketball on Houston Street. As the only girl on the court, she made friends with the boys, one of whom turned out to be the son of artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel. At the time, Gavin wanted to be a painter; it was kismet. “That was really big for me, to have someone on that scale, who was living their truth in that kind of way. He was hugely encouraging of me as a young artist,” she says of Schnabel, who later invited her to work on his film “At Eternity’s Gate,” which was about the final years of a tortured Vincent Van Gogh.

all clothing VAQUERA / Earring ROUSSEY

Joining Schnabel in the South of France for the making of “At Eternity’s Gate” was Gavin’s first time on a film set. “I don’t know if he asked me or if I asked him if I could do the pictures for it, but it was one of those moments where he was like, ‘Well, can you?’ So it was a fake it ‘til you make it.” The film itself aligned with Schnabel’s general output: moody and poetic. Plus, quite star-studded. Willem Dafoe played the role of Vincent Van Gogh while Oscar Isaac portrayed his famed foe Paul Gauguin; even Mads Mikkelsen joined for the role of Nameless Priest.

Gavin shot portraits of all the actors, eventually compiling her images into an exhibition held at the LUMA cultural center in Arles, France— titled, “Une Histoire Avec Vincent,” meaning: a story with Vincent. It was later turned into a little black booklet with a yellow finish on its edges. Back at the park, Gavin handed me a copy. When I opened it, there was a poem written by someone else that she had decisively crossed out with black marker. Whoever wrote that bit of text wrote it in the first person, Gavin explained, which made it seem like Gavin wrote it herself since her name is on the cover. Whenever she gives out a copy, she makes sure to strike the text.

“You know, life places you in these certain situations, and you don’t know who you’re gonna meet or what’s gonna lead to something that’s very significant down the line,” she muses. Around the same time “Une Histoire Avec Vincent” was on display at LUMA Arles, Gucci held its 2019 Resort runway at that same venue. Interested in her work, the brand reached out to Gavin on Instagram, but it seemed too good to be true. “I got a DM that I thought was spam, so I was ignoring it. I was in Thailand with a monk,” Gavin recounts, with a hearty yet breathless Annie Hall-esque laugh. “The first short film I made, ironically, [ended up being] for Gucci. This is another one of those things where life goes into itself.” The film, titled, “The Companion,” is a 3-minute phantasmagoric vignette of a little boy left to watch his mother’s Jackie handbag while she meets with a male suitor.

All clothing RICK OWENS / Shoes GIVENCHY

Another serendipitous connection that came from the “At Eternity’s Gate” set was meeting actor Aimee Mullins, who’d later end up starring in Gavin’s forthcoming short film, “When I Close My Eyes.” While on set, Mullins mentioned to Gavin that she should connect with photographer Nick Knight. “I already was aware of Nick, and kind of felt that one day we were going to meet,” Gavin says. “When [Mullins] was 25 or something, she shot a Dazed cover for Alexander McQueen with Nick. She told me that they basically became family after that: ‘You have to meet Nick and Charlotte [Knight’s wife], they’re so special. They’re real people!’ So that was always in the background, but we hadn’t met yet.”

All clothing BURBERRY

A couple of years later, Gavin’s friend Sonny Hall was working on a poetry book project that involved original photos of his loved ones, so he asked if she would sit for a portrait—which, of course, was to be taken by none other than Nick Knight. “Immediately Nick and I started talking about 3D sculptures because we’re both into 3D printing,” she laughs. “Then we did a second shoot for the book. Then, there was still this feeling of, ‘Let’s do another shoot together.’” I wanted to get Knight’s side of this serendipitous, platonic fairy tale. So, I called him up on WhatsApp.

“What’s always driven me in my work is the people I get to work with,” he says, his reception spotty as he exits his studio. “I really enjoyed photographing Lily. She’s a young filmmaker, she’s in acting classes, she takes great photographs, and has a very nice… sort of way about her. I thought it would be a very interesting project to do in a fuller way. To photograph somebody in high fashion who I also find to be a very fascinating person.” V turned out to be just the place for such a shoot.


As with most things in Gavin’s journey, everything surrounding the shoot fell into place, as though it were all part of a carefully yet easefully orchestrated performance with someone sitting in the director’s chair. “Our whole shoot felt like we were floating on this ethereal plane through the city,” she says. The idea came from their shared interest in the way fashion shoots used to work: only two people on the call sheet, model and photographer, both carrying everything they’d need to get the shot. Scrappy, spontaneous, and intimate. “That was the seed,” Gavin clarifies, “Because, of course, logistically, there are rules like no mixing brands, for example.” The idea of shooting on the streets of New York City was outside of Knight’s comfort zone, which has been the studio for most of his career. But the city’s pulse and energy proved to be incredibly amusing and inspiring to him.

“I was taken by the fact that walking on a street in Midtown in a very pronounced fashion look, people in New York will talk to you!” Knight recounts, tickled. “As an English person, that really lovely American friendliness, that spontaneity that New Yorkers have to be able to express their opinions straight to you, is quite different to Britain, which is usually very reserved.” For Gavin, the romance was in the organic harmony the city provided. “There was so much synchronized magic. Like the neon Chelsea sign that had been broken for however many years, got fixed the day before the shoot—you know that kind of thing where it just feels like someone’s saying: … and action!”

All clothing BALENCIAGA / Earrings PATRICIA VON MUSULIN / Necklace stylist’s own

The two shot a second installment in Knight’s London studio, where he applied an impressionistic effect to the images—an homage to the Dutch painter Kees van Dongen. “It really is exactly what I had hoped it would be: an artist and her work,” he says of the end result. Gavin and her paintings, to be more specific. Over email, she updated me on her recent artwork, noting that she’s been painting at her friend Olaolu Slawn’s studio. “I’m finding that painting is almost a form of meditation or exercise for me. To use the hands helps move the energy and clear the channels for the writing… gets you out of your own way,” she posits. Photos of Gavin in an oversized gray t-shirt and jeans, smiling proudly next to her works, provide visual context for the work that helps her, well, work.

If you’re not paying attention, as Gavin suggested earlier, you may very well miss the opportunities the world puts right in front of your face. Coolness, it-girldom, icon status, are not so much a matter of good luck—though being a city kid with cool parents helps—but a matter of marrying one’s curiosity, putting yourself out there, and seeing good ideas through to their logical conclusion. At the end of my conversation with Gavin at Fort Greene Park, we stood up from the bench to walk towards the train together. When we turned around to check if either of us had left anything, we noticed, right on cue, that the bench had a little plaque engraved with a Bill Cunningham quote: “He who seeks beauty will find it.”

This story appears in the pages of V149: now available for purchase!

Photography Nick Knight

Fashion Anna Trevelyan

Makeup (NYC) Maki Ryoke (Streeters)

Makeup (London) Laura Dominique (Streeters) using BYREDO Makeup

Hair (NYC) Panos Papandrianos (The Wall Group)

Hair (London) Angelo Seminara (Streeters) using KEMON products

Manicure (London) Abena Robinson

Set design Andrew Tomlinson (Streeters)

Executive producer Kat Davey (Liberte Productions)

Producer (NYC) Jordan Vernes KingRexx

Production coordinator Alice Carlet (Liberte Productions)

Digital technician Joe Colley 3D

SHOWstudio Photo assistants Grace Hodgson, Hassan Saif, Mossy McDermott

Stylist assistants Ruairi Horan, Niambi Moore, Hannah Rose, AJ Grove, Luca Parkes, Beth Knight

Makeup assistant (studio) Naomi Nakamura

Hair assistants (studio) Janet Barone, Ilaria Belleo

Production assistant Berlin Nichols, Eliza Jouin

Set assistant Bradley Barrett

Retouching Epilogue Imaging

Location (NYC) Love Studios

Location (NYC) Chelsea Hotel

Location (London) SHOWstudio

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