Lily Luahana Cole (born 27 December 1987) is an English model, actress and entrepreneur. Cole pursued a modelling career as a teenager and was listed in 2009 by Vogue Paris as one of the top 30 models of the 2000s. She was booked for her first British Vogue cover at age 16, named “Model of the Year” at the 2004 British Fashion Awards, and worked with many well-known brands, including Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Jean Paul Gaultier and Moschino. Her advertising campaigns have included Longchamp, Anna Sui, Rimmel and Cacharel.
Cole’s first leading role as an actress was as Valentina in the 2009 film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Her other film work includes Passages, a short directed by Shekhar Kapur, and There Be Dragons directed by Roland Joffé. In 2013 Cole founded impossible.com, an innovation group and incubator (previously a gift economy social network which is now renamed to Impossible People).
Magazines and fashion shows
Cole was photographed in 2001 at age 13 by fashion photographer Mariano Vivanco. According to the Evening Standard in 2004, her modelling career began in 2003 when she was approached in the street by Benjamin Hart of Storm Models. She signed with Storm and in 2003 was photographed by Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue. Her distinctive red hair attracted significant media attention. At the 2004 British Fashion Awards, she was named “Model of the Year”.
Cole worked with many prominent photographers, including Craig McDean, Nick Knight, Juergen Teller, Arthur Elgort, Irving Penn and Tim Walker. She has appeared on the covers of Playboy in France, Vogue, Citizen K, and V, among others. She featured on Vogue’s “best dressed” list in December 2005, and had cover appearances on Numéro and Interview.
She modelled on the international runway circuit and at many fashion shows on behalf of Chanel, Shiatzy Chen, DKNY, Jean Paul Gaultier, Versace, Alexander McQueen, Jasper Conran, John Galliano and Louis Vuitton. She was nominated, for the second time, for the “Model of the Year” award at the 2007 British Fashion Awards. In December 2009 she was listed by Vogue Paris as one of the top 30 models of the 2000s. Cole made a cover appearance on the January 2010 issue of the Canadian Elle and opened Hermès’s winter 2010/2011 collection at Paris Fashion Week in March. Towards the end of 2010, she featured in a documentary chronicling the career of Rolf Harris in which he painted her dressing up as Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cole has additionally graced the covers of Vogue (UK, Russia, Korea), Harper’s Bazaar (UK, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Russia, Ukraine, Taiwan, Turkey) and i-D.
During the Closing Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, Cole was one of the British models wearing fashions created by British designers specifically for the event.
Cole has appeared in advertising campaigns for Chanel, Christian Lacroix, Hermès, Longchamp, Cacharel, Topshop and Anna Sui cosmetics, as well as being the face for Moschino’s perfume “I Love Love”. In September 2007, Cole was announced as the follow-up model for Accessorize, taking the place of Claudia Schiffer, also designing a line of handbags for the collection.
Cole has been modelling for cosmetics company Rimmel London since October 2009, as well as featuring in advertisements for jewellers Tiffany & Co. Along with Twiggy and others, Cole became a “face” of Marks and Spencer clothes advertising campaign, making her the youngest model to become involved in a campaign for the line.
She launched a campaign in June 2010 at Gatwick Airport for modelling agency, Storm Model Management. The campaign aims to find new modelling talent from people passing through the airport, with the agency hoping to re-create the discovery of Kate Moss, who was spotted at JFK Airport in 1988 by the agency’s founder.
In March 2012 The Body Shop launched its Beauty With Heart campaign, naming Cole as its first ambassador.
Cole made her acting debut as Polly in the 2007 comedy St Trinian’s, a rework of the black and white films of the 1950s and ’60s, alongside Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Russell Brand, Jodie Whittaker and Stephen Fry.
Her first leading role came in Terry Gilliam’s 2009 fantasy film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, playing Valentina, the teenage daughter of Christopher Plummer’s title character, Dr Parnassus, whom Parnassus has promised to the Devil (Tom Waits) upon her 16th birthday. Acting alongside Heath Ledger (who died before filming had finished), Cole, in an interview for the Daily Telegraph admitted that, at times, she felt out of her depth in the role- saying “I’d only done a couple of films and here I was surrounded by amazing actors like Christopher Plummer and Heath Ledger, and it was intimidating at times,” also describing the role as “the biggest role I’ve ever done”.
Gilliam said of Cole: “She has an amazing look and grasps what is required so very quickly. If she wants a career as an actress, she has a brilliant future”. According to Mark Olsen of The Los Angeles Times, writing as Parnassus was released in the United States, “Cole brings a surprising well of emotional tenderness to her part as Valentina”, while Ryan Michael Painter wrote of the film on ‘inthisweek.com’ that “all of the performances are delightful, particularly Cole’s as Valentina, proving that the haute couture model has more to offer this world than a pretty face”.
Cole appeared at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival in December 2009 to promote Parnassus. She was featured as herself in one episode of the online series T Takes, a series of short, improvised films published by The New York Times. Cole appeared as “Lettuce Leaf”, a celebrity supermodel in the 2009 film, Rage, directed by Sally Potter. Cole also played “Aline” in the 2011 film There Be Dragons.
In January 2010, Cole gave an interview to the Canadian edition of Elle in which she expressed her desire to focus more on acting than on her modelling career, saying she “wouldn’t want to treat acting as a convenient thing to do now and again”, going on to mention her roles in the upcoming films There Be Dragons and Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll and saying of her modelling “I’ve been doing modelling for years and I feel like I’ve taken out of it what I need to and I’m ready for new things” and that “film asks for a much bigger emotional and intellectual commitment.” Cole had a part in Mary Harron’s The Moth Diaries, which was released in 2012.