WHEN YOU’VE BUILT a mul­ti­mil­lion-dollar ca­reer out of wear­ing next to noth­ing, the ques­tion of just how much skin to re­veal can come down to a few very strate­gic cen­time­ters of fab­ric.

Full back? Yes. Mi­cro­scopic bikini bot­toms? Sure. Still, it’s a game of inches, and some­thing has to be left to the imag­i­na­tion.

For Lily Aldridge, 29, the “pret­ti­est girl in the whole fuck­ing world” (ac­cord­ing to her hus­band, Kings of Leon front­man Caleb Fol­low­ill), toe­ing that line be­tween lust ob­ject and celebrity-power-brand-in-the-mak­ing is all part of the busi­ness plan.

Though she’s been mod­el­ing since she was 14, Aldridge de­buted as a Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret model in 2009; she is now one of just eight An­gels. She landed the cover of Sports Il­lus­trated Swim­suit’s 50th an­niver­sary is­sue last year. Add her cred in high-fash­ion cir­cles—shoots in Vogue and a cam­paign for Michael Kors—and Aldridge has won the Triple Crown of mod­el­ing.

As you might ex­pect from any thor­ough­bred, she says her con­tracts are iron­clad, stip­u­lat­ing pre­cisely how much of her ex­tra­or­di­nary physique she’ll bare. “I’m very care­ful about it,” she says. “I en­joy feel­ing sexy and beau­ti­ful; I just don’t think ev­ery­one needs to see ev­ery­thing.”

So what does it feel like to have mil­lions of men wish­ing they could? “I don’t think of my­self as an ob­ject of lust. I can’t even say that with a straight face,” she says with a laugh. The at­ten­tion, she ad­mits, is flat­ter­ing. “But I’m more flat­tered when some­one thinks I’m funny.”

In per­son, she’s lean and long, given to slouch­ing her shoul­ders in a boy­ish way and play­ing against on­look­ers’ ex­pec­ta­tions. “Peo­ple think it’s all rock con­certs and run­way shows,” she posits. OK, there are plenty of both. But there are also 3 a.m. call times for bikini shoots and a fit­ness reg­i­men that would make an elite ath­lete groan. “I don’t take this life for granted,” she says. Aldridge and Fol­low­ill also have a 2½-year-old daugh­ter, Dixie Pearl. “That’s why I like so­cial me­dia,” she says. “Peo­ple see that I’m mar­ried, they see I have a fam­ily, they see that I’m hu­man.”

Over lunch at Bar­b­uto in Man­hat­tan’s West Vil­lage, she ex­pertly or­ders wine for the ta­ble, plus steak and roast pota­toes. (Her usual drink of choice: “A shot of Pa­trón and a Corona. That’s my jam.”) The gap in her teeth is ar­rest­ing, just enough of an im­per­fec­tion to make her seem real. “I don’t walk around feel­ing like a su­per­model. I mean, I high-five peo­ple.”

Aldridge in­sists she was a “lanky, awk­ward” teenager, though she be­gan mod­el­ing for Abercrombie & Fitch in the ninth grade. “I know it’s an age-old story that no one be­lieves,” she says, laugh­ing, “but no one asked me out in high school!” She didn’t even at­tend the prom. “I was in Paris, work­ing. But I would have re­ar­ranged my sched­ule,” she adds with a be­mused shrug.

De­cid­edly more com­fort­able in the spot­light th­ese days, Aldridge has tapped into her in­ner show woman on the Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret cat­walk, an ex­pe­ri­ence she calls “ex­hil­a­rat­ing” (the yearly run­way ex­trav­a­ganza is seen by some 10 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide). And yes, that was her in the video for “Use Some­body.” (You’re wel­come.) “I don’t know how I ended up where I am,” she says. “I was so painfully shy as a child, [but] I even­tu­ally learned that it’s more ex­haust­ing to be shy than just to be open.”

Aldridge grew up in L.A. with her mother, model Laura Lyons—play­mate of the Month, Fe­bru­ary 1976—and spent sum­mers and a year of high


school in Eng­land with her fa­ther, the Bri­tish artist Alan Aldridge, who de­signed al­bum cov­ers for the Who and the Rolling Stones. “The punk scene was so big in Lon­don then,” she re­calls, “so I was able to go to all of th­ese in­cred­i­ble con­certs.” She chose public school over pri­vate be­cause “I was a typ­i­cal teenager, and the [pri­vate school] uni­forms were like some­thing out of Harry Pot­ter. The skirts were down to your an­kles. I was like, no….”

In 2007, Aldridge met her hus­band-to-be at Coachella, and they now split their time be­tween Nashville and Tribeca. “I never thought in a mil­lion years a girl from L.A. would end up in Nashville, but I love it,” Aldridge says. When she’s not hang­ing at home, power-stream­ing Home­land or Game of Thrones, she’s “danc­ing at honky-tonks with 80-year-olds” or sup- ping with pal Tay­lor Swift. “Tay­lor makes me din­ner,” Aldridge says. “And she’s the sweet­est, most hum­ble girl I’ve ever met.”

No doubt the two dis­cuss the costs of fame. On a re­cent swim­suit shoot in Hawaii, Aldridge and the photo crew hiked to a se­cluded beach, where she shed her clothes and be­gan pos­ing in a tiny black bikini. Two days later pa­parazzi pic­tures emerged—taken by a drone that had hov­ered over the ocean, un­seen. “It ter­ri­fied me,” she says. “It’s no way to live. I mean, if you see the pa­parazzi and they’re in your face, OK, but it re­ally freaked me out. So now if I’m on a beach, I’m scan­ning the sky, and it kind of takes away the magic of the photo shoot. I can’t with the drones.”

Take a pic­ture, sure. Just ask nicely first. ■

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