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Lily Kwong: It Girl

Recent Columbia grad, model, and activist Lily Kwong is more than just red-hot fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra’s cousin—and she’s ready to make a name for herself that’s all her own. Photographs by Billy Kidd. Styled by Laura Jones. Video by Giorgio Arcelli Fontana.

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Lily Kwong. Outside of Manhattan, you may not recognize her by name, and that’s okay—for the moment. The laid-back and fresh-faced Kwong, who happens to be the cousin of CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award-winning fashion designer-of-the-moment Joseph Altuzarra, is just graduating from Columbia University with a degree in sociology and urban studies, after all. No surprise, in a matter of moments after coming onto the New York social scene, Vogue anointed the dark-haired beauty an It girl. Now she’s a front row fixture at fashion shows and frequently appears in party photos (recently for attending the Dom Pérignon party for artist Rita Ackermann and French composer Koudlam, the American Beauty book party, and Marchesa’s dinner at the Rose Bar).  

What’s most charming about Kwong is that she deftly toggles between her two worlds—both as a student (“I’m going to try to have my graduation brunch at Frankies Spuntino in the West Village,” she gushes) and as a fashionable girl-about-town, model, and unofficial Altuzarra muse (“I thought Joseph’s collection was brilliant,” she says. “I’m coveting the knee-high patent boots and anything with coin embroidery.”) She’s also parlayed her social status into an opportunity to do good: Together with her father, she’s the helped start Nuvana, a social media and gaming non-profit that empowers the youth in poor communities to hone their problem-solving skills through interactive video games. And a recent partnership with the Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect means that the organization can now bring their program to larger communities and Kwong will be traveling after graduation on Nuvana’s behalf.

Though San Francisco native Kwong currently makes her home on the Upper West Side, a neighborhood she first recalls moving to “kicking and screaming,” this self-described former downtown girl let her hair down after wrapping up her urban studies thesis for a Lifestyle Mirror shoot at SoHo restaurant Miss Lily’s. “My boyfriend [photographer Simon Cave] and I went to Jamaica after fashion week and I completely fell in love with the energy, the food, and the people,” she says. “It’s a treat to escape to Miss Lily’s for a little mini stay-cation when we can’t get out of New York.” And when Kwong is laying low and working on her personal blog with Cave she still manages to come across as totally stylish citing Proenza Schouler karate pants and Petit Bateau tank tops as among her favorite loungewear. (She saves printed, flirty dresses, as well as pieces from Altuzarra, Prada, Reed Krakoff and Stella McCartney for dressier moments.) The biggest fashion rule Kwong follows? “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” she says.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that Kwong gravitates towards “smart, beautiful women” and cites Lauren Bacall, Coco Chanel, Tilda Swinton and Joan Didion among her style icons. At the rate she’s going it seems like it’s only a matter of time before she finds her own name uttered in the same breath. —Nandita Khanna

Follow Lily on Twitter @lilyscoutk

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