Thursday, July 14, 2011

from the pages of AVENUE’s July issue…

Blonde. Leggy. Hot. Byrdie Bell has all the natural attributes (and attitude) required to earn it-girl status. So it was no surprise when the head-turner swapped the font row at Fashion Week for her own modeling gigs. From there, it wasn’t long before she turned her attention to acting—how ironic for a girl who became New York’s center of attention just by being herself.

by Alexis Swerdloff, photographed by Juan Algarin, styled by Cricket Burns

Apparently, 26-year-old model/actress and it-girl Byrdie Bell has appeared in Vogue more times than Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman. Wow. Not bad for a girl from preppy Greenwich, Conn. (Fun fact: her grandfather inspired the Thurston Howell III character on “Gilligan’s Island.”) When she hit New York, Bell promptly won over the fashion world with her Lauren Hutton-esque gap-tooth smile and mile-long legs. And, of course, with a little help from influential friends like Vogue’s Lauren Santo Domingo, it wasn’t long before Bell was perched—looking picture-pretty—in the front row at fashion shows, modeling in ad campaigns and appearing in the pages of countless fashion magazines.

But Bell is not your typical society gal. Born in Chicago, she spent her early years in London, then attended the tony Greenwich Country Day School. “I had a really hard time in Greenwich,” she admits. “And when my parents got divorced, I fought them to move to New York. Moving here was essential.” She attended the United Nations International School, studied theater and philosophy and—since it was the ’90s and all—embraced grunge culture; meaning she got 12-plus piercings and regularly hung out with fellow punk kids by the Astor Place Cube. “I was a mess, but it was fun,” she laughs. Throughout high school, she took acting classes, and then briefly attended the New School before dropping out to study acting full-time in Stella Adler’s conservatory program. In 2003, she ditched her baggy pants for a Carolina Herrera gown and came out at the Waldorf-Astoria’s Infirmary Ball.

It’s Bell’s refined chicness and innocent features spliced with a rebellious spirit and a mischievous twinkle in her eye that make her so popular with the style monde. She cites Patti Smith, Michael Jackson and Veronica Lake as fashion influences. And her most treasured item of clothing? “My leather Rick Owens jacket,” she says. “It’s a tattered mess at this point and has become more like a child’s blanky, but I can’t part with it.” Shoe designer Brian Atwood was so taken with Bell that he named a thigh-high boot after her. “She has this cool, bohemian style with an edge,” he explains. “Never too sweet. Always very sexy.”

New York churns out it-girls faster than you can say “where’s the next party?”, but Bell has managed to stay in the game by being more than just a beautiful face in a borrowed designer frock at a charity benefit. “Byrdie is elegant and well mannered, but also has a devilish streak and a fabulous sense of humor,” says her good friend, Derek Blasberg, who featured Bell prominently in his modern etiquette guide, Classy. “My favorite thing about Byrdie: You can take the girl anywhere. She handles herself well in all situations, be it a formal affair or a basement dance party. We go together to everything, from a black-tie gala to greasy pizzeria.” It’s this ability to adapt to any situation that no doubt makes Bell a talented actress on the rise. So far, she’s had parts in Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones documentary, Shine a Light, and was featured alongside Jessica Stroup and Mischa Barton in the 2009 thriller Homecoming. She most recently filmed an indie feature called Grand Street with writer/director Lex Sidon, and recently starred in the short film, Blinders, opposite Nathaniel Brown and model Luke Worrall. Directed by Jake Brown, it’s making the festival circuit this summer. “I didn’t really know who Byrdie was when she auditioned,” Brown recalls. “But the thing about her is that she’s really serious and empathetic, which is maybe something you wouldn’t know if you just looked her up on a party pictures site. She likes thinking about characters and psychology, and intellectualizing things. I love to over-intellectualize everything, so that was perfect.”

On any given evening, Bell can be found at a black-tie ball, a fashion launch or downing a few drinks with friends at her local dive bar, De Santos. “That’s my ‘Cheers,’” she says. After stints in Murray Hill, Kips Bay, Tribeca and the Upper East Side, Bell moved to the West Village in 2009. “I don’t want to ever move again,” she says. “I would buy my apartment if I could, but it’s not for sale.”  In addition to storming her way through the society scene, studying at NYU, auditioning and acting, Bell recently signed with One Management, and has gone on to model in campaigns for Hogan, Club Monaco, Gryphon, Meredith Kahn and Angel Sanchez. Though acting is definitely at the top of her priorities, she has learned to embrace and relish the beauty of diversifying her portfolio. “For a while I was very concerned about not getting sidetracked to the point where I was considered a dilettante,” she confesses. “But I’ve started to realize that I can handle everything, and there’s no reason to be sitting at home, cognizing a character that I’m auditioning for, when I can be out doing other stuff.” She’s also found that modeling has been able to influence, and in fact strengthen, her acting skills. “I’ve learned how to let the immediate circumstances influence me,” she says. “It can take a while to learn how to be yourself.”


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