Fashion Photographer Alexi Lubomirski is working hard to ensure his two passions come together to build a fashion industry in the not-so-distant future that is environmentally sustainable and cruelty-free.
There are many ways you might have been introduced to Alexi Lubomirski. For most people, it will be through the official photographs he took of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2017 after they announced their engagement. The genuine, candid pictures gave a rare glimpse into the raw emotion between the couple, catching the world’s attention. He went on to photograph wedding pictures for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, too.
But many others, like the royal couple themselves, know Lubomirski as one of the most sought after fashion photographers in the industry. After studying in Brighton, England, he trained with Mario Testino and has gone on to work with some of the biggest global brands, celebrities and publications. If you’re clued up on Polish history, you might even know of him as a princely descendant of Polish royalty. His full title is His Serene Highness Prince Alexi Lubomirski, after all. If you’re a parent, on the other hand, you may have come across one or both of his two children’s books.
But what the New York dweller is becoming more and more known for is his outspoken vegan lifestyle – one that he tries to marry with his other world of fashion, famous faces and high glamour. Talking to A&E about his journey into a plant-based lifestyle and his current vegan-forward projects, he explains what still needs to be done, what motivated his change and his biggest career moment yet.
Can you tell us about your journey into veganism?
My journey into veganism began about six or seven years ago. My wife [Giada Lubomirski] actually converted me after she had been to a food institute where they cure people’s problems with food. She learned so much about food – its power, what it can do – and she came back and said: “We have to change everything in our house, I’ve learned so much about food.”
So we went vegan. It was initially for health reasons but very quickly afterwards, just two or three weeks later, I was actually sitting at a restaurant with somebody eating a steak, and I remember having this thought for the first time as they tore into the flesh; ‘Isn’t it funny that they call a potato and potato, but they call cow flesh a steak?’
You really start to open up and think about how we’ve been conditioned socially, from birth really. We’ve been fed hamburgers from a laughing clown, and every milk or cheese packet we buy has a happy looking cow on it. You very quickly realised that and become more compassionate.
I’ve always said that there a four doorways into veganism; you do it because of the animals, your health, the environment or for some sort of spiritual revolution. But the great thing is that it doesn’t matter which doorway leads you into veganism, because once you’re in you reap all the rewards as well as sow them. Whether you like it or not, you protect the animals, you protect the environment, you become healthier and you become a little more compassionate without trying. Therefore one might argue that you become a little more spiritually evolved.
What has been the biggest challenge so far? Have there been any unexpected challenges?
Not really, it’s just about re-educating yourself about what to eat. One thing is you have to prepare when you travel. You can order vegan food on planes, but in terms of snacks and stuff, you just need to be a bit more prepared with what you pack. But what’s actually more interesting rather than difficult is everybody else’s reaction to your change. You might get a few snide remarks from people about how vegans are always trying to convert everybody, but I always tell people there are nothing but benefits from it so you should give it a try. Even small steps like Meatless Monday is a step in the right direction. But other than that it’s been 100 per cent positive, not difficult.
Food aside, how else are you trying to live more sustainably?
Lots of ways! My wife is the big environmental activist of the house, she has a platform on Instagram called @ecoshaker, and she really drives the environmental side of our family. That’s anything ranging from buying fewer single-use plastic products, composting food, making sure we recycle properly. So many people are unaware of what can be recycled and what can’t. A simple example is coffee cups; everyone thinks their Starbucks coffee cup can be recycled in with the paper, but it can’t because of the plastic film inside of it. So my wife really teaches us as a family about how we can live a more sustainable life.
Other than that, in the fashion industry, I am working on an initiative called Creatives For Change which asks creatives in the industry to use their power to inspire people in the right way. The first thing I am asking them to do is to say they will no longer use fur, feathers or exotic skins in their creative outputs. It’s 2019 and I don’t think we need these things anymore that are so-called luxury items to have such a bloody and animal-cruelty filled history behind them. There are so many fashion innovations now with materials and textiles that we don’t really need to be harming animals in our fashion industry. I’m just asking people to make the big step and move towards a cruelty-free fashion world.
You’re working on a new project, For Love Of. Can you tell us how the idea came about?
Well, in the same way that we use celebrities to sell sneakers, fragrances and lifestyles, I want to use them to sell the idea of a plant-based diet. There are so many people we follow on Instagram that are our heroes, whether they are musicians, actors, religious figures, politicians or sports stars and a lot of people don’t know that some of them actually follow a plant-based or vegan diet. If a young girl in America looks up to Miley Cyrus, I want to tell that little girl that actually Miley is a vegan.
I want to start conversations in people’s houses, whether it’s something they can change overnight or something they can start talking about with their family and communities to try and make a change for the better, for their health, for the environment, for the animals.
What is the process that’s gone into this project so far?
We’re just basically reaching out to as many visible people as possible, interviewing them and taking pictures, so it will also be a video interview, and maybe a podcast and an exhibition. I love talking to people and finding out about them and getting into their heads. Finding out what makes them tick and what motivates them. So it’s been very interesting because I’m interviewing and photographing them at the same time, which creates a very interesting imbalance in people. Half of their brain is thinking ‘Do I look good in this picture?’ and the other half is trying to think of the answer to the question, so it’s an interesting angle.
You’ve also written two children’s books, can you tell us about them?
I wrote a book for my sons when they were one and three. It was called Princely Advice for a Happy Life. The Polish side of my family has the title of prince, so my father and grandfather were both princes, and that goes back 500 years. But I always rejected the title because it didn’t fit into my modern world. It didn’t make any sense, it was in the old world and I live in the new world. But it wasn’t until I had sons that I suddenly felt this need to pass something on.
One thing I learned from my Polish aristocratic side of the family is that with material possessions, you can have them one day and they can be gone the next. So for my eldest son’s first birthday, I wanted to give him something that would last forever that nobody could take away, and that was love and knowledge. I started to write notes that were things I would have wanted to say to him if I wasn’t here tomorrow – about chivalry, courage, charity, romance, leadership, balance, spirituality.
It started as a few notes and then it grew and grew. But it wasn’t until the birth of my second son that I gently pushed it out into the world thinking: ‘What am I doing, I’m a fashion photographer?!’ But in its first six months it was translated into six languages, and all the money goes to a humanitarian charity called Concern Worldwide which I’m an ambassador of.
A new book that I wrote with my sons just came out, and it’s called Thank You For My Dreams: Bedtime Prayers of Gratitude. They watch me do my gratitude and thank yous and wanted to know what I’m thankful for. So I told them and asked them too – at first, it was difficult because they would say things like “my toy train” but after a few months of practising each night, they became more fluent. Until one night they just didn’t stop and they were saying “thank you for my legs so I can run and for the rain that feeds the forest”, and I wrote them all down. It went to number one on Amazon’s children’s books which was really wonderful and all the proceeds go to the same charity.
Is it important for you to educate your children about your lifestyle choices?
I think it’s important to teach them, I don’t think it’s important to force them into it. We lead by example – I meditate, I exercise, I pray – so without me forcing them to do it they’ve also learnt to meditate because they want to be like daddy. So I think they see me with my vegan lifestyle and they want to emulate it. They still eat meat once a week, but when they become old enough I want to let them choose for themselves.
What first drew you to fashion photography?
I was always an artist growing up. I grew up painting and doing fashion designs and I was a sort of impatient artist. That means I would work on a painting for two months, and if I hated it, it would be so annoying because I would feel like I had wasted two months on it. So instead I went into photography because I was always used it in my research and I realised you can take an image in a tenth of a second and if it doesn’t look good, you can try another one.
So it’s a much more immediate art form and also it allowed me to create a narrative. I was very much into films as a kid and movie stills, so it allowed me to create these movie stills and storylines. And gradually when I went to photography college they said ‘listen you’d be great at fashion photography because it’s all about creating personalities and characters and storylines’, so that’s how I went into it.
Are there any conflicts you see with veganism and the fashion world? What would you like to see change?
Absolutely. Not just veganism, the fashion industry is the second-worst polluter in the world after oil so I think there’s a lot to be changed. I think the fashion world has so many positive aspects – you think about the people and how they use fashion as a way to empower and express themselves, but I think there’s a lot of excesses and stuff that we need to do better.
I think we all have immense power but we don’t realise it. But we have to want to change, and I think there is an appetite out there for it now, young people are looking for brands with ethics. There’s a massive opportunity for change and we just have to gently push people to go there. It’s all positive so we can move towards a cleaner and cruelty-free fashion future.
What has been your biggest career highlight?
I guess in the most recent years it would probably be shooting Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for their engagement pictures, which came completely out of the blue. I was actually in England in the hospital visiting my mother who was having a brain tumour removed.
I was walking around the hospital for ten hours waiting for the call from the doctors to let us know everything was okay, and we were getting very nervous. But then all of a sudden, the phone rang and a voice said ‘Hi, this is Kensington Palace calling.’ I immediately thought it was my best friend pranking me, so I was about to unleash some rather blue language on him, but I’m glad I managed to keep it together. My mum survived the operation and was very happy to hear the news – I think it gave her a good reason to get better quickly so she could tell her neighbours.
I went to see the couple a few days later and they asked me: “If we did this together, how would you take the pictures?” So I said: “Listen, I don’t want it to be a still life, I understand we have to show the ring and show you together, and you know it has to be elegant and reserved…” But then as we were talking I noticed how they would interact with each other. It was only me and the couple and another person, and they were so cute with each other. One of them would say something and the other one would look at them with this twinkle in their eye. They were just so in love.
So I said to them: “You guys are adorable and you’re so in love, I just want the photography to be exactly how you are now. You guys just hang out, walk around the gardens and I’ll be taking pictures of you because you’re so adorable together.” And that’s what we did, we got them dressed and I just followed them around, and it was one of the most beautiful days. I mean taking pictures of anybody in love is just an amazing thing.
Projects such as that one allow you a unique insight into special moments in people’s lives – what is this experience like for you?
It’s a privilege to be asked to document any couple or family in love. It’s such a beautiful thing. My favourite subject to shoot for example is my wife. In the eleven years that we have been together, she’s only allowed me to take proper – not on my phone – pictures of her four or five times. In those moments I’m frantically taking pictures trying to capture in one image exactly how I feel. I’ve never managed to get the perfect image to show how I feel about her.
Maybe I never will and that’s the beauty of it. I wrote a poem about it – I write her a poem every month – about the incredibly sensual, intense experience of trying to take pictures of her. You’re trying to get the perfect flick of the eye, the way she looks at you, and all of these little details are like metaphors and similes in a poem. So when I get the chance to take a picture of other people in love it’s such a beautiful thing because you’re documenting this raw emotion.
What has been your biggest career challenge?
I would say trying to align my ethics with my work. Five or six years ago my wife, who is much cleverer than me said: “Listen, you are really good at your job. This is your talent. So instead of jumping off the ship because you don’t like where it is going, stay on and use whatever influence you have to gently tap the nose of the ship and change its direction.”
It’s taken a long time, but in the last year or two, those two lanes have started coming together. For example, I’m currently designing the first vegan leather watch strap for Movado. Every few years they do a special collection called The Artist Series, which started in the eighties with Andy Warhol, and this year it was me.
Do you have a motto in life?
Every morning when I’m doing my meditation and prayers I repeat the words ‘love, light and compassion’ in the hope that I will be able to spread, receive and be it. Other than that – balance, balance, balance! I’m trying to change a few hearts and minds and put a positive ripple out there.
What do you still want to achieve?
It’s very simple; I want to be a good dad and a good husband. I want to try and spread as much light, love, joy and compassion as possible. If I’m able to do that to 100 people in my lifetime then fantastic, if I’m able to do that to a million people, even more fantastic.
How would you like the world to remember you?
I’m more interested in how my children remember me. As long as my children remember me and think ‘he was a good dad, I loved him and he loved us, he was a good guy’ then I’ll be happy.