If you wanted to woo supermodel Stella Maxwell — the Victoria’s Secret Angel who got her coveted wings in 2015 — it seems likely that taking her to an amusement park in her adopted Southern California would make a good first date. That is, after all, where she was photographed with actress Kristen Stewart on one of their earliest public dates in 2017, walking hand in hand at Knott’s Berry Farm, both sporting black jackets and looking effortlessly cool.
Two years earlier, she and girlfriend Miley Cyrus ate churros together at Disneyland, Lady and the Tramp style, though paparazzi seemed to miss the moment their lips finally met. Weeks later the duo showed up in W magazine’s vaunted September issue, at the re-creation of an ’80s party. The photoshoot starred other young Hollywood luminaries, too, including Paris Hilton, Asia Chow, and Emily Ratajkowski. In the racy shot, Cyrus is nude to the waist, adorned in glitter and tattoos, while Maxwell feeds her cake.
Fans of fashion know Maxwell as a runway dream. She’s walked for the industry’s biggest names: Jeremy Scott, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Dsquared2, Chanel, Miu Miu, Mugler, Tommy Hilfiger, Versace, Moschino, Tory Burch, Giles, Manu Rios, and Fendi (and she’s posed for kingmakers Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld). She collaborated with The Kooples, a French brand, on a handbag named for her.
But queer femmes know Maxwell for something even greater than her role in the fashion industry: She’s one of us. She had a long, public relationship with Stewart, Hollywood’s alt-“it girl” if ever there were one. In addition to Cyrus, Maxwell has also been linked to a number of her friends, including Barbara Palvin (of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue fame), actress Lily-Rose Depp (Johnny Depp’s daughter, just before she dated Timothée Chalamet), Taylor Hill (another Victoria’s Secret model), and even Bella Hadid (who made out with Maxwell in public somewhere between Hadid’s first and second breakups with The Weeknd).
Maxwell’s never shied away from the paparazzi, either. Some may see her maturing as a queer woman, coming into her own, but she can hardly be accused of not coming out. She was sort of never in.
“Honestly, I never worried about my sexuality,” the model says. “I look forward to the world getting to the point where we don’t think about what someone’s sexual preference is, what their gender is. Let’s really just live and accept and celebrate people’s individuality.”
While she’s been romantically linked to a number of the world’s most beautiful women, one has to wonder what she looks for in a woman.
“I don’t know if I have a type,” Maxwell admits. “I just go with what I feel. I certainly do not fall in love easily. I would say most people I date are my friends. I like spending time with people I, number one, am attracted to, and who I love spending time with.”
Sure, she’s got a small list, she admits. “I would say it’s important that you love dogs and animals in general. That you are kind and honest. And that you have the space in your life to share. Those are all important qualities to me. Of course, there are more, but those are a few.”
Her relationship with Cyrus was the first very public one. Maxwell joked to reporters that they met through Grindr. (They actually met after Cyrus’s friend Cheyne Thomas discovered Maxwell on Instagram.)
Born Stella Maynes Maxwell, she was the first Irish and British Victoria’s Secret Angel, having been born in Belgium to Northern Irish parents (her father is a former diplomat). The baby of the family (and named after her mother), Maxwell was raised in Belgium until she was 13, then Australia for a year, then New Zealand, the latter of which she tends to think of as home as she spent both her teen years and university days there (she was attending the University of Otago when she was discovered as a model).
Today she lives in Los Angeles, hence the amusement park dates as well as hobnobbing at Nobu and lighting up glitzy Hollywood parties. Through it all she’s become, well, exceedingly well-rounded.
“Of course, your environment growing up affects you,” Maxwell muses. “My parents are from Belfast. I was born in Belgium and spent some of my most important formative years there. Honestly, Europe is such an amazing place for children. There is a certain innocence. I think, let’s say your child grew up in L.A., they would have maybe more street smarts, and if they grew up in Brussels or Amsterdam or Copenhagen, they have this certain innocence and also culture. They are both amazing in different ways. I then of course moved to Australia, then New Zealand — what a cool place to be a teenager! Fun and free. I can’t imagine better places to grow up. Such wonderful cultures.”
Maxwell is beautiful and smart (she speaks both English and French), but being herself on the runway and off has a lot to do with her family, Maxwell admits, and their unconditional support.
“My family is more than loving. I had an amazing childhood. I can only wish that for others. It’s so important to feel that love when you are young.”
They’re part of the reason why when talking about our community, Maxwell insists on using the acronym LGBTQIA.
“I think LGBTQIA is all-encompassing,” the model admits. “I did get some flack on social media for the A, which of course can mean asexual or allied. Someone said, ‘Allied — are you kidding me?’ And you know what? I am not kidding at all. I have so many heterosexual friends who are important allies of the LGBTQIA community.”
More important, she says, are the relatives who are allies. “Let’s take a moment to talk about families. Family is more than important to everyone. And having a family behind you that loves you and supports you for whoever you are is so important.”
“A person’s sexuality certainly affects an entire family. You can word that however you want or say what you want, but it’s true. And it’s so important for families to be loving and understanding and open-minded. I am so lucky to have a beautiful loving and open-minded family. I wish that for everyone.”
Maxwell hadn’t planned for a career in modeling.
“I thought about being a ballerina,” she says of her childhood dreams. “Then I was obsessed with the idea of doing voice-over for animation, then a doctor.” She laughs, admitting her childhood ambitions were “kind of all over the place, I know, but really I was so young when I started modeling.”
Indeed, the 30-year-old was barely in her 20s when she was scouted while working at a newsstand in college. She moved to Paris and soon met photographer David Mushegain, who became her mother agent (the first agency that picks a model up), and it was through him that she met her current agent, Ali Kavoussi.
“David came up to me at a café in The Marais [district in Paris] and asked to photograph me,” Maxwell recalls. “I told him ‘no,’ but we ended up having mutual friends and we shot for Vogue Japan that same week. Ali and I met, and things just fell into place. I can’t stress how important it is to have a team around you that you love and trust.”
When Kavoussi struck out on his own as a managing partner of The Lions Talent Management in New York, Maxwell (and a bevy of A-list models) went with him. Lions, founded in 2014, and Kavoussi, an out gay agent, has helped shape her career ever since.
Maxwell was a late bloomer. She once told reporters she was certainly not the “hottest chick” at school and she and her girlfriends Bella Hadid and Barbara Palvin “all peaked a little later than the other girls.” But now she’s been on the cover of German, Turkish, Spanish, Thai, and Japanese versions of Vogue magazine. She debuted on the catwalk nearly a decade ago and that one time she fell (at a 2011 Concept Korea show), folks still focused on the sexy Snow White outfit she was sporting, not the apple she dropped on the floor in the tussle.
Maxwell remains in demand on the runway, but she’s also become a bit of a classic icon to lesbian and bi+ women. Although she’s never been in a closet, the last half decade has shown her growth as an out queer woman. Her labels haven’t changed.
“I don’t feel it’s necessary to classify myself,” the model says. “I am me. I am who I am. I have all the respect in the world for everyone and anyone living their life, whoever they are, however they identify.”
She has increasingly wanted to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community to show her support, which landed her a role as a Stonewall Ambassador working with GLAAD and Pride Live this summer.
“I had been thinking about [becoming more involved], but the cards fell into place this year,” Maxwell admits. “Obviously, the world somewhat came to a standstill in 2020 due to the pandemic, so I think for the first time in a long time I have had time to work on things that I have really been wanting to. But look, I have a voice, so why not use it? If I can help in any way whatsoever, count me in.”
She’s also been vocal about supporting intersectional activists, from LGBTQ+ to Black Lives Matter.
“I have so much respect for the individuals battling for human rights, for civil rights,” Maxwell says. “And it’s not just the people living their lives through example or marching on the streets — it’s the lawyers in the courtrooms, the individuals that organize.”
She also joined Fashion Unites, a special CR Runway global event with amfAR against COVID-19. It was touted as a first-of-its-kind virtual fashion show and behind-the-scenes event with iconic faces to offer a moment of creative inspiration and uplifting entertainment for everyone doing their part by staying home while raising awareness for research efforts led by the amfAR Fund to Fight COVID-19. When organizers first reached out, Maxwell was curious. “I was thinking, Hmm, walking a runway at home? How will this work? But then I realized I didn’t need to overthink it. It was actually fun and really important. So many families have gone through so many hardships and the least I can do is participate in this. I love working with CR and walking the amfAR show. AmfAR traditionally supports AIDS, which is such an important cause. And I think it was thoughtful and suiting that this year donations went towards COVID-19.”
Like her fans, she’s a bit weary of the pandemic lockdown.
“Before the pandemic I would think that working from home would be an amazing idea, just get up and get ready and shoot. But at this point, though, I have done so many shoots at home I can’t wait to be back on location. I can’t wait to travel and eat at restaurants and shoot with teams and hang out.”
She says the isolation has had its ups and downs. “Honestly, it was good to just pause and be calm for a bit. But at the same time, it’s been both terrifying and sometimes just a lot to digest. You worry about your loved ones. You worry about yourself, your friends. And on top of that you have to keep managing your career and also your own expectations and dreams. I have been so lucky to have been quarantining with an amazing group of people.”
The fashion industry has suffered some of the steepest losses during the shutdown. For models like Maxwell, that means little work.
“Well, when I can’t work, I find other ways to work. I have been working on a project for a long while now and it’s about to come together, so I am really excited for that. I have learned to juggle during the pandemic. I have been surfing. I have been doing a lot of yoga. I have been learning to play the piano. Yep, I bought a piano. I’m a natural. Not,” she laughs. “But I enjoy it. But I am so looking forward to the fashion world coming back to life. I miss it. I really do. I love modeling and working with my friends.”
Perhaps the appeal of Maxwell, for both the fashion industry and her girlfriends, is that she’s part bombshell part tomboy next door. She’s a quiet woman who loves candles and fresh flowers, can bake a mean apple pie, and is a bit of a minimalist who likes to hang out at home with her dog playing Jenga with her friends.
She loves documentaries, The Breakfast Club, and Nutella; sucks at video games; loves to read; and once a week gets doughnuts with her friend Marc. She doesn’t have her future mapped out.
“I think these days, there is so much pressure for young people to have a plan and know what they are going to do immediately. Sometimes it takes living and life to show you your path.... I am actually working on a special project. I can’t announce it yet, but this will be my next step.”
Maxwell topped Maxim’s Hot 100 list in 2016. She’s the only person to earn that honor who also dated the woman Maxim gave that same designation to three years earlier (2013’s number 1 was Miley Cyrus).
“Wow, that’s a cool trivia fact,” Maxwell says. “I didn’t know that. That’s cool, though. I mean, look, at the end of the day every woman is the world’s hottest woman to someone. That’s the beauty of life and love and living. I know so many strong, amazing women, and I appreciate every one of them for their accomplishments and strength and courage.”
And women are drawn to Maxwell, probably because she doesn’t dish about her famous exes.
“I’ve always been fairly private about who I love and my personal life,” the model says. “I feel like everyone has enough in their own personal life to have to deal with knowing about mine too.”
But falling in love with these women, Stewart, for example, has had an impact.
“I can say that falling in love is a gorgeous emotion,” Maxwell admits. “You can’t fake it. You can’t re-create it. Love really does make the world go around — that and inertia and the sun.”
Since Stewart and Maxwell dated for two years and seemed to reunite at one point (probably because Maxwell’s exes are her friends as well), her lesbian fans kept hoping the duo would find happily ever after together.
“I believe when you are with someone, when you date someone, they are forever woven into the fabric of who you are,” Maxwell says. “Sometimes relationships last for years, sometimes for days, sometimes for months. This is the nature of love between humans.”
She won’t blame any breakup on her career, though, even though she and Stewart often had projects on opposite coasts. “I always find it important to balance a career and aspirations with living. A healthy balance makes for a healthy life.”
Her breakup with Cyrus is perhaps more public knowledge. Cyrus reunited with boyfriend Liam Hemsworth and the two later wed. But Cyrus reportedly penned “She’s Not Him” as a goodbye to Maxwell. (Cyrus sings: “Every time you walk through my door I swear to God you’re more beautiful than before, but you’re not him / No matter what you say / No matter what you do I just can’t fall in love with you / But you’re not him / Yeah, she’s not him.”)
Sure, Maxwell likely grieved the breakup. But the thing is, she isn’t starving for love like some young women. She isn’t a model with a bucket she needs constantly refilled with praise and admiration. She’s always felt beloved.
“I first felt beautiful and loved when I was a child. Mom and Dad really knew how to love. My siblings too. I can’t stress the importance of being surrounded by love as a child.”
But is she fulfilled? “Well, I think that’s an ongoing quest. It’s as if you set a goal and think that might bring fulfillment only to find when you reach that goal your idea of fulfilled has once again changed. But I suppose that’s the process of growing and learning.”
Even working with designers can be nerve-racking for models, but Maxwell has, in her own words, been blessed. “Every designer you work with brings with them a unique and amazing adventure of their own,” she says, noting some of her favorites. “Karl Lagerfeld, rest in peace. Donatella Versace. Jeremy Scott. Marc Jacobs.”
She appreciates “every moment I have had with them. Well, almost every moment. When you get a six-inch heel that’s three sizes bigger than your foot right before you have to walk down a maze of a runway, you might have a few thoughts running through your mind that would not be conducive to a long friendship.”
Maxwell laughs easily.
“I have had some of my most amazing moments walking for Versace. And, of course, Jeremy Scott is one of my close, dear friends. We have had so many amazing adventures together from
Met Balls with Moschino to runways to hanging out after long workdays.”
As the first British model to become a Victoria’s Secret Angel (only the elite get wings), she’s a proud defender of the brand at a time when some critics argue women are looking for something Victoria’s Secret doesn’t offer.
“The world is constantly changing. That’s what makes life fascinating and exciting. I love working with Victoria’s Secret. I remember walking my first VS runway. I really could not believe it. I have had so many amazing photo shoots and experiences with the brand. And look forward to many more. They have been more than wonderful with me as a model and as a human being.”
“I personally wear my VS underwear every day. And I love it. That hasn’t changed. I have young people ask me all the time about VS and hear so many young models say that their dream is to work for VS. I’m excited to see where the brand goes from here.”
It’s definitely kept Maxwell in the public eye for the last few years, which, with her high-profile romances, puts her in the paparazzi cross hairs.
“Of course, it’s some pressure. But really, for the most part I feel so thankful to have the job I have and to be able to live the life I do. I just hope I can give back as much as I have been given. As far as gossip or reporters, that is what it is. What can you say or do? In some ways, it’s part of my job — that point can be argued — but I say that because people have always been fascinated by people.”
Don’t think Maxwell can’t play on that allure too.
It’s only fitting that Stella Maxwell pose for the cover of The Advocate along with a mystery woman who isn’t seen. So much of the Victoria Secret supermodel’s seductive appeal has been on display alongside the women she’s loved.
In these images we see Maxwell at a whole new level of self — intimacy and sexuality are explored as the cover star discovers her newfound comfort and expression in her identity. We see Stella, as the supermodel persona, melt into more vulnerable and personal moments with an ambiguous counterpart, somewhere between a love story, best friend, sexual soul mate, and significant other. The other woman’s identity is concealed, but her gender is clear. And Maxwell retains her glamorous yet grungy persona. Barbie meets rock and roll, with a nod to the queer icon, supermodel Gia Carangi.
It was a natural fit for photographer Rowan Papier and Maxwell to work on this project together. They have shot together many times and have years of friendship behind them, so there is an element of trust, freedom, and creation already present. For the shoot, they wanted to create an intimate, vulnerable, and celebratory story that is largely untold and unseen. It was an opportunity to explore, showcase, and express something new for them both, Papier says.
A lot of Maxwell’s year has been about self-reflection. “I’ve learned I can stay inside my house for three months straight without losing my mind,” she brags. “I have learned that as humans we can come together and make change and also get through most everything. I have learned I like the world when it’s peaceful and not in the middle of a pandemic.”
“It seems that all through history, throughout the human experience, there have been moments of real change or upheaval. We are certainly within one of those moments. I take time to think though about what people have experienced in the past. World War II, for example. This pales in comparison. That helps me keep things in perspective.”
It helps too that in her own life, her own career, she’s never felt boxed in the way some models do — everyone judging your body, your hair, the ineffable qualities that attract people to you and make them want to buy the clothes you’re modeling.
“I don’t feel restricted, nor have I,” she says. “I’m just being honest. I kind of am who I am. Take it or leave it. Is it always easy? No, not at all. But is it easy to do any job in this world? I don’t think so.”
Maxwell knows that being pretty comes with privilege too. “I know that so many people experience such hardships and I feel so thankful for the job I have. Everyone has moments where they question what they do. I think that anyone who says they don’t are simply masking or hiding that. But really, I think it’s human to question. But if the question is asking, ‘Do I struggle with my identity, with my own self because of my work?’ I don’t.”