Filippa Hamilton takes a few steps towards the camera and her long brown hair flutters over a transparent John Galliano dress. The French-Swedish supermodel is on a quick visit to Paris to star in the cover shoot for Maxim’s March/April issue. For her, it is a happy reunion with photographer Gilles Bensimon, with whom she has worked several times during her 20-year-long career.
“When [the magazine’s European Fashion Director] Caroline Christiansson asked me if I wanted to be on the cover of Maxim, I felt incredibly honored,” Filippa tells me after the shoot. “I associate the magazine with Gilles’ many iconic covers, like the one of Sara Sampaio in the swimming pool—it’s sublime.”
The next day, she has already returned to her apartment in Hossegor, just north of the exclusive seaside city Biarritz on the French Atlantic coast. She has posted a selfie from the photo shoot on Instagram. Her account gives a glimpse of her everyday life with her son Kyan and her husband Mikaël “Miky” Picon, who is a professional surfer. They met at Biarritz Airport when she was 17 and have been a couple ever since.
“I have a pretty quiet family life nowadays,” she says. “It’s a conscious choice on my part. Ten years ago, I had my career in focus and needed to live in New York to be close to the jobs and the clients. Moving away from there was about me wanting to start a family and have an increased quality of life. It is a luxury to be close to the beach and live in a small town where everyone knows everyone.” And when an important job comes along, the airport is a short drive away.
Filippa was born in Paris where her mother, who is French, worked in design for the legendary French-Italian fashion designer Pierre Cardin (who passed away in December), and her father, who is a Swedish former professional squash player, ran a squash club. When Filippa was six years old, she moved with her parents and her big brother to Stockholm. They stayed for two years, but since she went to a French school, she never learned Swedish.
When the family returned to France they settled in warmer latitudes, in Biarritz, where her parents and brother still live. As a child, Filippa was “much like she is now”: “I talked a lot and liked to dance and sing when my parents had friends over for dinner. Therefore, I think modeling suited me well; I wasn’t shy and I liked to be in front of the camera.”
She took her first step into the industry at the age of 13. Her mother had seen an ad for the French clothing chain Comptoir des cotonniers looking for “a mother and daughter” for their commercial campaign. Filippa and her mother went to the casting in Paris and got selected. They were photographed by Marc Hispard, who saw Filippa’s potential. He introduced her to Next Management, which has been her modeling agency ever since. She was quickly booked for jobs at various fashion magazines and often had to ask for time off from school in Biarritz to go on photo shoots. When she was 15, she dropped out of school to pursue a modeling career full time.
“It was an easy choice for me,” she says. “School was complicated; I had teachers who would show a magazine with me on the cover in front of the class and say something like, ‘Who do you think you are?’ And I lost many friends since I was away so much.” However, “I was lucky to have cool parents; they had chosen non-academic pursuits in life themselves and encouraged me to take this opportunity.”
At the age of 16 she first went to New York, for a casting at Calvin Klein. “I was really in the right place at the right time,” she says. “One of the people who met me there was about to start working for Ralph Lauren and he thought I would be a perfect fit for them.”
Shortly afterward Filippa signed a lucrative contract with the iconic American designer saying she would work exclusively for them for eight years; she was allowed to do magazines on the side, but no collaborations with other brands. For Filippa, it was a dream contract. She became Lauren’s new face in renowned photographer Bruce Weber’s commercial for the fragrance Romance, and appeared in the designer’s numerous ad campaigns, catapulting her to worldwide fame and making her a household name.
Weber often used puppies and horses on set, and once they did a shoot in California where she got to hold a baby lion. Filippa loved it all. New York became her new home, and after a couple of years she was able to buy her own apartment in Manhattan. Although she still went to stay with her parents in Biarritz from time to time, the team at Ralph Lauren became like a second family. She worked more or less every day and did everything from fittings to photo shoots and high-profile events. “I always worked with the same people, which made us really close,” she recalls. “Even in the evenings we would meet and have drinks or dinner together. I never felt alone in the big city.”
When Lauren ended her contract a year earlier than anticipated, it was a shock at the time, but allowed her life and career to enter a new phase. She moved home to France and to her boyfriend (now husband) Miky the surfer in Hossegor. During her years with Ralph Lauren, she adorned the covers of several fashion magazines, including Vogue Paris, photographed by Dutch photographer duo Inez & Vinoodh, and Vogue Japan, by famed fashion photographer Paolo Roversi.
Back in France, Filippa continued to work, but at a different pace than before. She did a campaign for prestigious Swiss watch brand Patek Philippe, and the following year for Swedish clothing giant H&M. She continued to do magazine covers, including Grazia France, Elle Germany and Elle Spain. In 2014, the same year that her face appeared on advertising posters for the skincare company Biotherm, her son Kyan was born.
“Leaving New York meant that I was suddenly no longer in the heart of the fashion world, which also meant that I did not get quite as many jobs as before,” she says. “But I absolutely wanted to start a family—that was my first priority.” Today, she has two decades in the industry behind her and feels that the years have passed well. For her, the best thing about the profession is getting to visit fantastic places around the world and meeting people from different cultures and with different stories.
“I am curious and like to talk to people, not just the ones working in the industry but also the locals that you get to meet. Those conversations make me come out of my own bubble and think about how I live my life,” she says. The new cover for Maxim proves that she is still as desirable as ever, and that a truly beautiful model’s career no longer has to be over when she hits 30.
A large part of Filippa’s work today is about collaborating with various clothing and jewelry brands; they send her their products and she wears and promotes them on Instagram. In addition, she has tasks that revolve around the house that she and her husband, who has won several French and European surfing championships, have designed and are having built right on the shores of Hossegor, which is famous for its great surfing. From inside the house, Filippa will be able to do her daily yoga and meditation while watching the waves.
“Miky and I have both been to many paradise-like beaches in tropical places,” she says. “But there is something special about the french Atlantic coast; the ocean is so vivid and changes constantly. Hossegor has really become our heart and soul, it’s small and friendly, yet close to everywhere. We love to pack the car with our bikes, skate- and surfboards and go on road trips—to Saint-Tropez if we want something more fancy, to San Sebastián to eat tapas, or to Bordeaux to drink great wine. But after traveling to big cities like New York or Paris for work, I’m always happy to return home."