Lydia Hearst leads a ridiculous life.
She is a successful model—despite being 5 feet 7 inches short. She often has her pick of runway shows and photo shoots around the world. In the past two months, modeling has taken her to Paris, London, Florence and Los Angeles. She designs handbags for Puma, and is putting finishing touches on a line of Puma fitness wear. She sometimes stays up all night looking at color swatches. And she writes a column for the New York Post’s Page Six Magazine, called “The Hearst Chronicles.” She writes it sitting at her desk, which belonged to her great-grandfather, William Randolph Hearst.
“I try to sleep at least five hours,” she chirped in her crisp New England accent.
At the tender age of 23, she tries not to let her family’s great wealth and illustrious history cloud her judgment.
“I tell her, ‘Listen, you’re a socialite, it’s a fair enough description, you come by it honestly,’” said her mom, Patricia Hearst-Shaw. “For ‘heiress’ we usually substitute ‘airhead’ around here. Just on general principle, lest anyone get too full of themselves.”
“I am definitely not a socialite,” Ms. Hearst explained over dinner recently in SoHo. She looks you in the eye when she speaks. She has big blue eyes and excellent posture. A natural blonde, her dyed red hair was pulled back tight against her forehead. A miniscule black cocktail dress clung tightly to her body. She said she has “very fortunate” measurements: 32-inch bust, 21-inch waist and 34-inch hips. She wears a size six shoe and has a bear her dad shot as a rug in her apartment.
“I am definitely not a preppy New York girl,” she said. “The last thing you will ever see me wearing is a polo shirt—I’m not a pearl-necklace-wearing little sorority girl.”
She insisted she can’t remember the last time she went to a country club and said she’s not interested in donning a gown and showing up at “some celebrity party that is pretending to help poor underprivileged children. I’d much rather put on my shorts and sneakers and go to the country and help the underprivileged children.”
And if you have to ask, she’s no Paris Hilton. “I always keep my legs together and wear underwear,” she said. “I’m a lot more conservative than the Hollywood counterparts are. I’m an East Coast girl.”
“Everything I do, this is not a hobby for me,” she said. Indeed she considers even fitness as part of her job, and spends between two and four hours a day with her personal trainer when in New York. She recently purchased a two-bedroom condo for $1.49 million right across the street from the Hearst building on West 57th Street. She’s almost done decorating. “It’s very San Simeon,” she said. (Her older sister, Gillian, and her new husband also recently bought in the building.)
“I am all business, I am all work,” Ms. Hearst continued. “You have to take it seriously—this is a world that will eat you up and spit you out faster than you know what hit you, and you need to stay ahead of the game and you need to understand that it’s not all about the parties.”
She gets some of her chutzpah from her mother, a beauty who was famously kidnapped in 1974 at age 19 by the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was convicted of helping her captors rob a bank and spent 22 months in prison before having her sentence commuted by Jimmy Carter.
Given that many socialites dabble in fashion and journalism these days—though few can legitimately put “model” on their résumé—Ms. Hearst is understandably eager to distinguish herself from the herd.
At least once a month, she gets up at 6:30 a.m. and delivers food for the charity God’s Love We Deliver. She recently helped found a charity called “Designers for Darfur.”
She hates champagne—she said she only drinks “the champagne of beers,” Miller Lite, and tequila on the rocks. She’s equally particular about food: strictly meat, fish, pasta and potatoes. She doesn’t eat vegetables. Her favorite bar is Milano’s, a dive on Houston Street. She said she doesn’t have a boyfriend. “I do believe that everyone deserves great love,” she said. “I just turned 23, I’m not necessarily planning the rest of my life at the moment. My idea about being in a relationship is like it’s a whole other form of creation.”
What sort of guys does she fall for?
“I much prefer people who are very in tune with themselves, very musically inclined—no pretty boys,” she said. “They have to be close with their family, most importantly—family has to come first.”
As for the column, she said she may use it to call out phony socialites who repulse her.
“My column is my observation on life, my reaction to the people I’m surrounded by and the experiences that I have,” she said. “Like I was just in Los Angeles for the fashion week, and I was there with the Victoria Secret Pink Party and it was amazing—it was almost like going back to college. I got to get all dirty, and cover myself with blood, and just walk down the runway and close the show.”
One of the issues she’s already addressed in her column is the campaign to make it illegal to smoke in apartment buildings in New York. “I don’t smoke, but people say that you get secondhand smoke,” she said. “But this is a country that was founded mainly on the tobacco industry—tobacco and coffee. It’s so surprising that they are now essentially making cigarettes illegal, when that is where the whole country came from.”
She described her writing process this way:
“I sit down and I write what I’m thinking and what I feel—it happens all at once, I never stop writing. Probably when I go home tonight, I’m going to open my computer and just start typing… I always envision myself being a Hemingway type—sitting in a dark corner with my glass of, I guess it would be, my glass of tequila and lime juice– that’s how I do it.”
After Patty Hearst had been released from prison in 1976, she’d married her former bodyguard, Bernard. Shaw. (Mr. Shaw is currently head of security for the Hearst Corporation.) Their second daughter, Lydia Hearst-Shaw, was born on Sept. 19, 1984 in Wilton, Conn.
“When I was little, my parents took me to the San Diego Zoo,” Ms. Hearst said. (Back then she was known as Lydia Shaw for “security reasons,” although Hearst-Shaw is on her birth certificate, and now she prefers to go by Lydia Hearst. )“I was about 5 years old,” she continued, “and I got a tour of the zoo that hardly anybody else has ever had. I went five levels below the earth’s surface, and on every layer, they would slam steel, one-foot-thick doors, and finally we got down to the bottom, we are going down this dark stone corridor, and we get to the end of the corridor and the man hands me an apple and he tells me to go up and put it on the bar—and I go and set the apple on the bar and then they call me back—and this giant grizzly bear slices through the apple and cuts it into about a million perfect slices.
“I believed at that point that bears only lived in zoos,” she added.
The next summer at her family’s 300,000-acre ranch in Northern California, she learned otherwise.
“They are all talking about how they had just seen a bear across the road,” she said. “And I’m this 6-year-old girl who thinks she knows everything—I basically called them liars and said that bears only lived in zoos. And everybody piled into the truck, and my dad’s best friend was driving and I was a 6-year-old little bubbly blond girl, who still wore mismatching socks and jelly sandals, and we are pulling up in the middle of the woods and there is this giant, 600-pound black bear—and to this day I am the only person who ever saw it—and I squealed with excitement and I screamed, ‘There’s a bear!’ And I threw open the door and I went running for it. And everyone else just saw a big cloud of dust because the bear took off.”
Mrs. Hearst-Shaw said that for years, Lydia insisted on taking guests at the ranch to look for bears, including the likes of Clint Eastwood.
She went to Lawrenceville boarding school in New Jersey, but found it stifling in her junior year and returned to public school in Wilton. In 2004, while a freshmen at Sacred Heart University, she was discovered by fashion photographer Steven Meisel.
“I started at the top,” she said. “My first job was the cover of Italian Vogue, which is the equivalent essentially of winning an Academy Award. So, there was nowhere else to go from there. I have been very fortunate, because I have been able to maintain that level.
“I love it,” she continued. “It’s a job just like any other, and what kind of girl growing up doesn’t want to be Barbie and doesn’t want to play dress-up every single day?” (Indeed, as a girl she had a formidable trove of Barbies, including a collectible series by designer Bob Mackie.)
Recently, she’s been hanging out with a group of young people who call themselves “the 2.0.” They include a giddy gaggle of creative aspirants such as photographer Nadav Benjamin and musician and nude Internet dude Cisco Adler, whom she has dated.
“I would say my closest friends are probably the 2.0,” she said. “It’s not about a clique, it’s just about a group of people coming together and it’s a lifestyle—it’s a bond. … So many young people are wrapped up in the party scene. The great thing about everyone in this group is, we all have real jobs, we get up in the morning. We work and that’s what brought us together…We are hardly ever apart. It’s all artists—everyone in that group is successful in their own right, whether it is music, fashion, art, photography, business. We don’t want to compare ourselves to the Factory, because you can’t have the Factory without Andy Warhol, but essentially it is like a new wave and it’s a new style of living, and we are all just riding the wave, we are all being inspirational to each other and we are helping each other out and we are always there for each other, and we are hardly ever separated for more than a day—each one of us has the same mentality, which is breaking free of the mold that is the stereotype of society and the way that we are expected to be.”
Last month, the 2.0 gang went out and all got tattoos of a skeleton key; Lydia’s is on her inner right forearm. “The symbolism behind the skeleton key is that it opens every door and it’s bonded us together,” she said.
Her occasional interest in politics sets her a bit apart from her immediate family.
“My family generally doesn’t go into politics, we have our own history there,” she said. “I am a rebel. I heard that they are now trying to start a war with Cuba again—it was in the papers yesterday—it would be like another Bay of Pigs. I hope that [Stephen] Colbert wins. I think he is incredible and I think that this country needs somebody new and outrageous who is not afraid to speak out and who really will actually stand for this country and not lie, and actually just do the job and get out there and make a difference. I would vote for him.”
[Mr. Colbert ended his presidential campaign a few days after this interview.]
Ms. Hearst said not a day goes by when she doesn’t think of the towering figure portrayed in Citizen Kane, her great-grandfather.
“If there was anyone that I would want to meet or anyone that I could ever be—that would be him,” she said. “He is my idol. He lived life, he never let anybody tell him no, and if somebody did tell him no, then he proved them wrong and accomplished all of his dreams and went for it. He was unstoppable.”