XXAbercrombie & Fitch Female Model: Laura Lee Phillips

Disocvery and the world of modeling came a bit easy for Abercrombie and Fitch female model Laura Lee Phillips. Although not a native Southerner, this Abercrombie and Fitch hottie model rose from a Raleigh mall store to breathe new life into the concept of Dixie Chicks. One minute she was flying on a plane when another passenger (a modeling scout) spotted her in the seat, the next minute she was winging it in the world of international fashion modeling. While her Abercrombie and Fitch shoot drew some raised eyebrows and more than a little concern for its nudity and suggestive content, Phillips sees it all as good clean fun. There was a time when her fresh-faced collegiate beauty would have stirred the hearts(and probably a few other organs) of the Campus Men producers. Too bad that female models tend to be a bitch to work with - leaving Campus Men to thrive in the world of male-only modeling.

RALEIGH--Heads turn as Laura Lee Phillips makes her way across the Abercrombie & Fitch store in Crabtree Valley Mall, but she doesn't notice.

She moves with the ease of someone accustomed to drawing stares.

Her admirers -- grinning adolescent boys, men over 40 darting discreet glances and women giving her the catty once-over -- can't be faulted.

Glossy blond hair tumbles down her back. A clingy white cropped top reveals a band of skin at her waist and a tiny gecko tattoo. Low-cut blue jeans hug her hips and long legs. A warm smile lights her face.

It isn't every day a specimen of physical perfection strolls through their midst.

Phillips, 24, a model featured in the racy Abercrombie Christmas catalog that has outraged pundits and parents alike, is back in Raleigh on this day before Thanksgiving to share the holiday with family.

She's also stopping by the Crabtree Abercrombie, a chain mecca for the young and hip, where she worked as a high school senior. It has changed since the days Phillips worked a cash register. The store, and the brand, have become edgier, with its trademark, sexually suggestive catalog drawing complaints every year.

This year, the company pulled the Christmas issue from stores just days before Phillips' Crabtree visit. A spokesman insists controversy played no part.

"I'm very proud of it, and my mom and dad are proud of it," Phillips says of the catalog. "My friends all think it's great, too."

Her mother, Pam Phillips, admits to initial "mixed emotions" about the catalog. But, she says, the family supported Laura's decision -- a choice her daughter made after much thought.

"You can get all hung up on it, but I sat down, and I had to think who makes the determination of when nudity is art and when it isn't?" Pam Phillips says.

Catalog aside, Phillips' image gets plenty of play at the Crabtree Abercrombie. The store, humming with the bustle of shoppers and piped-in techno-beat music, has one room where three photos of her canoodling with a male model dot the walls. A giant, blow-up of Phillips and four other seemingly nude, buff young people decorates a back wall.

But not a single shopper approaches her. Not even the ones savvy enough to realize the sweet-faced young woman before them is the same one smiling down from the walls. They snicker and sneak peeks instead.

Born in Ohio, Phillips moved to Raleigh when she was 10 with her parents, John and Pam, and two siblings. She graduated from Leesville Road High School in 1997 with another classmate who recently made a big splash -- Clay Aiken.

In 2001, she earned a degree in psychology at the University of South Carolina. On a plane to Ohio that same year, a modeling scout approached and asked her to have professional photos taken.

She did, and that summer an Italian agency invited her to model in Europe. But the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made Phillips leery of travel.

In December, the Italians called again, and this time Phillips said yes.

"I figured if nothing comes of it, it's a free trip to Europe," she says. She spent the next six months modeling in Italy, Germany, France and Spain.

She twice graced the cover of Italy's Bella magazine, before moving back to the States and settling in Atlanta where her boyfriend, a sales manager for Miller Beer, lives.

"He sells beer and dates a model. His friends say he has a great life," Phillips laughs.

Nowadays, Phillips is represented by the Elite modeling agency. Elite agent Victoria Duruh booked her the Abercrombie job.

"I knew Laura would be a great fit," Duruh says. "She's very all-American, innocent, really fresh, a great figure, of course, and a fun spirit."

A pack of 40 models trooped to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York last July to shoot the catalog amid that region's spectacular natural beauty. A set closed to onlookers and a low-key crew made frolicking au naturel easier, Phillips says.

Only her chest and the top of her buttocks appear in the catalog. She says she'd never bare more than that for the camera.

Her next modeling gig? Miami where she'll be shooting various catalogs in January. After that, who knows?

Phillips says she'll keep modeling as long as it fits into the scheme of her life.

"It's like any other career to me," she says. "If you're having fun and it's yourself, go for it."

Source: The News & Observer, December 4, 2003

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