It feels like Lexie Smith and Georgia Hilmer have been friends forever. Smith, a 28-year-old, buzzed-about New York baker, and Hilmer, now 23, who splits her time between modeling, studying at NYU, and finessing her photography skills, emit the kind of ease that usually comes from decades of conversation and a good number of adolescent secrets buried deep. In reality, however, theirs is a friendship that nearly never was.
The story goes that two years ago, the duo dated roommates and reluctantly struck up conversation after both of their relationships broke off. “I’d heard that Georgia was a younger model, so I wasn’t interested in her while I was dating my ex,” recalls Lexie, “but after that relationship ended, she came into the restaurant I was cooking in and we used the exchange of recipes as a reason to swap numbers.” Respective cell phone numbers saved, the duo went on to form an enduring friendship and creative partnership to boot. It’s a relationship in which no topic is off-limits and no emotional ask too big—which came in handy recently when Smith decided to quit her job to launch a new initiative called Bread on Earth. The duo hashed out the move on one of their many ‘hang out’ days, which are typically spent with Lexie fine-tuning a recipe while Georgia lingers with her camera and quietly frames the conversation in a photo shoot.
The scene was much the same when Semaine paid a visit: Lexie headed over from her apartment to Georgia’s industrial-style Williamsburg loft, and as she baked a traditional Turkish pide, the duo reflected on their friendship, overcoming obstacles, the disillusioned gluten-free phenomenon, and the next bright stages of their already accomplished careers.
WHEN DID YOU BECOME FRIENDS?
Georgia: “We were dating these guys and they lived together, but we didn’t talk the entire time. Then when we broke up with them, we found each other.”
Lexie: “Georgia would come and hang out with me while I was working the line at a restaurant and then she gave me her number so that I could give her a recipe for a kale salad dressing. After that, we made Valentine’s Day plans together because we were trying to avoid men.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE EACH OTHER?
Lexie: “Georgia is actually very difficult to describe. She’s a tall and beautiful human, but her brain and mannerisms don’t always fit with her outward appearance. She’s an extrovert introvert and incredibly intelligent, but she presents her intellect in a very humble and unassuming way, so I think that those aspects of her sometimes take people by surprise. She’s also very curious, and I think that she believes in magic. Physically, I like to say that she has cloudy lips, because they’re pillowy and beautiful, and don’t have any hard edges. She also dresses like a teenage boy, doesn’t wear makeup ever, and is six feet tall—so you can always spot her in a crowd.”
Georgia: “Visually, Lexie is beige, sand, caramel, taupe, brown, and burnt toast. She has a very specific color palette to her and her life, and I think that speaks to her larger aim of cultivating a place in the world that’s meaningful and comforting. She wants a lot from the world and has to fight against the forces that we all do as women, but she fights with particular verve and bite. I think her gift is seeing how big the world can be for all of us and her curse is that she’s frustrated by the world’s inability to yield to us. She is my spirit guide, big sister, mother, scolder or advisor—and we’re a very funny match. Her aura is very warm, like being inside a loaf of bread while it’s baking.”
WHAT DREW YOU TO YOUR CHOSEN PROFESSIONAL FIELDS?
Lexie: “For me, bread is honest. When you’re paying attention to the process and the ingredients that you’re using, there is integrity to it too. The actual process of baking is physical and humbling because you can’t always predict the outcome—you’re at the whim of external circumstances. I also think that I was drawn to the communal aspect of bread. Not in a cheesy way, but in the past, the local ovens were where the community met and there’s something nostalgic about that. Even now, if you talk to people about baked items from their childhood, you tend to get a really honest and heartfelt answer which then allows for a much more universal conversation.”
Georgia: “Modeling came to me naturally [Georgia was discovered at a movie theater while she was still in high school], but photography was a total fluke. I took a lot of Polaroids as a teen and then I dated a guy right after I came to New York who gave me a point-and-shoot camera. I thought nothing of it at the time because everyone was snapping away on 35mm film, but then when Instagram exploded, I started posting my photos on the app. I had cultivated a following because of my modeling career, but then I got a couple of offers to shoot fashion editorials from behind the camera. Modeling is still my full-time job, but taking photos is my main creative outlet and brings me so much joy.”
WHAT ARE THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECTS OF YOUR CAREERS?
Lexie: “One of the things I run into quite often and find really frustrating is when people think of baking as ‘cute.’ It still has a stigma of domesticity and of women being sublimated to the kitchen because ‘that’s their place.’ In a non-neo-feminist way, I think that there is actually a real power—and empowerment—in baking and being able to create something so incredibly basic and human that is also a provision. Cultivating lots of money and intellectual skills is important, but I think that bread can be intellectual and important too. It’s not just a way to make cakes for kid’s birthday parties. In truth, it has nothing to do with juvenile sweetness and everything to do with manual labor and human necessity.”
Georgia: “It’s been interesting trying to fit myself into the ‘professional photographer’ box because I’m pretty casual about the photos I take for myself. I recently enrolled at New York University to study as I wasn’t feeling super inspired or stimulated by modeling, even though it’s always fun. I had deferred from college straight after high school as my modeling career took off, so it’s been really exciting to spend time exploring learning as an adult. Half of the time the school process has been organic and fluid—the other half has been spent trying to figure out how to deliver what’s expected of me without pulling my eyeballs out.”
LEXIE, WHAT IS YOUR FIRST MEMORY OF BREAD?
“It’s interesting given my career path, but I didn’t really grow up with many culinary associations. I was an atheist Jew in the suburbs of Manhattan and my dad was in Riverdale in the Bronx. If anything, my first association with baked goods were the cheap and pretty crappy kinds from Jewish or Italian delis. I remember that my brother was a really picky eater and would only eat what we call French bread, but is really very cheap and poorly made baguette.”
GEORGIA, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ARTISTIC PROCESS?
“I like to find photos. I guess that’s the best way to describe what I do. I carry a camera with me wherever I go and, as things happen, I document them. I don’t particularly go looking for them. I don’t have artistic ambitions for it. It’s more a personal documentary-style project.
LEXIE, WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THE GLUTEN-FREE CRAZE?
“In the last 10 years, there has been an influx of people who are gluten-free and companies that create gluten-free productsIn marketing, a product is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or need. In retailing, products are called merchandise. In manufacturing, products are bought as raw materials and sold as finished goods. Commodities are usually raw materials such as metals and agricultural products, but a commodity can also be anything widely available in the open market.. However—aside from the 1% of the population that actually has celiac disease—most people, myself included, are not really sensitive to gluten. The issue is the wheat that’s been modified into a hyper-productive crop that can withstand all kinds of weather to ensure a really high harvest yield. It started for a lot of reasons, but ultimately it’s this mutant version of wheat that makes people react so badly, not the gluten. I’m interested in the farms that are working to bring back heritage grains and use stone mills, which means that the flour will be a lot coarser and not processed. Heritage grain flour isn’t as good at making high-rising white loaves as the mutant wheat, but it’s the grain that never made us sick when we were becoming human.”
WHAT UPCOMING PROJECTS ARE YOU BOTH MOST EXCITED ABOUT?
Georgia: “I’m shifting my focus back to school again as this spring semester starts. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time in the library with my head stuck in my textbooks (the astronomy and sociology classes I’m taking are particularly enthralling). I hope that treating school like ‘work’ will free me to be more spontaneous with my photography. I want to return to the original spirit I started taking photos in—curious and haphazard—and spend my energy on the personal, diary-style photography I love the most. I also want to use my camera and resources to address the political turmoil we all find ourselves in in the United States too: Both by raising money through selling prints and by turning my lens on protesters and activists.”
Lexie: “I’m launching Bread on Earth, which is an all-encompassing initiative to preserve and celebrate bread traditions from around the world—primarily focusing on those hailing from regions of conflict or marginalized peoples. The incredible thing about so many of the recipes I’ve collected is that they are remarkably similar across whole spans of continents, hopping oceans and mountain ranges. The site component of the launch is an effort to safeguard bread traditions in the face of the gluten-free age. On it, there will be a forum where people can tell the stories of their childhood in relation to food, share recipes, and ask questions. There will also be an interactive map that highlights breads from different regions. The other component is that I will be developing recipes from what I learn from willing contributors and those I seek out, then the breads will be photographed and some of the images will be printed and sold to profit charitable organizations serving the refugee and immigrant community.”