Rising Star: Catherine Lily Thomas

Catherine Lily Thomas is a young artist and rising runway model. At age 18, she’s 5’10” exceptionally tall as a lifetime ballerina. Her passion is to pursue psychiatry to help people with mental distress. As an activist for climate change and sustainability, she produced her first documentary while attending summer school at Stanford University in 2022.  I met her at a conference in Napa when she was only 12 years old and did an impromptu photoshoot (her first one). Over the years, I’ve seen her blossom into a young woman.

photography by David Christopher Lee makeup by Hilary Clark

How did you know you wanted to become a model?


I knew I wanted to become a model at a very young age. From my 14-year classic ballet training, modeling felt natural to me, particularly a runway modeling. When I began filming contemporary dances, the way my body came across the camera was inspiring to create choreography and challenge myself. That experience ultimately inspired me to get a camera to become a videographer and photographer which actually led me to modeling. 


How has your experience as a model been?


My experience as a model is just beginning, and so far, it has been really inspiring and demanding to explore as an artist.

Tell us about your shoot with me:


My photoshoots with you have all been really incredible, being in front of a professional at the level David is, it is fun to witness the creative process that David has. Recently, we did a shoot for my portfolio photos, and I received many skills I knew I needed to work on. Improvement is an important part of the evolving process, especially in an art form that is as visionary as modeling.


How would you describe your fashion sense?


I would describe my fashion sense as very specific to my sense of what I like or dislike, I don’t think I fall into a specific category. I am the type of person to go shopping for hours in a mall or fashion district and find only one or two pieces. I love dressing up on occasion but also wearing comfortable sweats on a daily basis. 

How did you find your dress for the Opera?


I found my dress for the San Francisco Centennial Opera Ball on 1st Dibs, an online thrift store. It is a vintage Marchesa gown with a long trail with layers of tulle underneath. Although there is danger in buying things online, I was really lucky to find a gown that fit me perfectly without any tailoring. I know my measurements by heart and I like to do a lot of background research, so online shopping isn’t necessarily risk for me. Sustainability and climate change is top of mind for me as a person; therefore, I’m always mindful of habits like shopping.



Who are your favorite models?


My current favorite models are Vittoria Ceretti, Yasmin Wijnaldum, Kaia Gerber, Jordan Daniels, and Bella Hadid. 


How did you learn about fashion?


I learned about fashion mostly by exposure, on social media and by living in a L.A. for two years. Whenever I go to a place, I like to research and look around when I get there, I went to France this past spring, and it was memorable for sure. 

Where did you learn how to pose? 


You taught me the basics in the shoots we’ve done, giving me confidence to put myself out there and use my dance training. I attended Coco Rocha’s online workshop in June, and I am so excited to go to New York City in October to attend her in-person camp! She is truly the queen of pose, and I look up to her so much. 

What was your opera experience like?


My experience at the Opera Ball was amazing, it was my first opera I’ve ever attended, and I was in awe of the talent and community around this organizaiton. Although my dress was a little unconventional, the experience and preparation was one of kind, I am so thankful to have this experience at a relatively young age.

Catherine Lily Thomas @ the SF Opera Opening Gala. photo by Drew Alitzer

Who inspires you?

I am a very absorbent person, so it is hard to say one specific person inspires me. I think no matter where I go I get inspired by something, if I’m in a creative state of mind. Coco actually taught us the importance of music on set, to bring out the emotional dynamic of pose. I’ve looked up to Billie Eilish ever since I first heard Ocean Eyes in 2015; I even mentioned her in an interview when I was applying to high school. Her raw artistry and ability to transport me to specific feelings has motivated me to do the same in whatever art I am creating whether it is dancing, writing, singing, or modeling. 

Catherine’s first shoot with David Christopher Lee when she was 12
David Christopher Lee


David Christopher Lee launched his first online magazine in 2001. As a young publisher, he had access to the most incredible events and innovators of the world. In 2009, he started Destinationluxury.com, one of the largest portals for all things luxury including 5 star properties, Michelin Star Restaurants and bespoke experiences. As a portrait photographer and producer, David has worked with many celebrities & major brands such as Richard Branson, the Kardashians, Lady Gaga, Cadillac, Lexus, Qatar Airways, Aman Hotels, just to name a few. David’s work has been published in major magazines such as GQ, Vogue, Instyle, People, Teen, Men’s Health, Departures & many more. He creates content with powerful seo marketing strategies.

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