4.5.09

Bono-fied Friends Helena Christensen and Ali Hewson - They were supermodel and campaigning supermom, respectively, and then Helena Christensen and Ali Hewson inspired each other to even greater things

April 30, 2009

By: Kevin Conley | Photograph by Matt Jones


Helena Christensen, left, and Ali Hewson in Edun

Helena Christensen was vacationing with her father in the south of France when Ali Hewson first invited them to stay at her place. It was the summer of 1991. Hewson had just had her second child, and her husband, Paul (whom she and nearly everyone else refer to by his stage name, Bono), was taking a break from recording “Achtung Baby” in Berlin. “I used to do my homework to loud U2 music,” Christensen says. “But Ali meant as much to me as Bono did because I already knew he must be inspired by a woman.”

Things have changed since then — Christensen has turned from supermodel to photographer, Bono has become nearly as famous for his diplomacy as for his music, and Hewson has started tinkering with her approach to the family’s second business — global relief. Through it all (including the births of Hewson’s third and fourth children and Christensen’s first), the two women have remained close, and their collaboration on the Hewsons’ latest project, the eco-fashion line Edun, has seen Christensen acting as unofficial brand ambassador, photographer and model. But perhaps most important of all, Edun is a new outlet for the two of them to inspire each other.

At first glance, the business plan for Edun, an organic-cotton fashion line connected to a beautifully photographed celebrity-ad campaign, looks suspiciously like the mission statement of a charitable operation. The business, with manufacturing operations in a constellation of developing nations that currently include Kenya, Mauritius, Peru, Tunisia and India, did grow directly out of Bono’s agitation on behalf of Africa. But the whole point of the Edun endeavor, Hewson says, is to make a profit — not because the executive board needs the money but to demonstrate to other entrepreneurs that it’s possible to do so in developing countries, paying fair wages and relying on local raw material entirely processed and manufactured by local labor, from start to finish. “We’re a tiny company, but we punch above our weight,” Hewson says. “And we don’t let Bono near the clothes.”


Designer Ali Hewson and husband, singer Bono of U2

Hewson has been throwing herself into relief efforts around the world for years — she has been especially active in the Chernobyl Children’s Project International. She also is a founder and partner with Bryan Meehan in an organic skin-care line based on community-trade principles. (Even the brand name, Nude‚ has something in common with Edun.) At Edun Hewson finds herself arranging presentations of the collections one day and meeting with sub-Saharan NGOs the next. The schedule astounds Christensen, who is no stranger to such shuttling. She’s been very active in her friend’s relief efforts — running a charitable auction in New York or donating the proceeds from her recent photo exhibit at the Dactyl gallery, in SoHo, to the Chernobyl project; appearing in Edun fashion shows in Dublin and Cork; and modeling the line in Harper’s Bazaar. But to a great extent, she’s proudest to simply offer an oasis in Hewson’s schedule, inviting her over whenever she’s in town.

At 20, Christensen’s high cheekbones and wide-set, unearthly blue eyes helped her become one of the original “supermodels”; at 40, the features have mellowed into a distinctive wryness. She’s a talker first, funny, opinionated; her high-ceilinged West Village apartment, with its long dinner table and tall stools arranged around a kitchen island, seems designed as a series of stages for casual conversation. But lately, she has turned to photography in earnest, and it was her photos of actors such as Sean Penn, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck that launched Edun’s “One” campaign, a sale of T-shirts funding AIDS relief to Lesotho, Africa.

Designer Ali Hewson and husband, singer Bono of U2Hewson has been throwing herself into relief efforts around the world for years — she has been especially active in the Chernobyl Children’s Project International. She also is a founder and partner with Bryan Meehan in an organic skin-care line based on community-trade principles. (Even the brand name, Nude‚ has something in common with Edun.) At Edun Hewson finds herself arranging presentations of the collections one day and meeting with sub-Saharan NGOs the next. The schedule astounds Christensen, who is no stranger to such shuttling. She’s been very active in her friend’s relief efforts — running a charitable auction in New York or donating the proceeds from her recent photo exhibit at the Dactyl gallery, in SoHo, to the Chernobyl project; appearing in Edun fashion shows in Dublin and Cork; and modeling the line in Harper’s Bazaar. But to a great extent, she’s proudest to simply offer an oasis in Hewson’s schedule, inviting her over whenever she’s in town.

At 20, Christensen’s high cheekbones and wide-set, unearthly blue eyes helped her become one of the original “supermodels”; at 40, the features have mellowed into a distinctive wryness. She’s a talker first, funny, opinionated; her high-ceilinged West Village apartment, with its long dinner table and tall stools arranged around a kitchen island, seems designed as a series of stages for casual conversation. But lately, she has turned to photography in earnest, and it was her photos of actors such as Sean Penn, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck that launched Edun’s “One” campaign, a sale of T-shirts funding AIDS relief to Lesotho, Africa.

Ali Hewson
The “One” campaign — that was a complicated shoot — with so many celebrities to fit in on a single day, one after the other. But it turned out to be a breeze, because Helena makes it all so easy. That’s what friendship is about in many ways. You become friends with someone because you see something in them that you admire. Apart from the fact that she’s just a 10 anyway, what’s great about Helena is her sense of style. Anytime you see her dressed, even casually, she’s got her own great understanding of fashion. And so when she wears Edun, it’s like a double compliment, because she wouldn’t wear it unless she liked it, and because with her strong sense of aesthetic, that approval has real value.

One of the reasons I like coming to New York is because I get to come to Helena’s after work at 6 o’clock, and I get a cup of tea, I get fed, I get talked to. She’s a one-woman show. She doesn’t even have a nanny. She’s able to organize her child, her private life, her business life — I think in the last week, she went to Frankfurt, she went to Milan.

She’ll always hit the funny side of any situation, and you can’t put her off. She just has unbelievable stamina. That’s Viking energy. You watch her, and you realize why the Vikings were so successful and how they conquered Ireland.

source: magazine.wsj

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