Crystal Cove Collaborators: Meet photographer/model duo Gabe and Sierra Sullivan!

Cruising up to their local Laguna Beach spots in a green striped vintage 1972 VW surfmobile, shaking out artisanal beach towels and unpacking a hand-shaped log, the Sullivan family is their own lifestyle photo shoot of effortless California cool.
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Sullivan family portrait. Photo by Ben Sasso. 

The photographer/ model duo Gabe and Sierra Sullivan have had their share of traveling to dream destinations for work (South of France and Bali are a few), but their perfect Saturday doesn't require a film location scout and plane ticket. Cruising up to their local Laguna Beach spots in a green striped vintage 1972 VW surfmobile, shaking out artisanal beach towels and unpacking a hand-shaped log, the Sullivan family is their own lifestyle photo shoot of effortless California cool.

Their covetable beach accessories aside, we've been longtime fans of Gabe and Sierra's natural aesthetic chemistry. Gabe photographs and writes the longstanding column “Curious Gabe” in Surfer Magazine, and is the West Coast Editor of Men's File magazine. Sierra has been a model since the age of 17, appearing in campaigns for Prada, Ralph Lauren and slews of runway shows.

Given Gabe's keen portrait eye and appreciation of vintage surf culture, plus Sierra's high fashion knowledge with a casual SoCal twist, we were excited to collaborate with the couple for a Seea photo shoot in the historical cottages of Crystal Cove.

“Because we know each other so well, we’re able to understand what the other person needs to get the job done," explains Sierra of working with her husband. "Of course, as with any intimate and close relationship, we can get impatient with each other too! But it always ends up being a positive experience."

We spoke more with Gabe and Sierra about shooting together, and balancing career and family time.

Sierra Sullivan wearing the Leucadia in Purple Sail at Crystal Cove. Photo by Gabe Sullivan. 

What was the concept for the Crystal Cove shoot? What unique character about the location did you seek to portray in the photos?

Gabe: The concept was to play off the beach cottage architecture and capture a classic California day by the sea. It’s incredible to imagine what it might have been like to be among the families living there at Crystal Cove during the ‘30s, 40s and 50s, so capturing some of the architecture, the homes that is, where the original local people lived, was something I felt compelled towards.

Gabe, you shoot a lot of portraits for your Curious Gabe column. Why do you like shooting portraits?

Gabe: I like portraits because it’s an opportunity to get to know someone and to be creative. With portraiture, my goal is always to capture an authentic emotion, and the best way to do that is by taking time to get to know the person and engage them in conversation. So there is the artistic side, paying attention to lighting, composition etc., and there is also the social aspect, and I love both.

Sierra Sullivan wears the Hermosa Surf Suit in Luna in the Crystal Cove Cottages. Photo by Gabe Sullivan.

Sierra, you started modeling in your teens, which is a lot of responsibility to take on at a young age. What did you learn about yourself during that time?

Sierra: That I absolutely loved to travel and the career was a perfect fit for me! I learned how to be professional at a young age and developed street smarts from living in foreign countries. It was certainly a type of education I would have never received in college.

What were some of the most memorable photo shoots that you did when you were younger and why? 

Sierra: There are countless and hard to pick even just a few! My most memorable are doing the Prada campaign, several photo shoots for Ralph Lauren with famed photographer Bruce Weber, my first Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar editorial shoots, and Australian Vogue in New Caledonia, a French Pacific island.

Sierra Huisman (her maiden name) in the Prada campaign in 2000, photographed by Robert Wyatt.
Sierra Sullivan in a beauty editorial. Photo courtesy of Sierra Sullivan.

How has your career changed and evolved since becoming a mother?

Sierra: I would have to say it hasn’t changed too much, except that now I have more photo shoots with my son, which is very fun!

Do you all travel together when one of you is sent on location for shoots?

Gabe: Whenever possible, yes. When our son was 4-months old, we all went to the South of France together for a shoot.

Sierra: For the first year or so after Elijah was born, we did, since I was nursing him. But after that, if only one of us got a booking, we didn’t all need to go together. Now, if we do, it will be because we all booked a job together, or Gabe and I together.

A Sullivan family photo shoot. Sierra, Gabe and son Elijah. Photo courtesy of the Sullivan family.

What do you have to consider when traveling with children?

Gabe: Kids fly free up until two-years-old. After that, road trips become much more economical.

Sierra: It’s a lot more complicated when traveling with a child under two, with all the baby gear and stuff that babies generally need, like strollers and diapers. Now that Elijah is five, it’s super easy. Packing for him is no different than for us, really. With a child, you’re definitely not as free to relax whenever you want or need to, nor are you able to go out at night (unless you’re somewhere where there’s child care you’re comfortable with), but it’s also really fun to share new places with our son and we always have the greatest time.

Sierra, How do you describe your style? What are your favorite outfits right now and why?

My style ranges from beach chic to uptown classic. I always try to keep it simple and on the classier side with a trendy twist, if I’m in the mood for it. My style icon at the moment is Emmanuelle Alt, the editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris. I’m loving my skinny jeans with my Isabel Marant booties and loose tops.

Sierra wearing the Capitola Top in Geo Gold (reversed) and Laguna pant in Deco Waves. Photo by Gabe Sullivan.


Sierra, We’ve read that you are diabetic. How has living in California versus NY help you maintain a healthier lifestyle in general?

Sierra: Here in California, the body types that are in demand aren’t quite as extreme as New York, which afforded me the ability to be more relaxed about my diet and lifestyle. There is a lot less stress here, too, being surrounded by more nature and while there is still a ton of people living here, it’s much more spread out than in New York so you don’t feel quite so cramped.

At the end of the day, though, how you cope with life and stress determines your health just as much if not more than where you live. Living in California certainly makes it feel easier in some ways. No matter what though, diabetes is a challenging condition to live with and I always strive to do my best with managing it. So far, so good!

Their VW van! Photo courtesy Gabe Sullivan. 


What is your perfect family beach day? 

Gabe: Saturday is our go-to beach day. We pack up some yummy food and our boards and head down to one of the beaches nearby where we live. Now that the open-air Trolleys are running again here in Laguna, we’ll be jumping onboard and enjoying that as part of our experience more often as well. The perfect beach day is filled with good vibes, good waves, good food and good friends.

Sierra: The perfect day is a bag full of books, magazines, yummy take out from a nearby taco shop, 82 degree weather with 75 degree water, mellow waves and plenty of shade mixed with a swim in the ocean.
Thanks Gabe and Sierra! We are so happy with the shoot and can't wait to work with you again! 

Sierra wears the Laguna pant in Deco Waves. Photo by Gabe Sullivan.
Sierra Sullivan in the Chicama Top and Balboa Leggings in Porto. Photo by Gabe Sullivan.




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