Fashion

With Leomie Anderson, the activist, entrepreneur and Victoria’s Secret Model

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Leomie Anderson was the speaker at the launch for The Oxford Guild’s Infinity Speakers Series, which took place on Tuesday of Week 3. The ‘Infinity Speakers Series’, as part of a wider drive to promote diversity and inclusion amongst students and society in general, aims to specifically target women and ethnic minorities, by providing them with positive role models to which they can aspire. It was immediately apparent at the talk why Leomie was invited as the very first speaker of the Series — She has an outstanding attitude to life, with a respectable vision that extends beyond the world fashion. She started off with an introduction and the session continued in the form of Q&A.

Leomie was first discovered by a Premier scout on her way home from school, at the age of sixteen. Since then, she has gone on to model for a host of world-famous designers and their brands, such as Jeremy Scott, Marc Jacobs, Valentino and, last but not least, Victoria’s Secret. On top of modelling, she has also founded a youtube channel (leomie anderson) and a blog (Cracked China Cup), where she talks about her modeling life and fashion. In 2016, she established LAPP The Brand, which stands for ‘Leomie Anderson the Project the Purpose’, with its aspirations to empower women and to promote confidence, positivity and unity through fashion.

It is immediately clear Leomie is very involved in a range of different things. Despite what seems to be an insane amount of work, she is full of energy. It is inspiring how much substance and value there is in each part of the work she does. LAPP The Brand is indeed a good place to start. Personally, as an attendee of the session, I was particularly intrigued by the brand. As mentioned, the brand aspires to empower women, and it does so in the most extraordinary and ingenious way; its collections are named after its cause — such as the “consent” collection, and their clothing lines have related quotes. The recent “This P***y Grabs Back” collection gained much attention, as Rihanna walked in one for the Women’s March — how iconic! For clarification purposes, and as Leomie wishes to make clear to the public, this collection was not aimed at a certain individual, but rather it was made to target the related societal attitude towards women.

LAPP The Brand also runs its own blog, on its website. Leomie wanted to create a platform for women, especially young women. During the session, she repeatedly mentioned she particularly wishes to help out young women. She feels the younger generation today learn from the internet, even before they learn from school; what they do not learn or realise is that most of what they see, especially from the social media, is crafted to look better than it actually is. We just simply would not know how big the PR team working on that celebrity’s Instagram account is, or how many hours of a photographer and a Photoshop technician’s work that single photo has taken. Leomie is also concerned that given these circumstances, where the younger generations so quickly learn from the internet and social media, the younger generation of women do not have “someone to chat to” about private issues they may have — if your boyfriend asks for a nude photo, many girls couldn’t discuss this with their Mum. Leomie thus wanted to provide a platform where women could freely talk about issues they are concerned with.

LAPP The Brand holds its philosophy so strongly, and Leomie’s work should not go unrecognised.

As the session moved to a Q&A form, there were some notable questions. One particularly difficult question (at least I felt it was), was how exactly Leomie’s brand aim to fight against issues that are already so institutionalised — there is only so much a clothing brand could do. Furthermore, there is much scepticism when brands run similar campaigns to promote awareness of social issues, because people like contributing to a cause and ultimately it drives the sales upwards. To this question, Leomie made a distinction; for one, a substantial portion of the profits are used to fund the running of the blog, she has not used any of the profit for her personal spending. Throughout the session, Leomie repeatedly put much emphasis on the blog, and it undoubtedly left the impression that it was a substantial part of her work. She was also extremely proud of it. However, in answering the main question, she accepted that there is a difficulty. Regardless, it was notable how the brand held its philosophy so strongly, and Leomie’s work should not go unrecognised just because it is unable to bring about an immediate change. The fact that there is a brand, so genuinely caring for women, must be cherished. Further, when a brand with a genuine cause, like LAPP, expands to collectively bring about social awareness, social change starts to happen.

On the similar topic of social issues, Leomie interestingly commented that the fashion is currently in a “state of confusion”. Many brands today attempts to address pressing social issues, such as diversity and equality, and sometimes, these attempts conflict with some fundamental aspects of fashion. Fashion is an art form, and designers are artists. Thus, freedom of expression is paramount to fashion designers, and at times this does not necessarily prove compatible when addressing social issues. It is, of course, true they can be compatible. For instance, Stella McCartney is personally concerned with animal rights and thus her brand does not use any materials derived from an animal source. As such, her designs, as a product of her expression, work around this philosophy. However, when it comes to issues such as diversity, it becomes much trickier. If the inspiration for the season is all about the Victorian age in Europe and the designer would like to take a conservative approach to the show, that would conflict if he were to be pressured by the industry practice to embrace diversity.

It is particularly worrying that this suggests brands may attempt to “promote” diversity only to raise their reputation, illustrating how such efforts seem only “sugar-coated”, as Leomie described.

Regardless, a large part of the fashion industry today seems to embrace this “political correctness”. The shows now employ more diverse range of models for their runway and the brands now work to improve the perception of body image, but there are still problems backstage. This is alarming. Leomie, being a black model herself, illustrated how far the fashion industry is from achieving true equality and diversity. For instance, backstage at some shows, it is rarely the case that black models receive the same treatment as white models. The hairstylists often do not have the knowledge of how to treat hair in an appropriate manner, and the make-up artists might not have foundations that match the models’ skin tone. Leomie takes her own kit for the show in case of such an event. It is particularly worrying that this suggests brands may attempt to “promote” diversity only to raise their reputation, illustrating how such efforts seem only “sugar-coated”, as Leomie described.

Even in the glamorous world of fashion, full of fantasies, there is a need for social change. Reflecting back to Leomie’s comment that the fashion industry is in a “state of confusion”, it is also true that artists have to stay true to themselves and their expressions. It is not easy for them to always fully embrace the efforts for social change. Perhaps they must not be forced into embracing what seems to be a “politically-correct” idea. Then, how else can these two conflicting objectives be achieved? Personally, I think that they will be achieved in an ideal world, where factors such as ‘gender’ or ‘ethnicity’ are not included in the equation — and even if they are, they do not raise any hint of injustice. Even if this may be accepted or assumed true as our end-point, it is still unclear how exactly we could get to that point. Regardless, there is one thing we know for sure — Leomie Anderson is making her contribution in getting to that end-point, and we need more brands like hers with a genuine cause to get there, at least within the fashion industry.

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