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Leomie Anderson

Leomie Anderson on fashion racism and being a face of Fenty

The model discusses her recent TEDx talk, that LFW casting incident, and officially being friends with Rihanna

Leomie Anderson is a model with a purpose. Never afraid to call things out, the 24-year-old has made headlines for her strong words encouraging make-up artists and hairstylists to learn how to cater to black skintones and afro textured hair.

She first turned heads in Channel 4’s The Model Agency documentary, back in 2011 – as a baby-faced upstart. She came across well, but these days describes the doc as “That one where I’m crying backstage at Topshop because I had to go to school the next day, like a loser.” Even so, as predicted on the show, she has had a successful career.

Recent endeavours have seen her modelling for Rihanna’s first ever Fenty Beauty campaign, landing a slot for the second year in a row as a Victoria’s Secret angel, and at this season’s shows, walking for Jeremy Scott, Emporio Armani and in Hailey Baldwin’s adidas presentation. Oh, there’s also her TEDx talk, and Lapp The Brand, which has been making waves with its anti-Trump tees, collaborations with Nike and frequent blog posts exploring intersectional feminism and fashion.

I meet the south Londoner during LFW SS18, her first with Tess Management modelling agency – leaving behind Premier, who she had been with for 10 years. The same week, a series of tweets about being dropped from the show as they only wanted one black model made headlines, adding to a growing conversation about diversity, tokenism, and the power of speaking up in the industry.

I was wondering what compelled you to do your TEDx Talk in Peckham Behind The Lens Of The Modelling Industry? Were you inspired by other models like Ashley Graham?

Leomie Anderson: Honestly, they reached out to me and I wanted to have the opportunity to do one because I wanted to challenge myself. I love public speaking, being able to interact with people and just being able to talk! So it was kind of like I wanted the opportunity to convey my perspective of the modelling industry to a big group of people, especially live – that was the part that was going to be really interesting and different.

Do you hope that by doing talks like that people from your world will be listening and thinking “Oh yeah, maybe there are things we can improve”?

Leomie Anderson: Since I’ve done the Ted talk I’ve actually met so many different casting directors and other models who have commended me for speaking up about the industry, for not trying to make it out as glamorous. It’s still very mysterious. But don’t think this is me going off about my industry, I’m so appreciative of every experience, even the roaches and mice, because it’s character building. I don’t regret it at all, and it’s not something that’s traumatised me – it’s built me and made me a stronger person. We’re in a generation where we just don’t want to have that mystery, we want a bit of transparency. I think it’s very refreshing.

Is that what motivated you to tweet last week about the LFW casting where you were dropped because they only wanted one black model?

Leomie Anderson: I don’t like making out on the internet that I’m always happy and my job is perfect. That doesn’t help anything. So sometimes I know for a fact it’s going to make people shocked, but at the same time I also just don’t want to be quiet and then only tweet when I’m happy and make out like my job is all hunky dory, you know? It creates a false perception of the industry. There are so many young girls that come up to me and say they want to be a model, and fair enough, they see my photoshoots and runway pictures, but I think it’s unfair of me to only put that part of myself out there.

So you made the conscious decision not to name the designer – it was just about people knowing about the experience in general. Have you been through anything like that before, where it was quite as explicit?

Leomie Anderson: Previously I’ve had bad experiences in Milan and Paris. I haven’t really been back there for a full fashion week because it’s actually so hard. When you go, you know for a fact that just because you’re a darker complexion you are going to get less jobs. Financially I had to say to myself, ‘I can keep going out there and keep trying and just getting one show, or maybe nothing, or I can just be happy and stay in London, and be with my family and friends’. Things are changing and improving, but I’ve had really bad experiences in Milan especially, just because I am darker than everybody else.

“I don’t want to only tweet when I’m happy and make out like my job is all hunky dory, you know? It creates a false perception of the industry” – Leomie Anderson

I wanted to talk to you about colourism actually, because the girl that did get the casting you tweeted about was mixed-race. Do you find that for black women there is a discrepancy even between complexions?

Leomie Anderson: Yeah definitely, it’s very obvious when you’re looking at campaigns or magazines. There might be a ginger girl and white girl, but sometimes there’s only a light-skinned or mixed-race girl that’s meant to represent the black side. That’s what I said in my post recently about Fenty Beauty – other brands provide foundations for our shades, but in the campaign imagery you’ll only see a girl with light or mixed skin representing the fact that they have foundation for darker complexions. I don’t think that’s fair, I literally have not seen a campaign, bar Nars a few years ago with Grace Bol, with anyone who’s darker than me.

I was reading a post the other day about how Fenty was one of the most diverse castings you’d ever been to...

Leomie Anderson: It really was though. I remember landing in LA and I saw the call sheet with all the models. I thought, “Wow this is going to be insane, it's going to be so well received and such a milestone I think for the beauty industry”. Because, yes, Rihanna might be a female celebrity and a black woman, but it’s about everybody and every type of skin tone, from the very palest, to an Asian girl with a paler foundation – which was something I wanted to make a point about, paler foundations aren’t just for white women – to the darkest.

How was the process of working with her in general? Are you friends now?

Leomie Anderson: Yes we are. *leans into mic* Me and Rihanna are friends, THANKYOU. She’s really really great and loyal and supportive. I’ve actually worked with her nearly every year for the past four of five years, whether it was her River Island collection or her Stance socks collection. I walked for Fenty in Paris last season and now with the beauty campaign. She’s very loyal and if she likes you she will always support you in some way shape or form.

One of the other editors at Dazed said she once saw you in a toilet during LFW doing your own make-up.

Leomie Anderson: Definitely, probably.

Does that situation happen less often nowadays or is it better? I saw your Black Model Survival Kit video!

Leomie Anderson: I just do less shows so it happens less often, but still happens. I could show you a picture from last week where I was looking ashy and grey. I had to do my own make-up in the bathroom. But at the end of the day I think we are still moving in a better direction, because there was a time when I would say to make-up artists ‘this isn’t going to work on my skin’ and they would argue with me, whereas now people are probably scared I’m going to tweet about them. It is frustrating because everybody has been complaining about this for years now. We’ve got the products, we’ve got the issue out there in the open, but what hasn’t changed is backstage there still aren’t any make-up artists of colour on the teams.

And there’s still very few black hair stylists in the fashion industry.

Leomie Anderson: I just did the Philipp Plein show in New York and we had french plaits and super long braids; they brought in a team of four or five black women. But do you know how many times I’ve been at a show with three people trying to do one french plait? I’m just sitting there like, ‘I’ll just do it myself’. They’re like, ‘Wow!’ I’m like, ‘You shouldn’t be clapping and congratulating me that I can do a french plait on myself, you should be looking at yourself and saying why can’t I do that?’ Black models still feel like second-class citizens. First of all, we don’t even know if we’re going to sit in the make-up chair and have our make-up done successfully, and next minute we’re divas because we say, ‘If you put water in my hair it’s going to go curly”. It’s all about communication. People just need to drop their egos and be willing to learn.

Your own personal project is LAPP. I love that you publish opinion pieces alongside it being a clothing brand. Was that always an intention of yours?

Leomie Anderson: I always wanted to do a clothing line but I didn’t just want to put out a clothing line and it be like typical, ‘oh a model starts a clothing line’, kind of thing. I wanted to do something that brought people together and gave people a voice. The blog is the part that I really put a lot of hard work into. In our generation no-one’s going to care if I just tweeted out a link about my blog, so I thought let me incorporate the fashion with the blog and fuse it together. But there was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted to do the blog aspect.

“I’m passionate about making people talk about the treatment of models because the fashion industry is everywhere. You’re wearing it, breathing it and seeing it” – Leomie Anderson

What are your favourite pieces you’ve put out onto the blog so far?

Leomie Anderson: There’s so many pieces that have made me really think. I had one from a girl who spoke about being in a forced marriage from the age of 16. The reason why that one really struck me is because she actually lives down the road from me, and I didn’t know about it. That’s really the aim of the blog, to put across perceptions and opinions that people haven’t necessarily got access to.

If you do end up leaving the modelling industry do you think you’ll still want to be involved in the fashion world?

Leomie Anderson: I’m passionate about making people talk about the treatment of black models and making people think about the treatment of models in general, because the fashion industry is everywhere. You’re wearing it, breathing it and seeing it: the runway pictures, the glossy editorials, the campaigns. In a society where we care about perfection, I like to be the person that is like, “I’m part of that industry you think is perfect, but it’s not”. If more people had spoken up before I had started modelling, I would have gone into it more prepared. I want young models coming up to be prepared and I want people looking at these magazines and feeling insecure about themselves to realise that everybody has their insecurities and nobody is perfect, even if this picture is.