She talks about her fashion journey, always repping Chicago and *that* Cannes moment.
We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."
When Leyna Bloom arrived on the Croisette for the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, she was best known for her work as a model, instantly recognizable by her memorable walk down the Chromat runway and applauded for her viral campaign to be the first trans model of color cast in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. But she was there to premiere a feature film, "Port Authority" — her first — and to make a little history: She became the first trans woman of color to be the lead of a movie selected for the festival. Bloom knew all eyes would be on her.
As is customary, Bloom and her cast mates were scheduled to appear at a daytime photo call to promote "Port Authority." Typically, all the actors, directors and people involved with the project will walk out and pose next to a podium bearing the Cannes Film Festival logo. But Bloom wasn't feeling that.
"It's very yearbook photo-type stuff," she remembers. "I'm like, 'This is lame as fuck. Do not put me next to no table, because in the ballroom scene, if you're next to a table, you're going to stand on that table and make love to that table.' That's exactly what the fuck I did: I hopped up on that damn table and I thought about Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Cicely Tyson, Halle Berry — I thought about every single Black freaking actress that has come to this film festival and has made their fucking moment. And this was mine to make. I was going to do it like a fucking champ."
The resulting photographs are fun, glamorous and full of life. And for many, they served as an introduction to Ms. Leyna Bloom.
Bloom hasn't stopped since. She continues modeling, appearing in campaigns for Levi's and Dior Beauty, while pursuing projects in the entertainment industry. (In August, she signed with CAA.) Still, she found time to talk to Fashionista about her fashion journey (and the role her family played in it,) her go-to '90s references and why that Cannes moment was so monumental. Read on.
"My great-grandmother was a runway coach and a dance teacher, and she used to put on runway shows in Chicago for young Black women, and would always wear these beautiful couture gowns — very Dior. If you think of Dior but for a Black woman in Chicago, that was kind of her style and her aesthetic. You would go to her house and see her white fur chairs, her white chandelier lamps, her white carpet. She would walk around in her rollers and she'd always get her nails done every Friday, a beautiful red color. I was just constantly around such strong femininity.
"My auntie and my other grandmother, they were also hyper-feminine. My auntie danced for Sammy Davis Jr., so she always was into really new fabrics and colors and shapes. I was raised around women that took fashion very, very seriously. Also, going into the ballroom community, where fashion is a staple piece — if you want to be a star, you have to come and bring your individuality.
"I'm constantly looking for ways to find that balance of being haute couture, being classy but also being relevant. Some days, I want to be super chic and clean, nice lines and great cleavage — be mysterious, but also very elegant. And some days, I want to be a tomboy and put on a jersey and represent Chicago Bulls and wear tennis shoes. I'm really, really big on wearing beautiful ballgowns and underneath, it's a fresh pair of Air Force 1s. When I get the option to have those particular type of gowns, I'm always paying homage to where I come from and who I am as a Black woman. I try to incorporate that into my fashion on so many levels. The fashion people that I grew up loving — which you can obviously see where my style comes from — were Halle Berry, '90s Aaliyah, sometimes Princess Diana. It's very structured. It's a lot of masculine shapes, a lot of feminine shapes. I try to find the balance in all of that.
"Growing up loving people like Cher and Diana Ross and seeing how Bob Mackie makes those gowns so perfect for their personalities— not just for their bodies or for their image. He's really dabbing into their energy and the colors that go good with their skin. I grew up loving the feathers and diamonds and the mermaid dresses and the sleek bodies; the Hervé Legers, the Alaïas, the Gianni Versaces and all those major designers in '90s that really, really said that the woman's body is beautiful. I want to show it off... I want to do it very clean, very classic, and I want to respect the people that paved the way for me to be here.
"In 2019, I was in the Cannes Film Festival and I wore this amazing, amazing feather number at the photo call by this designer called Ingie Paris. I wanted something that represented lightness and freshness, and I didn't want it to overshadow my Blackness. I wanted to compliment it. [It's] not often we see Black trans women glorified in beauty and attached to those beautiful fairytale moments — I wanted to make sure that I represented that type of girl, so when other trans women looked at me they said, 'Hey, I can be a Disney princess, too.' I have to really protect my transness and make sure that we're elevating our experience so people understand where true creativity and flamboyancy and fucking nerve comes from.
"Actually, when I went fitting for that dress, I was in with five other girls and we were all like freaking hyenas looking for prey — imagine being in a small hotel room looking for a dress, and there are five other bad bitches in that fucking room looking for the same fucking dress. I walk in and I'm instantly looking for motion in my garment. My garment is speaking to me. It has to give me chills. It has to make me feel super feminine, but also super strong... It was a full experience... [This girl] tries on this one dress and was like, 'Oh, I don't really like this. It's just too much feathers.' She literally takes it off and it falls on the ground. The dress was so breathable, very loose and airy, and she just dropped it, stepped over it and kind of kicked it to the side. So, I was like 'Oh, you don't like this dress? Watch me work this shit...' Me knowing that this girl did not want the dress and here I am, I have to make a moment... That dress has literally taken care of my whole family. That moment has put food in my entire family's mouth, for two years now. I'm happy and I'm humbled by that moment and seeing someone just toss it to the side like it's a rag. You can turn someone's trash into treasure.
"Then, for the Cannes dinner and the red-carpet moment, I wore Alberta Ferretti. Alberta Ferretti was actually the first designer to want to dress me — all the other designers said, 'No, absolutely not. She's not cool enough or she's not the 'it' girl yet.' I'm like, 'She's making history at the biggest film festival in the world, and you don't want to dress her?' I'm not going to sit here and drop those names, but I'm going to let you know that I'm so lucky and so honored that Alberta Ferretti was the first designer to dress me for not only one event, but two.
"They asked me, 'Who are your inspirations?' I'm showing Bob Mackie, Cher, Diana Ross. When you think of that, you're thinking of those timeless, beautiful moments where we can celebrate femininity in such a regal way — especially Hollywood. We're going all the way to France, to the Riviera. We're bringing our rich culture from the States to France, and we're celebrating that. I wanted to really not do too much, because I wanted people to just get a little peek of who I am. If I went in there and I went fucking too strong... I don't know, it wouldn't have really made the impact that I wanted make. I wanted to make a very good first impression and just let people know that I'm here, in the building.
"The look I wore on the red carpet was this silver mirror dress. The whole purpose of me picking that dress was, if you looked closely, you saw yourself in the dress. Every person that was looking at me was looking at themselves. And as a trans woman, it's so important to humanize my visibility and my trans-ness so people can understand that we're just alike. That's why I wore that dress.
"The last moment, the Cannes dinner, we were inspired by Cher — she did an event and wore this see-through, ostrich-feather [gown.] They already did a collection around that and I was like, 'We need to take it to the next level.' We did alterations and they made it more modern... That was just me having my Bob Mackie moment, honestly. I was nervous, but I got all the compliments in the room that night, so it was so worth it.
"I'm always looking for something that no one else has, so it comes back to vintage — trying to recreate a look that's classic in a modern way. I'm not going to sit here and drop names on designers, because there are just so many. I'm looking at my closet, and I see a lot of blue jeans, a lot of graphic T-shirts, a lot of pieces that you wouldn't normally find. A lot of them are also gifts.
"This pandemic, I have bought like five vintage purses — Fendi, Gucci and Christian Dior. I'm on eBay, bidding, watching and searching. People be sleeping heavily on eBay. If it has the authentication mark, it's real. I got a vintage Fendi bucket hat. I got some Fendi skirts, some Fendi bags — really really beautiful classic Fendi shapes. I love how fashion right now is having its '90s moment. I was a baby in the '90s, so I'm so happy that I can really have a moment. But not in the pandemic, because I don't have anywhere to go.
"There are two people that I will take with me shopping and that will know everything about my fashion looks. One is my really, really good, good friend and mentor, Thaddeus Laday — he's fucking amazing, he's my style guru. We both have this '90s simplicity but big personality when it comes to fashion. To balance that style out is my other mentor, Karen Baroody. She's this all-American, girl-next-door fashion queen who loves to be very Stepford, but also be very casual comfort. I like the balance... Surprisingly, all three of us wear the same size, so I be wearing their clothes and they can wear my clothes.
"When I'm shopping, I'm starting with an inspiration. It's always a '90s vibe... Everything that I wear has to do with comfort. I love a nice blue jean. I think I look so sexy in blue jeans. I love to wear a T-shirt with it or a nice button up with it, tie it at the waist. I love gym shoes — that's one thing that has just stuck with me as a child, because when I was a child, I was homeless, and me and my brother had to share shoes and year after year, we had the same shoes. I told myself, when I got older, I was going to make sure my sneaker game is up to the top, top, top. I got my Js, I got my 1s and my Vans. I'm just so lucky.
"For so many years, I couldn't afford to have clothes, and I would be wearing the same stuff over and over. But that stuff had moments, and I wanted to continue having moments with those pieces. I'm that type of girl that will definitely re-wear something over and over and over and over. I know a lot of people in fashion say, 'Why are you wearing it again?' It's like, 'Girl, because she's sickening on these bodies and she's hugging these curves. Every time I go out I see different people that ain't never seen me in this dress.'
"It's just honestly [about] knowing where you're going, what you're feeling in that moment and if that's not the vibe in the room, are you going to sell it like it is and you become the vibe in the room? For me, it's always about comfort. When I'm wearing a gown, I want to wear Air Force 1s underneath it. If I'm going somewhere, I want to take it on and take it off — I don't want to fight with my gown.
"I haven't really done a lot of fashion shows, and I have a fucking sick-ass walk. I'm standing at 5'10" so in heels, I'm like 6'1", so I don't know why I haven't had a successful runway [career.] But it's not over. I'm still young and I can still do it... For me, I'm lucky to have any moments. I walked in Paris for the Tommy Hilfiger show, and it was an all Black female runway. It was living icons – Grace Jones, Veronica Webb. So many amazing trailblazing models, curve models, skinny models. I was the only Black trans model selected to participate and be a part of that historical moment.
"If I'm going to do something, it has to have purpose over popularity, and it has to have a message. When I walked Chromat and Tommy Hilfiger, it was a purposeful moment. It was a moment for me to represent the women that are shaped like me, the women that look like me and the women that come from my background... When I grew up, I didn't see women like that in these spaces, and now I can really say a lot of moments I've shared, I've shared with women that look just like me and come from the same place I come from. We've all come a long fucking way. That's something to take into every way of thinking and every way of life and every walk of life. Those are the moments that are stuck by my side, that I cherish and am so lucky to have because they all happened in very, very unique ways... If I'm going to show up and represent runway, and if I never get to do another show again, this is my moment to show people that I can do this and also, we're all doing this together and we're represented. If I'm freaking opening that show or closing it, I'm thinking of fucking Naomi Campbell, who closes and opens the fucking shows, girl.
"My style is definitely changing because I'm doing a lot of new, amazing things, so a lot more designers are paying attention to me. But if I'm thinking of a designer if, for instance, there's an event and I have a choice to wear someone, I'm probably going to go for the designers that have always been there for me ,throughout my whole process. I'm going to hit up Alberta Ferretti, I'm going to hit Dior, I'm hitting up Chromat... I got my Levi's campaign, so I'm rocking nothing but Levi's. Before I got the campaign, I was rocking Levi's. I'm wearing the designers that are wearing me."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
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