Monday, October 10, 2016

Freddie Leiba .. the interview



Freddie Leiba is a name that has become synonymous with international fashion for over thirty years that I can attest to. There are scant few whose body of work, as a stylist/créateur, that can hold a candle to this man on any level. His taste and his “eye” are above and beyond the scope and skillset of more than just the majority of those who think themselves to be in the same league. It is my pleasure to call Freddie a friend and I can honestly say that he is a man who “walks softly and carries a big stick” when it comes to his reputation, on both personal and professional levels.  He is the proverbial cream that rises to the top. 
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It is my privilege to have been able to call upon him to collaborate with me for this interview as he is a man whose name is rarely seen but his presence is indelible especially since he is constantly on a new project. He has been and continues to be a pervasive presence in magazines, media and behind the scenes for decades and yet his work is as contemporary, fresh and as modern as any. By the way, if his name is not familiar then you should hide your head in shame and certainly you can’t call yourself fashion savvy. Freddie Leiba is a treasure whose legacy has been and will be felt for lifetimes to come.
So now it’s my honor to offer you Freddie in his own words: 
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Jeffrey Felner:  You have worked with some of the greats of fashion, who would you say are your top 3 favorites and why?

Freddie Leiba: There are three people I have to say that were most memorable, two of them are sadly dead. One is still alive ... Irving Penn and the project was for L’Oréal cosmetics.  I was very nervous when I was brought to Penn by his agent Peter Schub; Penn sat with me looked at cosmetics and we worked together on an image. This first one was a still life and I had to find a small mirror to fit in the girls hand but it had to be the most perfect mirror however after going to every glazier in town, only one man in a little shop suggested the mirror that is used in a Xerox machine.  That was the suggestion and that was the deal breaker as then I was invited to work with Penn for many years. Horst heard about me and wanted to meet me about a perfume project. I had to study the individual perfume bottles, there were 12 bottles...  example Dior, YSL etc. and from that I then had to build sets of neo classical to 18 century style and also style the girls.  I still have the original photos in my flat from Horst that were given to me from that project. Last of the three would be meeting Ian Schrager in the latter part of 1980 after Steve Rubell and post Studio 54. Till this day I have designed the uniforms for his hotels all over the world starting Royalton and continuing to the present with uniforms for Schrager’s latest property, the Editions Hotel in NYC.  Ian has remained one of the most loyal of collaborators from the very start
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JF: If you could invite any 5 people to dinner, who would they be and why?
FL: Dinner … most of them have died but…  Ava Gardner for her beauty which was almost haunting as well as her gowns. I met her briefly when I lived in London; she was of course already older but for me she was bliss to this day. I remember Norman Parkinson telling me later on that she was the most beautiful woman he ever photographed. I can still remember her beauty as a child seeing her in a movie called Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Alfred Hitchcock, who to this day I still love his style which was dark but there was glamour, was in every frame while every location was perfect. Picasso, well he was and is my favorite painter; I adore every period, but the closest I came to meeting him was when I was friendly with his daughter Paloma. She, at the time, resided in New York City on Park Avenue. I got to know her while working with Harper’s Bazaar. One day I was speaking to my boss Tony Mazzola about photographing her siting around her personal portrait painted by her father and that was a great thrill. Diana Vreeland, well, I owe her everything! She was daring, she was fearless and there weren’t many rules. She was my biggest inspiration and an endless source of admiration. I ended up buying some of her library from her estate and her personal photos by Louise Dahl Wolfe which I still have in my flat. Lastly, Cecil Beaton because of his costumes, his photos, his London house and his gardens; He was a multi-talented man in the extreme.
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“Freddie has been part of the fashion world in which I grew up and inhabited for most of my working life. We share some of the same teachers, especially Diana Vreeland, who was my mentor ever since she arranged for me to work for Glamour, Vogue in Paris and New York. Freddie’s taste, loyalty, and discretion are legend in a world full of false fame grabbing insipidity. Anyone who has had the unique experience of working with him or can call him a friend is truly fortunate as he is a most reserved humble man.” Mary Russell, former editor at Glamour, WWD, American Vogue, Paris and American Elle in New York


JF:  What is your opinion of the state of fashion today and if it was in your power to change it, how would you go about doing it?
FL: Fashion, today everyone is a designer.  Today some of them never had a needle in their hands. It’s all about money, Instagram sensation like who has the most followers and are popular for behaving badly. The sad thing is that there are some talented among them however they are puppets to the business of fashion.  Everything is in transit and onto the next also disposable fashion; No one is building a brand as they seem to be just moving through an assembly line of clothes. It’s very difficult when one becomes puzzled by the changes every season regarding designers and their collections. My ultimate answer is that something has to change!

“Whilst working on my book DIVERSE BEAUTY, I was looking for someone who had 2 assets: One, a history of working with all the greats, be they magazines, photographers or subjects and secondly to have a reputation of supporting diversity in fashion through the years.  Freddie checked both boxes, so it was with great delight and excitement when he told me of his interest in collaborating with me on this project.” Alexi Lubomirski photographer and author of DIVERSE BEAUTY
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JF: Do you have “little voice” in your head that speaks to you when you work on each new project, or do you have some inner inspiration that you carry with you at all times? Could you share that with us?
FL: Yes I have a long list of inspirations that I store, some from art exhibitions, some old photos and some new observations whether from the street, travel or history but it is my eye that is my tool and hopefully my memories can be translated and infused into my work.
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