Exclusive with Model Dawn Leak
1. Beginning with the question you’ve likely answered over a thousand times…how did you get your start in the industry? I was discovered on the streets of New York City. A top model of Elite Model Management chose me. So, my first encounter with Elite Model Management was when Karen Mulder, a famous Dutch model and her photographer husband, Rene Bosne, invited me to an Elite party. Let me start at the beginning. I was walking down the street and this black limo pulled up beside me and this gorgeous blonde with long locks and full lips, stuck her head out the window and said, “you know you should be a model”. I’m like…yeah right. I didn’t know if she was a pervert trying to reel me in or if she was for real. I was quite skeptical. Then suddenly a light bulb lit up in my head – that’s Karen Mulder, the Supermodel. So, I immediately jumped in the limo with my torn jeans and the rest was history.
2. What do you remember about your first gig ever? Was it a pleasant experience? Is there anything you would’ve changed about that day? My first gig was in Paris with Elite. I walked the runway for designer Christophe Lemaire. I was very excited, but unfortunately, I did not have any runway skills. I remember so vividly walking down the runway with two other models with an umbrella. I was definitely out of sync. As I was exiting the runway, I couldn’t fit through the small stage door. I couldn’t figure out how to put my umbrella. That was so embarrassing. Of course, my agency caught wind of this and they demanded that I come in to meet with Jay Alexander. When I first met Jay, I fell in love with his flamboyant personality. He taught me how to walk the runways for different designers, because some had their own signature walk. It was amazing how there were so many techniques that I had to master in order to show the clothing correctly and elegantly.
3. How long have you been in this industry? I’ve been in this industry over 20 years.
4. Would you say the industry has changed a lot in front of your own eyes since you’ve begun your career? Not all change is good so if it has changed, would you say it’s changed for the better or worse? Yes, I feel that ageism is more prevalent now. I came from an era where models like Veruschka von Lehndorff and Carmen Dell’ Orefice were constantly being celebrated and now we have super young instagram models being glorified. In Fashion, I think all ages should be represented. And, how I deal with this issue of ageism – I live life in it’s fullest in a beautiful, graceful and humble way. I’m not just 50 years old, I’m a representation of women my age and older. I’m a woman who has embraced all types of beauty without any barriers very passionately. I will not have anyone tell me to sit down, because I’m no longer relevant due to my age. And, I would like to think that Fashion is not changing for the better or worse – it’s constantly evolving.
5. What has been your best and worst moment during your career? My best moments in Fashion were being signed by Elite Paris, Boss London and Paolo Tomei. These agencies afforded me the opportunity to work in Paris, London, Milan, Rome, Amsterdam, Sweden, Germany and Austria. The pivotal moment for me in Fashion was shooting with Richard Avedon. That helped my career so much, in which I appeared in in magazines such as German Elle, German Max and Italian Amica and became the face of Absolut Vodka Africa. I graced the catwalks and showrooms of Yves St. Laurent, Issey Miyake, Veronique Leroy, Thierry Mugler, Christophe Lemaire, Paco Rabanne, Armani, Raphaella Curiel, Azzedine Alai, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano. And, with the best comes the worst. My worst moments had to be when my portfolio was lost and seeing the “Go-See” print outs at the agency in Paris in bold print – “Pas de Noir” – meaning no Blacks. Regardless, I still feel so fortunate that I have been cultivated by the Fashion World. I definitely didn’t learn how to speak French and a little bit of German in the South Bronx.
6. What’s a typical day like for you? My typical day begins with meditation and a half hour run. Afterwards, I find myself reclining in my sauna; making and receiving phone calls; and, then hitting the pavement of New York City in the effort of rebranding myself with the help of Creative Director, Mykel Cortez Smith.
7. What has been the hardest obstacle of your career? How did you overcome it? The hardest obstacle of my career has been coming to terms with my age and dealing with it honestly – knowing that I do not look my age, but not lying about it. I realized that it could work in my favor.
8. Were there days where you just wanted to give up because you thought it was too hard? I’ve had plenty of those days. But, through meditation, I’ve managed to keep focused. My love for Fashion out weighs my fears. I’m inspired by people who are fearless to think outside the box…the norm. I admire people who are not afraid to actualize their purpose when there is no cushion…no safety net to guarantee success. I’m always willing to take a chance and that supersedes any hardships that I may face.
9. If you could do it all over again, do you think you would’ve chosen a different career path? If I could do it all over again, I would choose Fashion. Fashion affords me the opportunity to dream. I instinctively knew that Fashion was the path for me even growing up in a tough neighborhood in the South Bronx. This harsh environment made me look for a means of escape, which was my imagination. And, my imagination allowed me to tap into my love of clothing, makeup and hairstyling – Beauty. Fashion is a part of my DNA.
10. What is your secret for staying so successful after so long? I’ve always remained disciplined, tenacious and optimistic.
11. What advice would you give your 20 something year old self? I would tell myself, “dreams are all you have and without dreams, you can not realize yourself. Your dreams will help you overcome many distractions. Your dreams will keep your head up. In essence, it is so important for you to follow your dreams in order to ignite that fire inside in your pursuit of Fashion. So, just keep dreaming, Baby Girl!!!
12. What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years? Now, at 50 years old, I’m reentering the Fashion industry that I love with the help of Creative Director, Mykel Cortez Smith. I see myself evolving into this fierce businesswoman having her own makeup and clothing line on QVC. So, the answer to that question, “where do I see myself in the next 5 years?” – MORE FEARLESS AND FIERCE!!!