TALK TO ME: Leith Clark, part I

Story by Mishal Cazmi. Illustration by Ayalah Hutchins.

Only the prettiest adjectives—ethereal, whimsical, and dreamlike—can describe Lula magazine. It’s a magazine dipped in sunlight and enchantment, a world inhabited by dreamers.

Published twice a year, Lula has become more than a magazine; it’s evolved into brand and a lifestyle, made in the image of Clark herself. A Lula girl is a special kind of a girl. She’s a bit Sofia Coppola, a bit Enid Blyton. She eats cupcakes and sips champagne. She wears Moschino and Erdem.

Leith Clark, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, also happens to be Canadian. Clark’s journey is a familiar narrative in the magazine world—a small town girl who moved to New York City in pursuit of her dreams. She interned at Interview magazine before moving to London to work at British Vogue as an assistant to Kate Phelan. But Clark also made it in a big way.

She’s styled stars (Keira Knightley), campaigns (Chanel), and shoots (Harper’s BazaarVogue). And of course, she created Lula, a magazine that began as a small labour of love and has since earned an international cult following. In other words, Leith Clark is the best friend you wish you had. Every suburban girl need only look to Clark, a former resident of Oakville, Ontario, to realize that dreams can come true. She’s the living embodiment of the Lula fairy tale.

Clark was recently in Toronto for the opening of her Lula pop-up shop, curated for The Room at the Bay in celebration of its God Save the Queen event. In a Chanel dress and her favourite Tabitha Simmons suede platform wedges, Clark sat down to chat with The Style Notebook.

You curated the LULA pop-up shop for The Room, which you also did earlier this summer for Harvey Nichols. What were you looking for when selecting items for the pop-up shop?

“Sometimes it’s very selfish. The Miu Miu shoes that are in there were actually shoes they did five years ago. I think I called every Miu Miu store in the whole world and they were all sold out. This May, I got engaged and I remembered those shoes again. I wrote a letter to them saying, just so you know, one of the very first thoughts I had about a wedding were those shoes. So they made them and sent them to me to my house with a card, which was amazing. And then Harvey Nichols asked me to do a pop-up shop for them last summer and one of the first things I thought to do was phone Miu Miu again about those shoes.

Everything else in the shop is by people that I love. Charles Anastase made a dress similar to this one three years ago, but it was short with much wider straps and a higher neck. The Sonia Rykiel dress is a variation of one that existed that was longer. It usually starts with something they’ve already done. With Rodarte, I was really annoying and decided I wanted to wear white dresses forever! There’s also a book called Pretty Things by Liz Goldwyn. It’s so wonderful and I think people don’t see it enough.”

Lula has a very particular aesthetic. When you’re preparing an issue, how do you decide who gets to be in the pages—who the photographer is, the writer, who to interview?

“For the content and what’s in there, it’s very self-serving again. I try to make the perfect magazine for me, which was always the idea from the beginning. When I did the very first issue, I didn’t think about the longevity of it. I just thought I’d like to make exactly what I want. I didn’t expect people to buy it and I hadn’t really thought about selling it outside of London. It was so exciting just to make it that I didn’t think about that stage. I still try to treat it like that. I try to just make what I would want to read, what makes me feel excited and what I feel into at that time.

As for who does it, I love the magazine to feel like it’s made with love. If we’re doing something that I know someone that would be excited about that, then I ask them. We have a staff, but at the same time, I would never ask our features editor to write something she wouldn’t love to write, and if we knew there was someone who would be excited to do something or who would have an interesting perspective, we will ask them.

A lot of women work for us. It’s not a coincidence. I think it was in the beginning. The way women make each other feel, especially photographers, there’s something really special about that. Working in fashion, I had a weird aversion to the hard sexuality that was so prevalent everywhere. Fashion magazines are women looking at pictures of other women for them, but somehow, there’s the invisible man in the middle which I didn’t fully feel comfortable with and tried to eliminate.”

Keira Knightley, Chanel Iman and Kristen Dunst have all been featured in Lula. I think it would be fair to assume that they are Lula girls. What drew you to them?

“With models, it’s very much during fashion shows and it’s quite often at Chanel. What’s amazing with models is that you get to create a character. They’re your silent film star.  I don’t really think about the type so much. I didn’t really know I had a style. I remember the girls at Top Shop telling me that they used Lula as an adjective in the office. I hadn’t really appreciated that or noticed the type thing. We just try to keep it really organic and honest. I suppose there is a type. I guess it’s just girls I have crushes on!”

When you first started, were you ever worried about finding an audience for the magazine?

“No, I never thought about the audience! I had so much fun doing it. I was with two of my best friends back then, Becky and Charlotte. We spent so much time sitting on the floor with my dog and wine at Becky’s house. It felt like we were making a school project.

When it came out, I went to a pub near Charlotte’s work. It was 11 in the morning. I went and sat at the very back of the pub. I ordered a very large glass of wine, and just sat there with this thing and started to have a little bit of a meltdown. It had always been this little secret for us and all of a sudden, when it was real, it was very weird. I had never thought about how personal it was or how people would see it. It was very scary. It was a big chunk of me. When it was received so well, it was great. We just ploughed through and did the same thing. We started to trust each other and have more and more fun.”

You’ve said that Toronto is your favourite city for vintage. Do you have any favourite shops?

“I don’t. Whenever I come to Toronto, I always go back to Kensington Market. We usually meet two or three of the girls who work at the stores and they tell us about the new stores we should visit (that have been different on every single trip). I always go to Cabaret on Queen Street. That’s really fun because it’s men and women. We’ll spend an hour upstairs trying on all the ties and finding hats for my boyfriend and then go downstairs for me. I only ever vintage shop here now. I’ll be honest, when I shopped at Portobello Market and saw a great stall, I’d asked them where stuff was from and it was usually from here.

There are a lot of musicians here and they’re not interested in what is fashionable. The film, art and music scene makes vintage shopping unique here rather than it being for fashion students or fashion people. I’m always amazed that no one’s bought it first.”

Below, Leith Clark in the Lula pop-up shop at The Room.

A wider look at the Lula pop-up shop.

Below, a look inside Lula.

Pretty Things by Liz Goldwyn.

Check back soon for Part II: Leith on Canadian vs British fashion, her top five tea party guests, and more! In the meantime, check out Lula, and our Talk to Me section for more interviews with fascinating fashionable personalities.

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