The phrase “trailblazer” is one which many have used to explain the breakout supermodel Valuable Lee, and contemplating the milestones she’s achieved since she appeared at Milan Style Week in September 2020, it’s simple to see why. Simply this previous yr, Lee turned one of many first curve fashions to stroll the Versace runway, was the one curve mannequin within the label’s spring 2021 marketing campaign, and graced the covers of Vogue, British Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. At the latest New York Style Week—the primary full-fledged, in-person extravaganza for the reason that begin of the Covid-19 pandemic—she appeared in seven exhibits. That was all earlier than the mannequin arrived on the Met Gala in a glowing silver tailor-made Space robe that borrowed motifs from the braided ponytails and protecting hairstyles she noticed and wore rising up, in her father’s hair salons in her hometown of Atlanta. Impressed by the only a few curve fashions who got here earlier than her (and the even fewer Black curve fashions), Lee has moved the needle on what folks suppose a mannequin is “supposed” to appear to be. It is a vital triumph that she clearly relishes.
Gucci jacket; Jacquemus skirt; Cartier earrings; Wempe necklace; Rolex watch.
Judy Turner prime, skirt, and arm heaters; Cartier earrings; Wempe necklace; Chanel ring; Giuseppe Zanotti platform sandals.
Six years earlier than you walked in your first trend present, at Christian Siriano in February 2017, you have been a scholar at Clark Atlanta College, on observe to changing into an lawyer. Did you develop an curiosity in trend when you have been there?
I’ve at all times cherished trend and pictures, and I used to be in Clark’s homecoming trend present. I cherished being round that vitality of children who love trend—placing on their very own manufacturing, making the designs. Even then, it was progressive to have a curve woman within the present. Then I ended up going to an open name for an company with my buddy, and I used to be supplied a contract. On the time, I used to be extra involved about getting again to campus for my subsequent class.
What made you determine that modeling was the house within the trend trade that you simply wished to occupy?
The response of individuals seeing me in sure areas, like at that trend present—I began to really feel an inspirational vitality round who I used to be. In highschool, I used to be the homecoming queen. I’ve at all times been a frontrunner, however modeling felt totally different, as a result of it wasn’t nearly scholastics; it was extra about making folks really feel higher by seeing me already feeling good. I actually didn’t faucet into how large that dynamic may very well be till I began to mannequin and noticed the response from individuals who would see me in a retailer window. I did a whole lot of business work once I was in faculty, and ladies would come as much as me and say, “Oh my gosh, I purchased this gown,” or “I purchased this exercise outfit.” African-American girls have been acknowledging me.
Which fashions did you look as much as if you have been youthful?
I like Toccara Jones. She shot with Steven Meisel. She had large boobs, and I’ve large boobs, and he or she was Brown—there have been so many various issues that began to connect me to the advocacy portion of being a mannequin. Issues are clearly altering, however the preliminary concept somebody has after they consider a mannequin is somebody actually tall and skinny. Seeing Crystal Renn, seeing Toccara, seeing these curve girls actually break by way of—it simply made me problem myself to see how far I may take it.
Versace bodysuit, skirt, and scarf; Picchiotti bracelet; Gucci platform sandals.
Prada gown, turtleneck, and stole; Wempe bracelet; Giuseppe Zanotti platform sandals.
What does originality imply to you?
Being true to your individual initiatives, your interior counsel. Utilizing and trusting your energy—residing that, talking that, and embracing that. Not having to consider how one thing could also be perceived greater than how true it’s to you. Once you’re permitting your self to discover the issues that you really want, every thing you do turns into authentic.
Whom do you think about to be an authentic?
After I consider Black girls, “originality” is the phrase. It’s one thing that’s in our DNA. The contributions to society that Black girls have made are invaluable. I’ve a shirt that claims “Shield Black Girls,” and it’s an entire motion now. And I’m actually grateful to see that persons are recognizing that, and understanding the facility of Black girls—our resilience, our versatility, our creativity. I’m extremely grateful to be a Black girl.
Who’s your model icon?
My mother and father. Anytime we go anyplace, you’re assured to listen to folks come as much as them to inform them how wonderful they give the impression of being. My dad walks round, and persons are like, “Whoa! Love that hat, these boots, that belt.” With my mother, it’s, “Oh my gosh, you’re so lovely. The place did you get that?” After I was a child, I cried when my mother wore animal print or crimson lipstick. I cried when my dad would put on his Versace button-down open, along with his gold chains and his chest hair. I might climb up and attempt to button his shirt, like, No, I hate it! Now, you can not discover me with out cleavage, not in a crimson lip, animal print, and Versace. It’s hilarious.
Do they offer you model recommendation?
After I dress for an enormous occasion, I’ll name. “Dad, what do you consider this?” Or I’ll name my mother. We’re so collaborative. I belief their opinions, as a result of they by no means wish to appear to be anybody else on the planet, and I don’t, both.
What was your first main trend splurge?
After I was in faculty, I purchased this Balenciaga jacket. That was once I began to purchase seasonally. I referred to as them “stunt items.” That’s how I began to buy, and that’s my technique to at the present time. That Balenciaga coat was like, I do know it’s actually costly. I don’t care. I want it. That is an funding.
What’s probably the most prized possession in your closet?
I’ve a leather-based jacket that belonged to my sister, Charisma, who died. It’s an oversize purple, black, and white leather-based jacket, and it has a large eight ball on the again.
Once you have been a young person, what was your model like?
I like coordinating colours. I like pink. I used to be actually into streetwear in highschool. If it wasn’t Rocawear or Child Phat, Apple Bottoms, Enyce, all of that, it needed to be a set with the identify on it. I began to dabble in make-up. I might typically match my eyelids with my shirt, and I simply had enjoyable. I might undergo phases, however it was at all times head-to-toe put collectively. I had a handbag; I accessorized. I truly dressed far more intensely than I do now. That was my Atlanta model.
What would you think about to be your most authentic high quality?
I inform the reality.
Miu Miu prime; Dwell the Course of shorts; Wempe necklace and bracelet; Gucci platform sandals.
Proenza Schouler gown; Cartier bracelet and ring; Giuseppe Zanotti sandals.
What’s the one query you’re uninterested in answering?
“How did you turn out to be so assured?” To me, that query is like, “Wait a minute, how are you so glad and going for it? You’re not apprehensive about folks judging you? You’re actually going to maneuver to New York?” It feels such as you’re saying it was so unimaginable to consider it taking place. I believe that query is loaded. One other one is, “How do you are feeling about being referred to as ‘plus’?” I don’t actually like answering that, however I proceed to reply it as a result of I do know we’re in a pioneering scenario; it’s new.
Take into consideration if you’re at your happiest: The place are you, and what are you doing in that state of affairs?
I’m laughing; different persons are laughing; it’s in a fantastic setting. That’s certainly one of our purest moments—after we’re in a full, lengthy stomach giggle. And I like music; I’m normally singing. I like the issues that be at liberty and releasing and joyous. Additionally, simply residing my manifestations: that second if you suppose, Wow, I keep in mind once I was praying for this. Taking that point to savor it like that and to odor these flowers, to look again at how far you’ve come. I like when it hits me, and I’m similar to, Thank god.
What do you suppose the way forward for trend appears to be like like?
We’re going to see extra pivotal adjustments within the trade, as a result of folks have a way of fireplace now. The style trade goes to should proceed to be accountable, and interactive with the patron. Persons are standing up for themselves and saying no to what’s abusive, suppressive, or oppressive, and issues that aren’t aligned with who we’re. Due to that, I don’t suppose that falling again into the identical patterns is feasible. It’s an entire new world, and those who’re going to thrive are those that are going to embrace that authentically, not performatively.
Hair by Nikki Nelms for Maui Moisture at Ice Studios; make-up by Marcelo Gutierrez for Pat McGrath Labs at Ice Studios; manicure by Eri Ishizu for Chanel Le Vernis at Opus Magnificence. Set design by Daniel Horowitz at Jones Administration. Photograph assistants: Alexander Cody Nguyen, Matt Yoscary; trend assistants: Julia McClatchy, Tori López; set assistant: Nick Kozmin; tailor: Lindsay Wright.