Semaine heads East this week, to Shanghai to be precise, with fresh-faced stylist, fashion reporter and editor Leaf Greener. After having studied fine art and fashion design and being a coveted stylist and an editor at Elle China, for over seven years overseeing it's meteoric rise, Leaf certainly knows what’s what. In 2015, following her time at Elle China, Leaf decided to start doing things her own way by introducing the online magazine LEAF on China’s biggest social media mobile platform WeChat.
Two years later, she has become one of China’s most influential fashion personalities and has made a concrete business centred on quality rather quantity with the goal of educating her country’s understanding of the global fashion industry. Presented with the critical position of acting as a bridge between Chinese and Western culture, Leaf is taking up the opportunity with morality, gumption and determination.
Leaf is upbeat, welcoming and takes the time to leave no subject untouched. Leaf isn’t just this week’s tastemaker, but she is also a change maker. Building bridges and tearing down walls is exactly how she plans to leave her mark. With L-iberty, E-nthusiasm, A-esthetic, and F-antasty, (the acronym LEAF), this arbiter of style is well on her way to building her own empire through the only way she knows how: her own.
Semaine: Fashion wasn't your first passion, studying fine art in Beijing you then transitioned to study fashion design at Raffles in Shanghai. How did this come about?
Leaf: It wasn’t about making change, when I was young I wanted to become a fashion designer so my Dad said you have to study art first. So, then I studied fine art, which meant I was ready to start fashion design. For the examination, you must know how to draw at least so that’s why I studied fine art first. It was a natural process.
Semaine: Raffles Design institute, Shanghai, is one of the most prestigious and top ranking Universities in China. What was it like to be a fashion student there and what challenges did you face?
Leaf: For me, it was a challenge because we were all studying in English. I didn’t finish high school so I went to study when I was 17 years old. Everything was in English which was difficult. Although my English was pretty good, it was still really tough, and when you study fashion design you know you have to learn how to be a professional tailor, professional draper and pattern cutter. I found the technical things really hard but I tried to manage it as best as I could.
Semaine: After graduating you began styling and editorial work, was there a reason you didn’t choose to continue with design or even start your own brand?
Leaf: I felt like I couldn’t become a professional designer. If I was to start my own brand I felt like I needed a partnership, another person who could deal with the production programs then maybe but at that time I couldn’t find a partner to do that. It was a very casual the way I started styling, I had a friend who was doing a shoot for a magazine and asked me to come over as a stylist. At the beginning, it was very experimental starting as a stylist, and at the same time I was writing a lot of articles about fashion.
Semaine: During your time and under your influence at Elle China, the magazine quickly became one of the most popular and leading fashion magazines in China, after almost seven years there, why did you decide to leave and go it alone?
Leaf: Elle China was changing a lot. The content was going in a direction I didn’t want to go down. For me as a print editor I feel we should always provide deep content, exclusives, stories and have a very strong voice. Elle China changed a lot and I decided to quit because it became a semi-monthly magazine and the content wasn’t what I wanted to be, it was too fast. As editors, we had to do everything and we couldn’t do anything in depth or that would stand out anymore. I asked myself why I was doing this so I decided to quit because I wanted to do my own thing.
Semaine: You’ve been featured in all the most popular street style blogs from Tommy Ton to Garance Doré, what does style mean to you?
Leaf: I think style always comes from your background, your experience, what you see, what you study and how you think. True style or the most classic and unique style from people is always smart. I don’t believe that the person is unique but then you talk to them and they are a total idiot. It’s reflection. Everything is just reflection from your thoughts, it is all about personality and life experience.
Semaine: Do you think the fashion industry in China is reluctant or strongly influenced by the west?
Leaf: I think the influence is everywhere. The information right now for a cosmopolitan city like Shanghai or Beijing is very fast. Information from the internet, social media and all the digital platforms means people can get knowledge so quickly. Regarding influence, it is everywhere. It could be from Paris, New York, Brazil or our own country. I won’t say only one city or one country influences us but Chinese people have their own identity and mentality because we have such a rich cultural history, so we always have to relate it to our own identity. That’s how I feel about Chinese women and how they wear their clothes. It can’t be about our figure or colour tone because that is different from Western people. We can’t exactly copy a French woman and how they wear their clothes.
Semaine: What’s your favourite thing about working in fashion, what keeps you motivated to keep doing what you do?
Leaf: Beauty, creativity and possibility.
Semaine: You launched LEAF magazine in 2015. What was the triggering factor behind it and why did you decide to create an online magazine that exists solely on WeChat?
Leaf: I feel like in China, the WeChat social media app is very popular and very strong but I don’t see anyone achieving a reach and qualified content through the digital platform. Personally, I don’t really like digital because I am a really old fashioned person, I’m still writing down everything with my notebooks, each year I have one and I keep them. Digital for me is a bridge because it is easy to let outside people see it. Print is hard to transfer. I want to at least change something through digital. I believe one day people are going to get bored of seeing all this bullshit content because there is nothing you can learn from them or get inspired by.
Semaine: What does Leaf Stand for?
Leaf: L is for Liberty, E is for Enthusiasm, A is for Aesthetic and F is for Fantasy. So, it doesn’t mean Leaf or me! It’s not a selfie magazine, it’s not all about me!
Semaine: Who does it speak to?
Leaf: It is for intellectual people who want to learn something who have strong visions about what they see. It’s not only regarding fashion or selling and buying. It should be more than that. It has ethic and philosophy behind it. LEAF is more of a creative class kind of thing. It could be architecture or about a film director, it not only all about fashion brands or the fashion industry.
It's a niche magazine, we are an independent magazine. I know it’s stupid using a digital platform to do this because people only want to see the number but I don’t care I don’t think it matters if its digital or print I want to focus on the content. Digital should not have to care about numbers.
Semaine: As one of the biggest fashion Chinese influencers today, what do you feel your role is in the Chinese fashion industry?
Leaf: I want to be the bridge. I don’t want to be the great wall! I don’t want to put a wall between Chinese culture and Western culture or the Global culture because actually China put a wall there, not just from the Great Wall Century, it’s also still there right now. We have a firewall, we don’t really use the internet, we use China Net for example because everything else we have been blocked from by the Chinese Government.
It’s really bad. It’s same thing that Donald Trump is trying to do. It’s not good for the education of Chinese readers and consumers. They have very limited access to understand the world. For example, the people in China can do whatever they want, but the Chinese consumer has no idea. The people that provide the content just copy from others and the consumers in China cannot tell because they don’t have the assets which is bad for original creativity.
Semaine: How would you like to see the fashion industry in China market grow into the future and what do you think the biggest challenges are that it is facing?
Leaf: The Chinese government needs to be more open minded and they should support the young talents and creativity, entrepreneurs who want to start their own business. We have big problems with intellectual property rights. People don’t have to be creative anymore because we just do copy, copy, copy! It’s easy for them, why use your brain to make money they just use their ass!
Semaine: What Chinese brands do you think are doing well at showcasing the creativity that can be found in China?
Leaf: I think Huishan Zhang, who’s based in London, he’s doing very well. I think as a Chinese designer his business is a real business. It is not only just a brand anymore or a piece of clothing, it is branding which I think is marvellous.
Semaine: As a fashion influencer, how do you ensure you keep your integrity among a sea of disingenuous partnerships we constantly see on social media?
Leaf: I have a favourite quote from Jean-Michel Basquiat on influence. He says, 'If you wanna talk about influence, then you've got to realise that influence is not influence. It's simply someone's idea going through my mind.' We need to put a line there. For example, what is bad influence and good influence in fashion? I feel that the fashion industry nowadays has no boundaries anymore. Luxury has become like a fast food business.
I think magazines are the same thing, it's advertising. You have to put a total look from this brand on the cover, no discussion, it doesn’t matter how ugly the brand is because they pay the bill. It’s the same thing for bloggers to put a post from a brand. I feel like after all it’s all about control and quality. If I believe in a brand, then I will work with it, so I post the total look and they pay me making it a win-win relationship. It’s all about the quality. I don’t like the idea of feeding the readers and consumers in a dishonest way.
Each brand should have an opportunity. As a great stylist, I think you can turn garbage to gold. I cannot stand bad content and hideous styling when the brand doesn’t care, the content creator doesn’t care either, they just want to make money. Everybody needs to wear clothes, we can’t all walk around naked so I feel like we should put more morality into our work, in what we do, I think as a person who works in media, it doesn’t matter if you are a print editor or doing social media, we are all [in] media and we all have responsibilities that especially now we have to take into consideration more than ever.
Semaine: What’s next for Leaf Greener?
Leaf: I want to publish in print but more like a coffee table rather than a magazine. A book-zine type of thing, once a year. I always wanted to do a book I just need to wait for the right moment and then I will do it.
I want to do a really different print. I hate those independent magazines that call themselves independent. Same photographer, same model, and then they say its independent but why do I have to see the same thing in so many magazines. It’s like a uniform. It’s boring and why I don’t read many fashion magazines anymore. I want to change this.
by Joanna Reid for Semaine.