I met Freddie Leiba in the ’80s when he was Creative Director of Harper’s Bazaar. I recently spent over an hour on the phone with him. Freddie’s discerning eye, innate good taste, and his appreciation for all things that have lasting value have helped make him one of the leading stylists working in fashion today.
Among the legendary photographers Freddie has collaborated with are Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Horst, Francesco Scavullo, Albert Watson, Matthew Rolston, Rico Puhlmann, Patrick Demarchelier and Victor Skrebneski.
Born in Trinidad, Leiba studied design at the Royal College of Art in London in the ’60s. In the 70’s he came to New York and established himself as a fashion visionary when he was part of the team that launched Andy Warhol’s groundbreaking Interview Magazine.
Freddie has styled French Vogue and Italian Vogue’s covers and editorials. He was a contributing Fashion Director at InStyle Magazine for many years. He has dressed countless models, actors, and star musicians for glossy covers around the world and worked with some of the biggest companies on their advertising campaigns.
The necessary foundations of an individual’s wardrobe have long served as inspiration for this super stylist. In the ’80s, when Anna Wintour was at New York Magazine, she gave six freelance fashion stylists the same white Calvin Klein pantsuit and asked them to do something special with it. Among the stylists were Tonne Goodman, Wendy Goodman, Kezia Keeble, Paul Cavaco, and Freddie Leiba. When his picture was chosen as the lead in the portfolio, it put him on the fashion map.
Tony Mazzola, the then editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, asked Freddie to style a freelance fashion layout for the magazine. The model was Carrie Otis and the photographer was Matthew Rolston. The shoot was to be done in the desert. Freddie asked the editors to bring in the best white shirts in the market. One of his pictures made the cover.
Freddie believes that it all comes down to uniform dressing where each piece is extraordinary and indispensable. Freddie has designed the uniforms for Ian Schrager hotels around the world, beginning in the 1970s. His own “uniform” consists of custom made suits, wingtips, and Levi’s, accented with embroidered vests, colorful button-down shirts, ties, and pocket squares. He bought his suits from Romeo Gigli and Yves Saint Laurent exclusively. Yves and Romeo were both friends.
Nowadays, Freddie has his Savile Row suits made in London. He doesn’t mind spending money on something beautiful that has value, but he bristles at the thought of wearing anything boastful that has a visible label on it. For that reason, Freddie would never carry a Louis Vuitton bag or wear a jacket with Gucci written on it.
Freddie observes that fashion today is like musical chairs. There is no consistency. “When Tom Ford designed YSL, it looked like what YSL would have approved.” He admires Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs because they stick to who they are and always do something interesting and exciting. Dries Van Noten’s collaboration with Lacroix for spring 2019, is among his favorite collections.
Designers from the past who Freddie singled out are Yves Saint Laurent, Claude Montana, Rifat Ozbek, and Romeo Gigli, whose clothes were “magical and romantic.” As for fashion magazines, “Sadly they are disappearing,” he observed. The only one he thinks is interesting now is British Vogue. “I used to like French and Italian Vogue, but that has changed. Edward Enninful is shaking things up.”
In addition to working for Ian Schrager, these days, Freddie, is a contributor to the luxury, fashion, and philanthropy magazine, Genlux. He styles Renee Fleming for her concerts and does talks for fashion schools and museums. Two publishers had expressed interest in him doing a book of his impressive body of work.
He envisions it as a big coffee table book, unpretentious and straightforward, with tear sheets, like those pulled out from magazines. He is currently going through about 10,000 of the pictures he stored in his art-filled apartment. The treasure trove includes iconic images of many top supermodels and scores of celebrities.
One of Freddie’s favorites is a photograph of his friend Paloma Picasso, which he styled for Harper’s Bazaar in the ’80s. The photographer was Bob Frame. Paloma is in her apartment in New York wearing a red dress from the first collection Gianfranco Ferre designed for Dior. You can clearly see the Picasso painting hanging on the wall.
For more information about Freddie go to freddieleiba.com.