Liya Kebede

For fall 2016, Giorgio Armani tapped Liya Kebede, Liu Wen, Elisa Sednaoui, and Amanda Murphy for its campaign, dubbed "The New Normal." Shot on the Plage du Touquet by Peter Lindbergh, the campaign promotes global, muti-faceted women from different cultural and geographical backgrounds. Take Kebede, for example, who's from Ethiopia and runs a made-in-Africa clothing line and is a maternal health advocate when she's not modeling. Here, the multi-hyphenate talks diversity in fashion, Kanye West, and her summer beauty secrets.

Tell us a little bit about this campaign with Giorgio Armani.
I mean it was just incredible because a) it's Giorgio Armani and then Peter Lindbergh, and the group of girls as well that were cast was really great. The concept is really nice, "the New Normal." It's about embracing different women, all kinds of women, and kind of changing the definition of what normal means. There's no such thing as normal I think. We drove three hours outside Paris to Plage du Touquet. It's the beach, but it was raining and dark and cloudy, and we were all depressed, but actually, Peter loves it when it's like that. That’s his perfect light. We’re all bundled up in our blankets. We did [single] shots and then we did group shots and it was one of those magical Peter Lindbergh moments really.

So, you were, of course, the first black model to get an Estee Lauder contract and clearly with this campaign, fashion has come a long way since then. But do you feel like there is still work to do on that front? I definitely think there's still a lot of work on the front even though it’s been better lately. It's been really nice since the last year and a half or so or maybe two years, it’s been really nice and diversified. At least on runways, and even in campaigns I think and advertising. The advertising side I think is always a bit slower to get onboard, and so I'm hoping that that will change more, but it's changing for sure. I hope that it's something that becomes more normal as opposed to a phase. I hope it's not just a phase.

During fashion week, you modeled in Kanye West’s Yeezy show, which was interesting because Kanye gets a lot of flak for a lot of reasons - but certainly, his introduction to the fashion world was a little rocky. But also, it seems like he is really moving the diversity conversation forward. Would you agree with that?
Yeah. I think Kanye does Kanye wherever he goes, so even if he comes into fashion, he’s not coming to abide by the kind of rules that fashion has set. He comes in to be himself and do his thing, and as he does that, he sort of changes things around, and I think it's great. I definitely think he’s pushing lots of different things forward, but that’s kind of who he is and that’s what he brings to the table.

What was being in that fashion show like? I wouldn't really call it a fashion show. It was a show. It was a performance, so it's different. It's a different way of integrating fashion into his life.


Do you think that’s what the fashion world needs right now, a shaking up of the typical runway schedule?
You know, it's such a big question. It's a challenging time I think for everyone in fashion right now on how to go forward, and I feel like everybody’s trying to find a new way. I'm not sure that there is a one perfect answer for everyone or maybe there is and we haven’t found it, but I think change is never a bad thing, and it’s trying to find its own space. I do feel like fashion is in a place where it needs to do something. I think the fashion community, all of us, have to do something to change its course a little bit. I don’t know what that is necessarily, but I think definitely the shows are being challenged, so I don’t know if it's necessarily doing performances, but I think everybody has to think about what makes sense. At the same time, think about the fun and creative sides of all those things as well. The more and more efficient you try to become and more strategic you try to become, it takes away also a lot of the colors you know, and the craziness. It's part of what fashion needs as well, so it's a very delicate balance, and it's not an easy one.

Switching gears a little bit, tell us about your Lemlem pop-up at Gurney’s Montauk this summer. What brought that about? Well, you know Lemlem is very much a beach line. It's a beach to city line, and so we are very much obsessed with everywhere that is beach, and the Hamptons for us is a really great destination. It was a nice opportunity to do a little pop-up and see how we do and what it means and how the clients react. It's always a nice way to test a little bit of water - if we had a retail store how it would feel?

How often are you traveling back to Ethiopia to work on that line?
We work with one sort of atelier where all of the weavers are Ethiopians, we’ve been working with since the beginning. We have a great relationship, so I usually go there and see the weavers and talk with everybody and all of that. We’ve also extended our collection now to include "made in Kenya" and other different African countries, and so the last time we went to Ethiopia, we also hopped over to Kenya and visited the new factory there. We’re kind of developing different things as we go.

That probably has its challenges, working with multiple countries as opposed to keeping it in just one place.
It definitely has challenges, but at the same time, the idea is to really have a "made in Africa brand," and I wanted to be able to reach out to all the other places that have amazing artisans or a great setup where we can make things. It's a challenge, but it's also part of our story, so we’re okay with that.

What are your travel essentials?
I usually have a really great moisturizer, and I use all the L’Oréal products, obviously, so I have a good day cream I use every day. I always have my mascara and eye liner and lipstick. The things I always have just in case.

What do you do to stay healthy when you're constantly on-the-go?
It's a challenge. I'm not sure I'm very good at this. I'm trying to be better. I'm trying to incorporate more yoga into my life and more meditation in my life, so that’s the goal. I'm trying to get into juices more. That’s my new thing.

Lastly, what is your skincare secret?
I don’t really do a lot. I tend to leave it alone also because our skin gets worked a lot, and I feel like it needs a lot of break to just breathe, so a lot of it has to do with just leaving it alone and letting it breathe and not touching it so much.

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