The Man Repeller founder and all-round Wunderkind on building her publication, her expectant style, and the long road to motherhood
It’s early afternoon on a late December New York day and we’re sitting in the winter sun in front of the floor to ceiling windows of Leandra Medine-Cohen’s downtown apartment. Six months pregnant (with twin girls) she carefully considers a rail of maternity-friendly garments before selecting a cream silk Valentino dress and taking it to her bedroom (or more importantly, her closet). Shortly afterwards she re-appears having styled it with sheer black tights, embellished courts and pearl earrings, her hair is tied together with a black ribbon. While you’d rightly expect this particular combination to be overly feminine, Leandra has just demonstrated her innate and revered ability to make a ‘look’ the rest of us would agonise over, seem effortless and germane. It’s a process repeated with a Vivetta floral dress, (paired with socks and two-tone wedge loafers), and finally an Emilia Wickstead georgette dress.
‘Style icon’ might be a much over-used epithet, but it’s one that suits Leandra down to the ground with her inimitable ability to coordinate an outfit that puts a lightbulb over your head and makes you rethink the most basic of pieces. Whether it’s a button-down shirt worn back-to-front or a sweater knotted over one shoulder, there is always an element of surprise.
“I have always been interested in fashion – the way in which you can use it to slip into and out of identities is so empowering. It allows you to be whoever you want to be without having to explain yourself,” she says when we speak a few weeks after the shoot. It was this line of thinking that led to her site Man Repeller, which she launched in 2010 as a style blog. “I came up with the name while with a friend of mine at Topshop to define the state of my love life, but it provided a wonderful sense of liberation in my opinion, it made me feel like I was single because I chose to be, because I preferred good clothes to men”. Leandra’s joyful defiance in dressing exactly how she pleases, regardless of the male gaze, immediately caught the media’s (namely Refinery29 and The New York Times’) attention. ‘Man Repelling’ was now a cultural phenomenon.
I have always been interested in fashion – the way in which you can use it to slip into and out of identities is so empowering. It allows you to be whoever you want to be without having to explain yourself
Over the past seven years the scope of Man Repeller has shifted beyond style. The site has evolved into a multi-faceted media platform, focusing on topics as wide-ranging as menopause, the best laughs in pop songs, and immigration in America. “The term now is far more all-encompassing and much less literal than simply trends women love and men hate. Man Repeller is an attitude, a lifestyle, it explores the expansive constellation of things women care about from a place of openness and humour, with the conviction that an interest in fashion doesn’t minimise one’s intellect,” Leandra explains.
Man Repeller may have evolved to boast a full-time team and 1.9 million followers on Instagram but the candid, self-reflective approach that first characterised the site hasn’t changed. Scroll through the comments on each story and you’ll immediately see how passionate the community of readers are. It’s a platform for lively, respectful debate. When I ask Leandra why she thinks it has developed such a devoted audience she replies, “Because we are a group of loyal, honest, respectful writers who are willing to share our stories and to be seen for all our quirks and vulnerabilities. Also, we really care about them, and I think it shows.”
The willingness to publicly explore deeply personal subjects extends to Leandra’s journey to conceiving. In a number of articles, searing in their raw emotion and honesty, she detailed her struggles to fall pregnant and the heartbreak she felt after a miscarriage. What prompted her to tell her story? “To be honest, I don’t know how not to share” she says.
Miscarriage and infertility are subjects that most women have encountered, whether they have been through a similar situation themselves or know a family member, a friend who has. Yet despite it being such a common experience, they are subjects still shrouded in secrecy and grief, rarely talked of openly. Yet Leandra did talk about it. There was a cathartic energy to her writing, as if by putting her powerful emotions into words she was able to make sense of them. Having laid bare her most intimate feelings, does she ever regret being so open? “There were times that I shared before I was ready but I regret nothing about what I have shared”.
When she fell pregnant again, this time with twin girls, she says she didn’t accept that she was expecting until the 12 week-scan, a pivotal point for her, as it was at this point in her first pregnancy that she found out she would lose her baby. “When I got the green light that everything was okay there, I was relieved, ecstatic, slightly scared; it was the most complete I have ever felt.” She has appreciated the ups and downs of expecting. “Possibly because I struggled so much to get here, I have really enjoyed the vicissitudes of each phase. I am grateful all the time, and eager, though I must admit that towards the end, which is where I am now, I am becoming increasingly nervous. Will I be a good mother? What will I have to sacrifice? I know myself to be selfish, will I be able to push past this? Does asking these questions answer my first question?”
She has also been hesitant about how to show her joy about her pregnancy publicly, due to a feeling of betraying those still struggling with infertility. “I do still feel that way, which is why I don’t share many photos or talk too much about it. I feel very helpless around those still on their respective journeys because I don’t know what to do to make them feel better. What made me better was actually getting pregnant – getting what I wanted, and I so know what it’s like to live inside the dark hole of longing for something you believe is a basic female right, so the best I can do is empathise, but I don’t know if that’s enough.”
Yet she is underestimating how much she has already helped. By shining a light onto miscarriage and infertility, she is courageously dragging these typically private subjects from the darkness. There needs to be space in the public discourse for women going through these situations, a knowledge that it is ok to talk about it, they are not alone – the pain and heartbreak can be shared. It is a grief that doesn’t have to be experienced behind closed doors. Leandra may have been reluctant to share her joy in expecting, but her story of moving forward also represents hope, that it is possible to look to the future positively. When asked what she is most looking forward to about becoming a mother to her twin girls she says, “Teaching them self-respect and confidence and what it means to be kind, how it feels to be strong, what love is like.”
In Her Words
Nine long months or nine joyous months?
Hide the bump or show off the bump?
Do whatever your style tells you to do.
What can’t you live without when expecting?
Your advice for other pregnant women?
Your body is a conduit for healthy new life, go easy on it and yourself.
What has surprised you most about pregnancy?
How little my body image has been impacted. I am a very healthy eater and exercise pretty regularly, yes because I care about my health, but mostly because I care about how I look in clothes. I thought pregnancy would be much more difficult for me from a self-esteem perspective, but truly I see my current body as a vessel of femininity, I am more like a woman than I ever have been and that makes me feel beautiful.
What have you missed most during pregnancy?
Tequila and high waist jeans.
So. Much. Dairy.
Your pregnancy uniform?
I’m a fairly casual person to start, so it’s been a nice excuse to wear leggings (I found a fantastic cropped pair by The Row at about four months and have worn those at least four times a week since) and striped shirts on a near daily basis. I also very frequently talk about how much it must be to have a capsule wardrobe and now really know, because of the pregnancy, what that would be like!
Boy, girl or waiting to find out?
If your partner could carry the baby would you let him?
No! He would do a great job, but this experience belongs to me!
Words by Hannah Finnigan-Walsh and Amanda Woodward-Brown
Photography by Arales Reartes