American model Precious Lee is one of the foremost minds and faces the fashion industry is proud to call its own. Her rise to fame is now.
Blossoming in the cradle of her tight-knit family and through the cultural dynamics of her Atlanta, Georgia, upbringing, Precious Lee is a model of wellness – body and soul. “I was a confident child; I always felt I could do anything,” recalls Lee of her earliest years. Raised by her educator and former model mother and entrepreneur and cosmetologist father, she remembers being, “The little girl excited to learn a complicated word like ‘perseverance’ and spelling it aloud, proving to myself that I could use it in casual conversation at age six,” she says. “I felt secure in my voice and what I believed in.” Her gumption propelled her family to give her the moniker “Miss Lee.” Far from being an elitist, it is her empathy that shines. “I loved helping people around me and would always defend kids from bullies. I could never watch anyone in pain or have their feelings hurt,” she says.
Lee’s compassion stems from amour-propre. It oozes from her and into the world of higher expression. Fascinated by abstract art, history, and literature, Lee has penned multiple journals, her early ones capturing the sincerity of her vision, the depth of her imagination, and her enthusiasm for her future exploits. Along with writing, she conveys her thoughts and feelings through clothing, music, and dance. If her parents were her earliest cheerleaders, she now also has Versace, Miu Miu, and Marc Jacobs; photographers Steven Meisel, Mario Sorrenti, Luigi & Iango, Cass Bird, and Juergen Teller; and a large Instagram audience supporting her. Her Vogue Italia cover debut (for its September 2020 issue) was swiftly followed by British Vogue (April 2021), Vogue Brasil (June/July 2021), and now Vogue Arabia. In a candid interview with Arab curve model Ameni Esseibi, Lee opens up about her queen-sized spirit.
Ameni Esseibi: Can you talk about your childhood? Describe how you were as a little girl.
Precious Lee: I grew up in Atlanta raised by my mother, an educator and former model, and my father, an entrepreneur and cosmetologist. I was a very confident child. I was the little girl that was excited to learn a “complicated word” like perseverance and would spell it aloud and prove to myself I could use it in casual conversation at age six. I felt secure in my voice and what I believed in. My family often called me “Miss Lee” because I was so intelligent and ahead of my years. I always loved helping people around me, was a natural leader in school, always voted to speak on behalf of the school or club I was in; a young orator at heart. I would always defend kids from bullies. I could never watch anyone in pain or have their feelings hurt so I would always interject if I saw someone being mistreated.
I loved dressing myself and doing my own hair. I expressed so much of myself through my clothing, hair, music, dance, and writing. I loved abstract art early and took a strong interest in history and literature. My mom still has some of my childhood journals and I was serious about my vision. I had a huge imagination and was always excited for the future. I played the flute/piccolo, was on the dance team, competed in cheerleading, was crowned Homecoming Queen, voted Best-Dressed and Best Hair, played volleyball and tennis, and participated in the Thespian Club and Student Government. I wanted to explore all of my interests and I’m grateful my parents supported me, especially my mom, who was my chauffeur and manager at every single performance or event! I always felt like I could do anything. I would make them sit and watch me perform concerts on a regular basis in our living room. I would have an entire look, lighting, and playlist for my performances and even a self-choreographed dance routine. Wow, bless them for sitting through them all! I was obsessed with music and dance. I would print out the lyrics to my favorite songs to learn them perfectly to sing. I would recite my poems and scenes from my favorite movies. I was hilarious!
AE: Who did you look up to as a young girl?
PL: My mother; I love her endlessly. She is a resilient, proud African American woman and total glamour girl. She’s brilliant and can talk toanyone. She’s gracious, always. I loved learning from her at a young age how I could be an intellectual and also express myself through fashion and beauty. Oftentimes, as a little girl, it was presented as you’re either interested in school or you’re interested in your wardrobe. I was both. I learned from her how to be a free thinker. She taught me to never dim my light, be kind to everyone, and always use my inner guidance. My mom has supported me through every phase of my life and I’m so grateful for her giving all the attention and time she did with me.
AE: You’ve mentioned that you wanted to be a lawyer growing up. Any other dreams?
PL: I wanted to have a career in helping amplify marginalized voices. I learned in eighth grade Georgia history class that I wanted to be an attorney after being selected to represent Native Americans against [19th century US President] Andrew Jackson in a mock trial. I was so committed to proving how wrong the president was that I knew, that was it. I had to speak up for others who were silenced and oppressed. It made sense because I never liked the idea of bullies. For the trial, I asked my mom to buy me a Calvin Klein suit – a navy and black wool blazer with matching corduroy riding pants and a cognac riding boot with a tiny heel. I carried a SpongeBob SquarePants briefcase and had pink faux eyeglasses. It was so monumental for me and I remember it so vividly because that experience truly did shape my mentality on advocacy. It was so natural to do, and at the same time it felt important. I also wanted to be an actor and I would put on full-blown productions at home and use quotes from my favorite movies daily. It got to a point where I would stay in my favorite character for days, even weeks. I look back and laugh at how incredibly animated and expressive I was growing up. It was amazing how I was able to dream expansively.
AE: You’ve said your mother is the most glamorous person you know. What defines glamorous to you?PL: Glamour, to me, has a lot to do with your mentality. To be glamorous is to value what beauty is to you and committing to that no matter the circumstances.
AE: Your father is a cosmetologist. What did he teach you about outward beauty?
PL: Individuality is the key to flair.
AE: How and where were you discovered?
PL: I was accompanying a friend for support to an open call. We met while participating in the Homecoming fashion show at school. We would talk about our favorite photographers, models, designers, publications, seasons, and trends. It was so fun doing the show for school but I never considered it as a career at the time. I always associated the industry with really thin women and flat chests. I was definitely not flat-chested or thin, however, my friend had their sights set on getting signed to an agency. I believed they could do it and I’m an all-or-nothing friend so I was fully supportive.
I took their digitals, picked a time to go to the top agency in our city, and it was straight out of a TV show. So many people were in the hallway waiting for a chance to be discovered. There were so many people with one agent standing in front with no desire for small talk. I remember her explaining the industry and how she described New York as “the Olympics of fashion.” She had strict rules and informed us to leave immediately if she saw you and said thank you. We sat there as she said “thank you” more than 50 times. She was hilarious and fabulous to me but intimidating to most of the people in the room. I ended up being the only person offered a contract that day. I’ll never forget the feeling because I was late for my next class and constantly looking at my phone to try to make it on time. My friend was so supportive with me, staying to talk to the agents and waiting outside. It was wild and meant to be.
AE: Who are your heroes in fashion and why?
PL: My heroes are the people who don’t compromise their values to be successful. People who stand firm in the storm; the indomitable women who are brave. Women of color creating more space unapologetically.
AE: How has your relationship with yourself evolved over time?
PL: My personal evolution is incredibly sacred to me. I am honored to live a life in which I can explore so many dreams. I’ve always considered the bigger picture and mission to be the focal point when achieving my goals, but I’ve learned to use checkpoints along the way. It’s the truest sense of self-love, showing self-compassion during the journey and not only when the mission is accomplished. By simply doing that I’ve opened up more space for myself to grow and expand. I’ve connected to the essence of myself exponentially since tuning into what it means to have unconditional self-love. It’s radical and necessary.
AE: What are your summer plans?
PL: I’m looking forward to spending more time on the beach, spa days, writing, and outdoor workouts. I think we all get more physically active in the summer but now it’s really about being outside more and experiencing nature. I love being at home but I’m grateful I get to spend more time traveling and getting back in tune with nature post-quarantine.
Originally published in the July/August 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Patrick Mackie
Fashion director: Katie Trotter
Hair: Lacy Redway
Makeup: Raisa Flowers for Pat McGrath
Nails: Dawn Sterling at Statement Artists
Producer: Heather Robbins at CLM
Creative producer: Laura Prior
Junior fashion editor: Mohammad Hazem Rezq
Digital tech: Evgeny Popov
Tailor: Anna Oukolova
Set design: Jacob Burstein at MHS Artists
Photography assistants: Kyrre Kristoffersen, Nick Grennon
Fashion assistant: Vivian McHugh
Production assistant: Olya Kudacki
Set assistant: Josefine Cardoni