Fashion polymath Leaf Greener is the next creative to be highlighted as part of the Jing Daily community of individuals who have helped to build China’s booming luxury industry. This section profiles industry leaders who are contributing to the national and global fashion communities, from consumers and behind-the-scenes employees to business executives and influencers.
Leaf Greener is highly sought after by international luxury brands. As an editor, stylist, and writer, Greener is often seen as a KOL or influencer, but her unique, self-made role embodies much more than that. With her loud-yet-impeccable style and beautiful elfin looks, Greener was one of the first Chinese creatives to recognize the potential for exporting Chinese style abroad, and she’s been a regular at global luxury shows and events since the early 2010s.
She was “influencing” the fashion world before the activity was even a term in China, acting as a style exponent for luxury brands wanting to amplify their reach in the mainland. As one of the first to tap into this lucrative market, Greener has stood out as a sharp and entrepreneurial fashion leader, earning herself a spot on fashion’s most coveted list: the BoF 500. Now she consults, edits, writes, and serves as a bridge between China and West.
Greener initially enrolled as an art student, eventually moving into fashion after deciding she wanted to become a designer. But once she learned the visual aesthetics of styling and how garments are put together, she became interested in a different career: fashion editor. Soon she was styling photoshoots and runway shows, discovering fresh talents, and interviewing renowned designers, most notably for Elle Magazine from 2008 to 2014 and then at various Condé Nast publications. By the time she had relocated from Beijing to Shanghai (her current home), her star had fully ascended.
At that time, her move happened to align with a fashion shift in China — spurred on by a large youth demographic — and the country’s growing awareness of fashion as an important cultural agent. As China began to evolve, retailers and consumers alike started buying local brands, and savvy, young graduates set up independent brands as a way to overhaul the “made-in-China” image. Greener was well-positioned during this exciting explosion and soon became a vital ally for this burgeoning fashion market. Her editorial clout helped spread the word about up-and-coming local brands across China, and as a fixture on the international fashion week circuit, she was able to promote these brands to the rest of the world, too.
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She now confidentially consults for several brands while continuing to style and write for her niche WeChat magazine, Leaf. A new publication that she collaborated on with artist Edwin Antonio comes out this year, but many of her other projects have been disrupted by the spreading virus. As fashion week drew to a close, Jing Daily spoke to Greener on the phone from Paris, where she’s been grounded since January.
Greener traveled to Europe for the men’s Fall/Winter shows and found herself stuck there during COVID-19’s rapid spread to the continent. Helplessly watching events unfold in China has taken its toll on Greener, and her emotional tone was evident on the call. But her admiration for the efforts of Chinese citizens, powered by the government, is carrying her through this challenging time until she can return to her home in Shanghai.
How would you define your role in fashion?
After working for years as an editor at Elle, I decided that freelance [work] suits me better. I don’t like only being an influencer because I don’t know if that’s the right way to describe my job. But I’m doing a lot of things similar to an editor right now: I’m still writing for magazines, producing articles for Yoho and Vogue Italia, and consulting brands. I’m still styling for fashion brands, but I’m also doing a lot of social media work as an influencer for brands outside of China. This year, I want to focus on building up my consulting work as well as writing.
After the devastating outbreak of the coronavirus, did you see a direct impact at this season’s fashion weeks?
The majority of Chinese guests simply didn’t come, including the media, celebrities, and PR teams that couldn’t travel to the four cities. I was lucky, as I came before the outbreak happened — I had already booked my flight last year.
Before Paris Fashion Week, I went to Milan for two days and left after the Marni show on the 21st. When I came back [to Paris], there was another surprise: the outbreak in Italy. Right now, [Italy] is like China, and I feel very depressed about this situation. I always keep talking to the people in Shanghai and Beijing, my friends in fashion, asking if they need any help.
I’ve been sending messages to people in Italy to stay strong and be safe, too, but this is a crisis, and we cannot stop it. We have to keep the faith, however. No one should be posting bad, chaotic, or negative messages at this time. This is not the time to be racist or joke around — I’ve been tackling people who are doing this online.
Where were you when you heard about the virus outbreak, and how did you feel?
I was at a Prada event, and my friend from Shanghai sent me the news. The Chinese government and the citizens have been very strong in controlling the situation. They are very positive, too. In Shanghai, there were around 355 cases, but to date 324 have been cured. That means only about 20 cases haven’t been cured yet, which is a high percentage of success. I really love my country and admire it, but this is very difficult for everyone in Korea, Japan, and elsewhere, all suffering.
What do you think of brands’ actions during this time?
At this time, we really need to do something to help society in general. I saw some fashion brands have been donating, mostly French ones, and I’m grateful to them for helping and hope they can do more. If a brand could make masks, that would help a lot. Gloves, medical suits, and clothing are all things fashion businesses should be producing, and I wish one would do it well. Mira Mikati is opening her first flagship store in London this month, and I said to her: ‘Why don’t you make some [masks] for your pop-up?’ These kinds of things help people feel better and should be the focus now.
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How will this outbreak change fashion in China?
Taobao’s platform went to the next level during the SARS outbreak in 2003, so technology in China always moves forward. Until things get back to normal, all we can do is depend on digital platforms: e-commerce and social media. If we had a strong VR system, it would be so helpful for people stuck inside. Imagine doing a show or designing a garment with a VR system? People would feel more involved. But VR isn’t there yet, and not every company has the capability to do this. I think this situation will lead to more developments in technology, and this will be even more of a focus in China in the future.
When do you think people will be back to doing normal things like shopping?
Everything will be back to normal soon, but we need to wait a bit. Maybe it will be okay by the end of April. Right now, it’s being controlled, and we don’t have many new cases, but we still have to be wary and protect each other. In the meantime, people are already back to work in the big cities, and the stores will start reopening.
I’m still a traditional shopper. I love the retail environment with its nice atmosphere and service. When you’re in the store, you feel different. It’s the physical act of shopping for clothes. You also get a better fit when you shop in person. Each brand has its own personality, which I think is missing online. If an online store has VR, I will go for it, but I still love to shop in-store for now.
Are you excited about Shanghai Fashion Week’s new direction this season?
I think it’s a genius idea to use online and allow people around the world to be involved and see Chinese fashion, so I’m really excited to see exactly what they’ll do. I think it will be about online presentations, and it will be very fast and easy to direct [customers] to a sales team. I don’t know the exact plans yet, but there will be chances to talk about the shows, which, I’m guessing, will go viral. We all have cellphones, after all.
And finally, what are your favorite fashion or luxury brands right now?
I liked a lot of brands from the LVMH Prize. I was one of the experts this year because I joined the LVMH family. I saw the 20 brands on the shortlist and chose the ones I liked — which is confidential, haha! — but it was tough choosing eight. I really liked the overall selection this year; it was wide with a lot coming from CSM [Central Saint Martins]. I loved Samuel Gui Yang [from China], and I also liked Commission from NYC, which has three designers, two from Vietnam and one from Korea. They had a really cool collection. I support new talent, as always. They are the future.