Editor's Note: I've known Leila since high school, but the "true Leila" that you'll read about in this profile is the Leila I got to know while living in New York. Not only does this girl have the most incredible work ethic I have ever seen (the number of times she has worked for free is a testament to this), but she is also one of the coolest chicks around with a heart of gold. In a cutthroat, "every (wo)man for yourself industry", Leila is without fail kind to everyone she comes into contact with. Bravo, Leila, for your incredible success. May you continue to shine!
Leila Baboi always had a passion for art.
The walls in her high school bedroom were plastered with ripped out pages from Vogue magazine, flanked by images of Tom Ford, Diane Von Furstenberg and Mario Testino. She was drawn in by not only the elements of fashion, but the photography, the graphic elements, the typography, the colors. She loved the world that was being created by the collaboration of these images.
“When I was a teenager I used to always say, ‘I want to be a creative director’. But honestly, I wasn’t really sure what that meant.”
To figure it out, she started early. Her first internship was in high school at a local entertainment magazine. Then, she was admitted to USC as a Communications and Art major, knowing that the only way to figure out this elusive industry was to intern at as many different types of entertainment and media companies as she could.
“I started working at a talent agency who shared office space with a photo and production agency called Visages. They had these amazing photos everywhere taken by the masters, the most provocative images from the likes of Herb Ritts and Mary Ellen Mark. They represented the top photographers, stylists and glamour teams, so I took every opportunity I could to pick my neighbor’s brains so I could start to understand what this industry was really all about. ”
Leila kept her momentum, juggling school, internships and a semester abroad in Italy. While she was in Italy, Leila found out that Women’s Wear Daily had an office in LA. This left her completely inspired, not only could she break into one of the top publications in fashion, but she could also do it from the West Coast.
“Women’s Wear Daily is the fashion bible. It’s basically like the Wall Street Journal of fashion.”
She went for it, vigilantly emailing the west coast bureau chief and finally landing an interview which secured her a “dream internship” at WWD.
“I often worked seven days a week in addition to waitressing at a local café, but it was the best thing in the world.”
Towards the end of her internship, before her final school year was set to commence at USC, Leila’s boss asked her to return samples from a shoot they had worked on the weekend prior. Bogged down with trying to secure her classes for her final year of school, Leila took it upon herself to go into the office the following day, instead of that Monday which she had promised to do.
“I didn’t tell my boss because I truly didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal. Turns out, it was. Regardless of all the positive things I had done that summer, she told me that I wasn’t taking it seriously enough, and let me go.”
This was a huge blow that left Leila “completely traumatized and crying like a baby.” She and her boss had talked about extending her internship through her final year of school which would have nearly guaranteed her a job at WWD after graduation. Getting fired meant she’d be starting from scratch.
It was her first time in New York and, as most young New Yorkers do, she lived sparsely. That summer, she lived in the NYU dorms as she sought out internships, working nights as a bartender. She found an internship during the day at fashion, art, and culture magazines FLAUNT and Blackbook where she was thrown into pretty much everything.
“It was fashion and publishing boot-camp.”
She did this for two years, all the while interviewing and coming close to securing jobs at some of the best magazines in the industry like Vogue and Cosmopolitan.
“I had no money but I had to dress a certain way to play the part. Editors were in head to toe Chanel and I was in scrubs compared to them. I felt like a hot mess.”
After several years and exhausted from working two jobs, she left New York with trepidation, crying in the cab feeling like she had just given up on her dream.
She moved back to LA and eventually landed two back to back high-profile positions; one as the assistant to the creative and fashion director for Modern Luxury Magazines and the other as the photo and style editor for indie music magazine, URB. Then, her dream job came along.
“One of my former co-workers mentioned that Women’s Wear Daily’s west coast office was looking for a fashion editor. Now remember, this was the same position working for the same woman who fired me seven years earlier. At this point I had numerous accolades for photo and art direction and a ton of experience, and I just knew in my heart that this would be the perfect match. I’d be producing and styling my own shoots, but I’d also be reporting to the same woman who had fired me seven years ago.”
After rounds upon rounds of interviews she had finally come to the moment where she would have to face her former manager. She went into the interview with cold feet and in true “The Devil Wears Prada” fashion, showed her former boss the portfolio she had built over the past seven years.
Then, her boss brought up the elephant in the room, reminding her that the last time they spoke, it hadn’t been on the best terms.
“I told her, ‘what you taught me that summer was invaluable’. I learned that if I made a commitment to do something, I’d always keep it. If I couldn’t keep the commitment I’d communicate immediately and come up with a solution. This became a core value; I stayed incredibly humble and honest.”
It took nine months, but eventually Leila got the job. For two years she produced original content for the prestigious newspaper, researching and writing her own copy, art directing photo shoots, styling and editing. Then, in 2009, the economy crashed and Leila’s position at WWD dissolved. Having a pocket full of expertise, Leila decided to go freelance and has been working on top-tier styling projects ever since.
What were some of your most memorable shoots?
“I was booked to style the MTV VMA Award commercials, so I worked with Lil Wayne, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars right when he was on the cusp of getting big. Styling Brad Pitt for a feature and cover for USA Today was definitely one of the highlights of my career. I don’t really get star struck at this point. Actors, musicians, big creative personalities, all of them are just like us. There is nothing superhuman about them. “
What advice would you give someone who is trying to break into this field?
“Shadow or intern with as many A-List stylists as you can. Don’t be ashamed to be persistent with people and innovative with how you reach out to them. Also, if you have a passion for this industry, don’t get turned off just because you don’t think you have the ‘right’ personality for it. Don’t let the stereotypes of the industry dissuade you from going after something you’re passionate about."
What’s your personal definition of great style?
“I’m inundated with style and trends and we live in the age of fast fashion, so I stick to the basics. I call it my uniform. Black tops, black jeans, black shoes. I love my black Givenchy purse. I love a pair of snug and slim fitting jeans, usually JBrand or Rag and Bone, my basic tanks, and a killer leather jacket never hurts. I think it’s all about spending money on the purse, the jacket or the shoes; everything else can be simple items that can be dressed up if necessary."
Would you choose this path again if given the opportunity?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
For a closer look at Leila’s awesome work, visit LeilaBaboi.com
Up next week on DRIVEN for Women, Meet Heidi Agan, the most famous Kate Middleton lookalike in the world!
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