The first thing that strikes you about model Suzi Leenaars — her digital presence at least — is her subversive sense of humour. Her Instagram is a visual tribute to life’s stranger moments, like a kid lying in a supermarket with a plunger on his face or a couple with their absurdly personalised luggage. And, of course, there’s also a healthy dose of toilet humour. “Instagram for me is just a kind of diary rather than a portfolio,” Suzi tells us. “As a model you’re always seen through other people’s lens so it’s nice to show my point of view.”
It’s a refreshingly alternative perspective compared to the hyper-curated lives that we’re used to seeing online. But that doesn’t mean the Sydney-born, London-based model is trying to comment on narcissism or self-branding. “I just share the things that I like, that’s all there is to it, really,” she explains. “My favourite thing to do, especially in a new city, is to just walk around alone and go to the supermarket and look at things.”
Suzi’s tendency to see the things that others don’t also shines through in her work as a model, which lead her to work with Vivienne Westwood and Marc Jacobs and covered Revue, Puss Puss and Purple magazines. Before modelling, textiles was her favourite subject in high school and she was contemplating a design career. She was scouted backstage at fashion week when she skipped school to sneak in and watch the shows. “I had braces at the time and I remember I was very self-conscious,” she remembers. “I had never considered modelling as a career.”
But Suzi was a natural and within a few years she was a fully-fledged model. When we speak, she is about to head to Paris Fashion Week for a busy schedule of shows. “For me, it’s the theatrics of fashion that I’m drawn to,” Suzi says. “The idea of creating a character through clothing.” She approaches every shoot as a performance, manipulating her body into strange shapes or staring serenely into the camera. Her penchant for performance can be traced all the way back to her teenage years, which were dominated by dance classes and a part-time job in a fancy dress store. “The store was like a treasure chest full of vintage clothes from every decade. I started dressing up for parties for no reason,” Suzi recalls. “I would just turn up in a unitard.”
It was Suzi’s grandmother who first sparked her interest in fashion. “She was a dressmaker and would take me to markets and charity stores where I would buy things that she would alter for me,” she tells us. “Slowly she taught me to sew and knit, and eventually I started making my own clothes.” An appreciation for pre-loved and handmade clothing has stayed with Suzi. “I’ve always preferred vintage shopping, but I think in the age of fast fashion it’s even more important to shop and discard old clothing consciously,” she says. “It’s really great to see more and more designers incorporating recycled and up-cycled textiles in their collections. I think that’s the future.”
Suzi sees sustainability as her number one priority and acknowledges the fashion industry’s environmental impacts, “I do a lot of travelling for work and I’m involved in an industry that is one of the biggest global polluters.” To counterbalance she makes a conscious effort to minimise her impact by shopping sustainably, raising awareness around environmental issues and supporting causes that give back.
Photo: Daniel King