We are Lionesses Maybe

There had been a little accident at Chelsea Leyland’s apartment the night before. While she was sound asleep, dreaming of the salt and pepper chocolate and barley salads she’s obsessed with, she smacked her head on the corner of the mirrored night stand next to the bed, leaving her not only in a state of shock all the way through the morning but also nauseous, and no longer thinking of anything remotely edible. “I don’t think I should be drinking any alcohol for a while,” she says while rubbing her forehead. “I’m OK though, but it’s still a bump. Feel it!” I don’t see anything so I kind of point my finger at what I expect to be a gruesome contusion. It’s not so bad. “I kinda wish it had been in a visible place rather than covered by my eyebrow so at least the story had a picture…” And as much as I had wanted to photograph a girl with a gushing wound, I am relieved. We got plenty more to talk about, Chelsea.

Chelsea is 25-years old and from England. She moved to New York five years ago to be an actress. “I have wanted to be an actress for as long as I can remember,” she thinks. “I’ve always liked playing weird roles like the freaky, dark girl so that’s what I imagine myself playing in a dream world. Don’t laugh but I think it was Thora Birch’s character in Hocus Pocus that made me want to act.” I admit I hadn’t seen the movie, so I googled it. And after careful consideration I could see some resemblances. But I’d pegged her for the Sarah Jessica Parker role. I mean, did you see that hair?! Chelsea’s one of the few girls I know who have wild blonde manes like I do and when I point it out, she laughs, “I think curly locks are so much more interesting! They give character to your face as it’s big and happy; we are like lionesses maybe!”

But as it often goes, life in New York City did not pan out quite the way she thought it would and though she’s still dead set on being an actress – she’s starred in small indie films, a diaper and Cole Haan commercial (imagine saying those two words in the same sentence) and two music documentaries – Chelsea is now one of New York’s most successful DJs. “I was always a massive music head, but it was my boyfriend (hotelier Ben Pundole) who really encouraged me to take it seriously and learn how to use turn tables. He said I shouldn’t be another one of those “fake female DJs”. I get the craziest gigs, in the weirdest places, like Mexico City or Bulgaria, not just the fashion parties anymore.” I’ve heard Chelsea play a few times and it’s a blast. Her favorite song to open with is ‘I’d Rather Be With Your’ by Bootsy Collins. That’s kind of wicked.

On the fashion front – cuz that’s what we’re here to talk about, innit – Chelsea is a self-proclaimed shoe girl. “That’s the most important part of my outfit, and my jewelry,” she begins. “You’ll always catch me in pretty high heels – I love all Charlotte Olympia’s shoes! And I tend to pair navy and black a lot in the winter. I’m a big fan of loud jewelry, especially punk statement pieces by my incredibly talented friend Dominic Jones.” She loves lace and vintage dresses in summer – “they are a weakness” – and shops for vintage bags and old designer pieces like Chanel and YSL at Le Grand Strip, Portobello Market and Geminola. And then there’s all the animal skulls, anatomical prints and “anything that looks like it would go in a weird cabinet of curiosities”. All the art that doesn’t look old “my boyfriend had before we met and is all pretty fancy haha.”

I spend two days with Chelsea. The first day we hang out at her loft in Williamsburg, where I am introduced to Louie, her 2-year old grey cat, and his mental issues. By the time I leave he’s managed to knock over a full glass of water, which shatters all across the hardwood floor, an Evian bottle and a box of kale chips. “I can’t even tell you!” Chelsea yells tormented. “He has ruined so many things it makes me angry just thinking about it. The worst was probably the little finger of a ‘Kehinde Wiley’ statue he broke off.” The next day we go volunteer at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club that has turned into a big donation center. And as much fun as our shoot was, the sight of the destroyed beach town and lines of helpless people is devastating and leaves us emotional until the next day. “I feel bad that I’m even continuing with work when all these poor families are trying to carry on with their lives without their homes, food, heat, or any electricity. It’s beyond awful and we all need to do what we can to help. You can only understand the extent of it if you see it for yourself. I think it’s very rewarding to help others and they were all so grateful for the help that was being given.”

November 8, 2012

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