leandra cohen


ALEXIS MALEDY | March 1, 2017


If there were an award for most boring closet, mine would probably be in a two-way tie with Mark Zuckerberg's. I'd love to claim that, like the bajillionaire, I wear an iteration of the same outfit everyday to maximize my productivity. In reality, I just lost all confidence in my personal style after I wore a purple shirt on pink shirt day in the fifth grade. (Suburban elementary schools are where budding fashionistas' dreams go to die).

My sartorial comfort zone could best be described as middle-aged librarian meets chameleon (Quick! Act beige!).

I attempt to blend into the style wasteland that is Vancouver by sticking to a steady diet of neutrals. I tried to wear blue once, but I accidentally wandered into an Aritzia warehouse sale line-up and faced the scorn of a hundred thousand latte-sipping clones because I was wearing Heathered Midnight instead of Pure Indigo.

So, when my coworkers challenged me to spend a week dressed like Leandra M Cohen, New York style icon and founder of Manrepeller, I broke out in a cold sweat at the thought of leaving the house wearing a fuzzy brown coat, or even more frightening, bright red thigh highs. WHAT IF PEOPLE LOOK AT ME?!!

Whether it was my incessant need for acceptance or a genuine surge of Leandra-inspired fearlessness, a voice deep within me whispered: This is Your Chance. Prove the Jessicas and the Jennifers and the Ashleys wrong. You Can wear purple. You Can fight back against the paralyzing forces of a society that dictates how you're supposed to dress. You Can be a f*cking man repeller if you want to.

And so I let stylist Elim Chu and  Nicolle Hodges, (Leandra's long lost spirit twin), dress me in outfits inspired by the original Man Repeller. And then, I actually left the house in them. 


manrepeller my modern closet

I started the day wearing a strapless bra under my lace top, but it kept slipping down around my waist, so I took it off. I got a few sideways glances as I walked the streets of Vancouver dressed like a chic yeti, but I'm not sure if that's because people could see my nipples, or wished they could steal my faux fur during the surprise blizzard. All in all, I felt more like myself than I thought I would in this outfit - although I did feel the need to explain why I was wearing a sheer lace top on a Monday to the dude at the wine store.


manrepeller my modern closet

If ever there were one secret weapon that could instantly transform a boring Vancouverite into New York's favourite fashion It Girl, it would be pattern mixing. When I was waiting to hail a cab (which took a while because this is Vancouver) a man holding a bunch of film equipment approached me. I struck a casual pose against a streetlamp and waited for him to ask if he could take my photo for the international style magazine I assumed he represented. Turns out he just wanted directions to the black market on East Hastings – but he did tell me liked my pants. Which is more than my husband said when I got home and pointed out that the stripes I was sporting were basically arrows pointing towards my vagina. 


man repeller my modern closet

I had to give myself a pep talk before leaving the house wearing a dress over pants, but once outside, four random Vancouverites actually smiled at me. I have lived in the city for ten years and the only person that has ever smiled at me turned out to be a golden retriever. I concluded that wearing a pop of colour induces an increase in Serotonin levels amongst urban dwellers more accustomed to a ceaseless parade of grey. Somebody give me a Nobel Prize for medicine because I just discovered that the cure for S.A.D. isn't light therapy – it's hot pink clutches. 


manrepeller my modern closet

According to Leandra Cohen, Man Repeller was titled as such because, "Good fashion is about pleasing women, not men, so as it happens, the trends that we love, men hate. And that is fantastic."

I'm assuming, based on her zero-f*cks kinda vibe, Leandra means good fashion is pleasing to women, not that she dresses for women. Like her, I am perfectly comfortable repelling men - my oversized beige cardigan usually does the trick. But as I walked down the street in a fringed corset, I became acutely aware of the side-eyes I was getting thrown by every messy-bun sporting, stretchy pants-clad female. Repelling men is easy. Repelling women takes Leandra level self-confidence.


man repeller my modern closet

I had hoped that by the time Friday rolled around I would be burning all the off-white blouses in my closet as a symbol of my newfound sartorial freedom. (And by burning I mean donating, because burning clothes is super bad for the planet). But after spending the day trapped in an office supply closet (long story) I couldn't wait to trade in my sequins for sweatpants.

Perhaps the thing that makes someone like Leandra appear so effortlessly stylish (even when she's wearing furry blue cuffs) is that breaking fashion norms seems to come so naturally to her. It took me a team of stylists (and access to My Modern Closet's entire, well, closet) to even come close to feeling like I could dare go out in public in a fringed corset. 

But, if Man Repelling is the fashion equivalent of piano or yoga (in other words, you get better with practice) I have hope that one day - if I wear enough furry purses and striped pants - I will be able to emerge from my beige cocoon like a knee high-wearing butterfly that doesn't give a f*ck about what the Jennifers or the Ashleys or the West Coast trend zombies think of her. 

Styled by Elim Chu & Nicolle Hodges
Photo of Leandra Cohen courtesy of @tradlands