Fashion & Style

Plus Model Precious Lee On Breaking Ceilings and Finding Gratitude During the Pandemic

The in-demand muse opens up about pushing for progress and inclusivity in the fashion industry, her favourite beauty moments, and what’s been helping her through quarantine.

Precious Lee is no stranger to being first. In 2015, the fashion model’s curvy silhouette appeared in the September issue of American Vogue via a campaign for plus-size womenswear brand Lane Bryant announcing to readers: #PlusIsEqual. By appearing in the empowering ad, Lee became the very first Black curve model to appear in the magazine. And in 2016, she made history again as the first Black plus-size model when her white bikini-clad body graced the pages of Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue.

Since those body-positive milestones, Lee has been on a steady meteoric rise in the modelling world, strutting her stuff down big-name runways to landing highly covetable fashion and beauty campaigns, like serving as the face for Make Up For Ever’s Rouge Artist lipstick collection this year.

Precious Lee in the Make Up For Ever Rouge Artist lipstick campaign. Image courtesy of Make Up For Ever.

A more recent trailblazing highlight worth mentioning: Lee, along with fellow plus-size models Jill Kortleve and Alva Claire, modelling fierce, colourful looks down Versace’s live-streamed Spring/Summer 2021 runway show back in September. The catwalk moment not only marked Lee’s Milan debut, but the very first time Versace featured plus-size models altogether.

For Lee, her whole career has been dedicated to serving an audience that has long been neglected. “I came into this industry to uplift and inspire. So, doing projects that create more space for people to be themselves and feel good about it is the goal,” she says. “Breaking ceilings is extremely important to me because I know that I am capable. I want people to know that this world is for everybody.”

Precious Lee on the Versace Spring/Summer 2021 catwalk. Image courtesy of Imaxtree.

Yes, the Atlanta, Georgia-raised, New York-based model has tasted many sweet victories throughout her career quest so far, but Lee is quick to admit that her journey has come at the cost of repeated rejection along the way. “Being a model is literally having your income depend on your looks. It can turn gruesome at times for a model, period. But when you put ‘plus’, then ‘Black and plus’ in front of it, you’re basically putting yourself on the chopping block for people that don’t even expect you to be there,” she says.

How does the model dust herself off? “Being grounded in my confidence and rooted in positivity has brought me through my toughest obstacles,” she expresses. “I’m a very spiritual person and I know that we are all here to grow. It’s important that people know, whether they are a model or not, that you are the captain of your ship before you walk out of the door. Doesn’t matter if it’s a casting, a boardroom or a classroom. You decide and you show up as that person with pride.”

The beauty look that makes Lee feel powerful:

“Any look that I wear and feel free in because no matter if I’m going for a sultry smoky vibe or a bronzed natural moment, it’s up to me to decide to be empowered. But if I was to pick a specific look, I would have to say a cat eye and dewy skin. I love a cat eye, whether it’s a tiny flick or a bold line. I think it’s the perfect accessory to an empowered day.”

Her biggest beauty influencers:

“My mommy! She showed me the power in makeup when I was a little girl. It’s a part of her daily routine and she uses it as a form of expression for her mood of the day. She’ll sometimes do bold eyes with a lip and blush for a quick trip to the store and I think that’s so fabulous. It’s inspiring to see how she glows through her makeup and uses it to experiment, make statements and have fun. I’ve learned from her to always do the same because it really keeps your look fresh, fun and unpredictable and I love that.

My father is a hairstylist who’s owned salons for many years. He really taught me the importance of keeping your hair healthy but with flair. He is a colour and cut specialist that really likes transforming hair and creating custom styles that fit the client. He has some of the best hair himself ever! Anytime I get a new haircut or colour I have him check it first.”

Her lockdown lessons and routines:

“I can often tend so much to the needs of others that I have to remember to take the time to do more of my own healing modalities I love. I’ve enjoyed playing my singing bowls, detoxing, meditating, writing, yoga, reading, dancing, and studying the stars. I’m such an astrology nerd, so having time to learn more about the planets and how they affect us is so fun for me. All the quarantine time really elevated my skills.”

Happiness boosters during the pandemic:

“I’ve realized how creative I love to be, so doing all the things that my regular busy schedule often cuts out was really nurturing: dancing, singing, painting, filming, writing. This lockdown opened my eyes to how much more I have to offer creatively. I’m so grateful for that.”