Long before Leah Forester was hanging around some of the most fabulous mommies in Los Angeles, she was rubbing elbows with fashion's elite. The There Goes the Motherhood mom has been in the fashion industry for more than 20 years in various roles, working alongside such legendary designers as Diane von Furstenberg and Vera Wang, as well as Hollywood icons like Julia Roberts and Sharon Stone.
But just because Leah is now married to film producer Bill Johnson and is the mother of 7-and-a-half-year-old twins doesn't mean she's any less fierce these days. Her website is a treasure trove of food, fashion, and lifestyle inspiration. She recently launched a line of Mommy Mantra dog tag necklaces embossed with phrases like "Sexting with your husband... That's fantastic!" which Leah famously says in the supertease for this season of TGTM (clip above). And if all of that wasn't enough, Leah also runs the Venice Supper Club, a company that creates immersive dining experiences.
Clearly, Leah has lived quite the extraordinary life, but there's definitely more in store for this mom. The Daily Dish recently caught up with Leah and found out all about her fashionable past, present, and future.
You seem to have more of an unconventional approach to parenting than some of the other ladies on TGTM. How would you describe your parenting style?
Leah Forester: I would describe it as conscious parenting, which I see as something that’s sort of like a moment-to-moment choice, because our kids are really always giving us all these challenges, and it’s one of those things that where you can choose to react or respond. So I like to place a lot of focus on that as a choice for myself and then to have that affect my relationship with my kids in a positive way. Certainly, nobody can do it all the time. There are definitely times when you react. That's definitely a big part of it.
I would also say that we are a media-less family, so we don’t do computers and iPads and iPhones and technical or electronic toys and distractions. You don’t see much of that on the show, but I think that’s a really big part of our family culture.
You seem very peaceful in the first episode, very zen. So that definitely comes across.
Yeah, well, we all have our journeys. [Laughs.] So yeah, I have my moments. I definitely have sustained moments of that. Something that’s a big part of my personal practice is I’m a Buddhist, so I’ve done Buddhist chanting for about 12 years now. So that’s something I think that you probably sense when you say that I seem peaceful, it definitely plays into it as well and is something that I think is very integral to my life as a mom.
How would you describe your personal style?
I wear a lot of black, and I love leather. I would say rock 'n' roll feminine really is probably the best way to describe it. A lot of what I wear is really geared towards being able to switch through all the different roles I play in a day. With work and being a mom and taking the kids to school, working out, and maybe meeting a girlfriend for lunch and then working in the studio for the afternoon and maybe sometimes doing a photoshoot or creating some content for my site. And then sometimes I have a day that rolls into an event at my supper club. So I think I wear a lot of black because it’s very easy to mix together but also it’s a great way to have a system. I can kind of put on a pair of ballet flats and go to the playground or put on some sneakers and go to work, and it’s just a really easy, practical way to dress.
Has becoming a mom changed your personal style?
I think it has. I think it sort of focused it. It forced me to get more clear about exactly who I am and how I express that with my style, just because I don’t have a lot of extra time. In my old days when I worked, like I worked with Diane von Furstenberg... I would just have the time to switch a whole look and have a whole different vibe later in the night than I did in the day. That doesn't really happen so much anymore. Motherhood in general forces you to get clear about exactly who you are on all levels, so I think that can be reflected in one's style as well.
Who are some celebrity moms who you look to for style inspiration?
I love Miranda Kerr’s style. I always think she looks amazing, and I think I have a similar style to hers, in a way. She’s always in a cute jacket and jeans and ballet flats. She always looks really well-put-together but also practical, like she’s actually a hands-on mom.
How did your passion for fashion get started and how did you get involved with the fashion industry?
I had a mom who was very interested in style, and she really taught a lot about sort of having my own voice and being a bit fearless and mixing vintage things and high-end things. I had a lot of freedom to express myself that way as a child. I really grew up reading Vogue magazine, and I used to look at the pictures and just dream that one day I really wanted to have a career in that area, and I didn’t know what.
I knew I always wanted to move to New York, and when I was 21, I had an opportunity to go and work as a PR assistant for Vera Wang. And Tory Burch, at the time, was the director of PR. This is very, very early in all of our careers. This was like 20 years ago. So I worked for Tory in the PR department for Vera Wang, and Tory was actually pregnant with twins. And about three days after I landed in the job from L.A., I moved to New York, I got the job, went in, and then three days later, Tory had to go on bed rest for the whole rest of the pregnancy. And so, she would call me every day in the office and coach me through basically how to do her job when she was on bed rest. She knew everybody in the fashion business, and she just had a really great way of doing PR and managing relationships with people. And so she really taught me a lot about that, and it was kind of a cool thing to be thrown in the frying pan.
I knew some of Diane’s family through L.A., and eventually they offered me a job to go there. It was just one of those things, I think, once you get into the mix of those people, then there's very few jobs and everybody kind of goes around a merry-go-round, and I was just really lucky that I got in at a good time where there was an opportunity to learn a lot with small companies that eventually became quite big. And it was fun because I got to do a lot of different jobs. I would do PR, I would do styling, I would work with celebrities. I would do celebrity dressings and go to the Oscars and help build the dresses with Vera in the design studio. I just got to really learn a lot, and I don't know if fashion is so much that way anymore, but that time was really a pretty magical time.
What are some lessons you learned during that time that you're still using in your life today?
All of those women who I worked with who were my mentors were really driven women who also had thriving family lives, and they really taught me that it was possible or there was a reachable goal, in a way, to try to express yourself creatively and to be your own person and nurture your family and have a marriage and have an active social life and sort of be able to expand a lot, to hold all of that, which is a lot. To be able to make space for all of those things in your life is something that they each showed me in different ways. [It was also] something that I was looking for or wanted to know if that was possible as a young girl before I got married and had kids and became more responsible. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to party and do all of these things. It was really cool to see women who were ahead of me on that path and were making a career in their way that was their dream.
Who are some of your favorite celebrities that you've worked with?
I worked with Julia Roberts, and she’s great. Just a fun, sweet, and vivacious person. I worked quite a bit with Sharon Stone when I worked with Vera Wang, and she was very fun. She was just really fun in the fittings. It was just a great, fun party, and she’s really smart, like a really, really, really smart lady. I got to work with Carolyn Bessette Kennedy when I worked with Diane. That was pretty cool. Christian Louboutin is somebody that was a part of my life with Diane because he’s best friends with her, so I traveled with them. He’s an amazing person. He’s so much fun. Just a hilarious hoot. I’ve got a few out of a really long, long list but those are some highlights.
You recently posted on Instagram about a photo shoot you did with Tommy Hilfiger. Was that for a campaign?
It’s not for a campaign. They feature different people on Tommy’s blog, and so it’s going to be a feature about modern motherhood, and they came in and shot myself and the kids. We were all styled in Tommy. They did an interview about motherhood and also I cooked some food for the writer who’s a writer from Bon Appétit. Cooking is one of my passions, so I cooked lunch, and I cooked some food, and then there's a recipe of mine on the blog.
You’ve been in fashion for 20 years or so, but have you done modeling like that before?
I've worked on all sides of the camera, so sometimes I would do shoots, especially in the very beginning of my career where it would just be like, "Oh, the model didn't come in today..." When I worked with Vera, I did a lot of modeling in the studio, so they would fit dresses on me just because I was there in the studio, it would be easier to call me down from the PR department, and I would go try wedding dresses on to fit them and stuff. So I’ve done a lot of that.
And then I worked with Diane, we worked so closely together and traveled and did so much work — just spontaneous work with press — that often I would be on camera with Diane, or she would take me to Paris and I would model their collection for the buyers.
That kind of work can be fun too because it's a different mindset, but it's still part of being a team. So it’s kind of fun to be directed and work with great photographers who teach you tricks. And then working with a lot of models, it’s fun. You pick up a lot of things from them, looking at the camera and learning where the light is and all those things. I like to do a lot of different things, so it’s fun to kind of get to do that part too sometimes.
You used to have a boutique in New York called Decollage. How did that come about, and what were you trying to accomplish with that store?
It came about when I was working with Diane. I teamed up with a girl who was also in the PR world. She was a PR director for Jill Stuart at the time. Her name is Heather Rich. We wanted to move into a space of creating our own offering in the fashion business. We both worked for these amazing women, but we felt like it was time to branch out on our own.
And so we left our jobs, and we took this five-story townhouse in the West Village on 8th Avenue. We were really lucky to find this property that was an amazing rent and was just full of character, landmark townhouse, and we got the whole building. So both of us had a huge interest in interior design as well, so we designed it ourselves. I mean, we painted black lacquer bathrooms myself and tiles and sink. It was very DIY, but we did it in this quirky fashion of combining vintage things and high-end, amazing wallpapers and textiles. And we had so many friends in the fashion business who were designers that we called upon them to put their pieces in the store.
So we designed the whole store, and it was by appointment only, which was unheard of at the time. We were in a very unusual location, which wasn’t in a commercial space, and we didn’t have a storefront. We have a little plaque outside and a little door, and you can ring the doorbell.
We had great designers. We had Zac Posen back in the day in the early part of his career. And his sister Alexandra [Posen] used to sell her wax paintings that she did at the time. So the combination was a fashion gallery. We had one-of-a-kind pieces from designers. And then we had art. We had fashion also from Joe Eula, who was the big illustrator during Studio 54 days, and we had jewelry from this model named Manon von Gerkan. We just had really interesting, quirky designers, who were all friends, basically.
And then we had events. We used to host events. It was a really fun place. It was like a fashion salon. So people would come, journalists would come and hang out. We’d have Champagne, we’d do little fashion shows, and people shot all kinds of stories in there because it was designed really crazy, so it was really fun. We'd have [fashion photographers] come and do their own shoots there, just using our space as their location. We had huge press and got a lot of great attention from it.
But, you know, we were young girls and we weren’t really business girls, so eventually it couldn’t really sustain itself on the whimsy and the fun that we were having alone. So we both decided that we didn’t want to be in retail, and [Heather] actually moved to London since then and does really big interior design projects. And that’s when I moved back to L.A. and started styling on my own.
It seems like the Venice Supper Club has a similar experiential vibe to it.
Yeah, no, definitely. It’s just interesting when you see style and design really does come from something inside. It’s like I could never have planned for this place that I created, Venice Supper Club, to really mirror [Decollage] in a way that you can definitely see the similarity of style. And then also, I think the experience creating, as you said.
I have a lot of different talents that are there that perform, and it’s kind of a combination between design and food and the arts. So we'll have a live violin player come in with a girl that does burlesque or really strange combinations that are very cool... and really beautiful, organic food, and then we'll style the table in some crazy thing, so it has its own element.
When we had Decollage, one of our investors was Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who’s a really big chef in New York. He’s got... restaurants all over the world, really, and so he was one of my investors. So the opening night, he did a big dinner with all the editors, and we had a kitchen that had a stripper pole in it. It was a crazy sight. It was interesting even back then that our impetus was to have the food, the interiors, the things that were for sale, the people there were all kinds of creating one work of art in an experience.
Where did you get the inspiration to create Venice Supper Club from?
In my time of being somewhat more dormant, when I had little babies in the first three-and-a-half to four years of their life, I really wasn’t working that much. I would do the odd job here and there, but my husband and I loved to entertain, so whenever we would have a party — which was often — we would have dinner parties or big themed parties at our house where I’ll style the whole house. We did Gods and Goddesses where I’d turn the whole house into a fairy land and then everybody dresses up. All of our friends sort of know us for that, so all these years we had this other space across the way that we would use for our own private space or guests would stay there and whatever, and it just seemed like the next logical step to turn it into a place where I could create those experiences in more of a professional way.
So we were just kind of like, well I would love to have my own restaurant. I would love to create a hotel lounge, or something amazing like that. But I could try to do the baby step and do what I have here now and work with that and use it as a testing ground and see if I like actually having guests and doing service and serving food. With a supper club, there's sort of service involved and doing things.
It’s been fun to experiment with it. It’s been really cool to see how people enjoy it, and they must want this kind of experience because it's kind of taken on a life of its own, which has been cool.
What are some of the things that Venice Supper Club has done at these events so far?
We do this one regular experience that’s a sacred tea ceremony that’s a kid of cool women’s evening. A meditation girl that I know who’s a goddess, she studies sacred tea ceremonies for years. So she comes to our meditations, really beautiful. She sets up the whole thing like a ritual, like a very ritual kind of evening. We drink tea and then afterwards, I set a really nutritious, beautiful dinner and we have wine and we just sort of take care of ourselves. It’s a great experience to just settle in and be quiet and take a night for ourselves as women and be together and just feel how good it can be to be still. Women don’t get to do that often.
Other than that, we’ll do these really elaborate, crazy nights. I've done these blacktie nights when people come in masks and we have a fire dancer, burlesque girl. This gypsy trio live band I have. We’ll serve a six-course seated meal with wine pairings, and it’s very much more a sexy, very Eyes Wide Shut adult evening kind of thing. We kind of do a lot of things in between just to really work with people who come up and say, 'I want this kind of evening. I’m doing this,' and then we’ll work with them to style the evening and kind of tailor it to them. So some of it comes from private clients as well who have a specific idea in mind of what they want to do.
Where do you get your inspiration for these events? Is there any limit to what can happen, or is it anything goes?
I think a big part of the vibe there and what people respond to is the sense of food and then privacy. So it’s like a secret little place, so I’m a really open-minded person. I’m definitely not putting the clamp down on anybody’s good time. It depends on who’s having the evening and what the occasion is. The magic always happens in the moment... It’s so spontaneous, so that’s my magic and my special thing is really bringing all these elements together and then lighting the fire and walking away. I just watch what kind of happens and everybody’s in that mix and they feel the music and they’re loving the food and the wine's flowing. There’s no recipe for it, really.
What is next for you?
I’m working on a book. I’m working on a visual diary of my website so it will have a lot of how-to’s, like how to create these events, the recipes that went along with them, behind-the-scenes footage of us creating events, some inside documentary shots of actual events that we’ve had, as well as everything fun: how to create the ultimate kids' party to how to create the ultimate Fourth of July party, which is what I do here at our beach house. I do this big set-up on the sand with big couches and everything. So it'll be a visual diary of my style and how I’ve entertained with it.
Have you thought about if you want to have more kids in the future?
I mean I’ve thought about it. My husband and I both feel like the balance in our family is so good right now. Our children are 7 ½ now, so it’s really such a great time to be able to be experiencing new things with them and growing with them and playing chess and doing the things that we love to do that they're also learning to love to do.
I’m personally not ready to go backwards into the baby phase and be in the nursery. I had that so intensely with two at the same time that I'm really, really enjoying coming home and actually reading a little bit of a book while they play and being in that phase where we have more autonomy. But also, I feel closer to them more than ever because we're sharing more and more everyday life together. They're not off napping, and I'm not burping them and all that stuff. Oh my God! No more diapers ever again! [Laughs.] My husband has a 21-year-old daughter as well, and she’s at NYU, and we have the other side of that, a young woman that’s in our lives too, so that’s really cool. She’s graduating college and all that so really full, really full family life.
See more of Leah and her fellow TGTM moms' evolving fashion sense, below.
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