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Upper East Sider Realizes She’s Privileged

Leandra Medine Photo: Getty Images for Louis Vuitton

Just over a year ago, Leandra Medine — founder of the now-defunct fashion blog Man Repeller — stepped down from her position at the site’s helm. Her official resignation came on June 10, two weeks after George Floyd’s murder catalyzed national protests against state-sanctioned violence against Black and brown people. Like many brands, Man Repeller posted a statement of allyship, only to find itself facing allegations of a toxic corporate environment that pushed out employees of color. Medine announced her resignation on Instagram a few days later, writing that her “ignorance is part of the problem.” As a new interview with designer Recho Omondi makes clear, not much seems to have changed on that front.

In the 1.5-hour episode of Omondi’s podcast, The Cutting Room Floor, Medine addresses her experience of being “publicly proclaimed racist.” As Omondi points out, “publicly proclaimed privileged” feels closer to the mark, but all of it apparently came as a shock to Medine. Though she granted that she has not experienced “actual, material adversity” in her life, Medine — who grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side; attended a private day school; and launched Man Repeller in 2010, while she was still in college, on the currency of her high-end closet — also said the revelation of her wealth came to her only recently.

“I remember objectively growing up in a privileged environment and feeling like I was always on the brink of being homeless,” she told Omondi. “I thought I was poor growing up, that I didn’t have anything.”

In the course of the interview — the third Omondi says she’s recorded with Medine, having “canned” the earlier two, first because Medine was “rude” and later after she implored her, through tears, to kill the tape — Medine stresses the fact that her parents “are immigrants from the Middle East.” Her father, originally from Turkey, is the founder and CEO of the Mark Henry Jewelry Corporation; her mother, originally from Iran, is the eponymous designer behind one of its brands. Though Medine once featured the family’s Southampton second home on Man Repeller, and though she admits she never received financial aid for, nor accrued debt from, her private education, she says she only connected the dots last summer. (The “summer of learning,” she said.)

“I remember sitting in the car with Abie [Cohen, her husband] and my kids, thinking to myself, I did not grow up poor,” she recalled. “I actually grew up rich … I had everything.”

For Medine, the confusion seems to stem from belonging to the “upper echelon in this city,” but “on the lower end.” Some of her classmates, she explained, lived in “buildings that require things like assets upward of $100 million for you to be approved by their boards.” They took five vacations a year, whereas her parents “were trying to navigate their own experiences as new Americans in this new environment.” As a result, she found herself lying to her friends when she could not budget the remainder of her weekly allowance to cover dinner at restaurant where “you can’t even order a salad … with $20 in your pocket.” Not being able to afford all the same things as her hyper-wealthy classmates all the time sent Medine into “scarcity mode,” she said.

Anyway, if you were wondering whether or not the feedback from her former employees — namely, that a culture of favoritism siloed opportunity among white employees and sidelined staffers of color — got through, the answer is … eh! Medine told Omondi that she doesn’t see herself as racist; rather, she believes complaints about her management style at Man Repeller came down to her being “an immature asshole,” she said. “I’m an equal-opportunity asshole. Like, I sucked as a leader.”

Listen to the episode here.

Editor’s note: Since this episode posted on July 7, some listeners have said that parts of Omondi’s commentary played into anti-Semitic tropes: She evoked the “Jewish American princess” stereotype, for example, and made generalizing statements about “nose jobs” and materialism. She has since edited these and other references out of the episode, writing on Instagram: “I want to recognize that I understand Leandra does not represent ALL Jewish people or the vast culture whatsoever. If I see any mean-spirited hate for the sake of hate towards Jewish people on this account, you did not listen to the episode or are missing the point completely. And you will be BLOCKED. BLOCKED. BLOCKED.”

This post has been updated.

Upper East Sider Realizes She’s Privileged