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 recent interview with designer Recho Omondi makes clear, not much seems to have changed on that front.

In the 1.5-hour-long, first installment of “The Tanning of America” — a two-part 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.”

In the days after the episode posted on July 7, Omondi faced criticism for anti-Semitic tropes she deployed in her commentary: overblown statements about Jewish people’s involvement in the slave trade, the “Jewish American princess” stereotype, and generalizing statements about nose jobs, keratin treatments, and materialism. She subsequently edited those and other references out of the episode, posting an “apology to the Jewish communities” on July 20. “I said some really crass and reductive things about Jewish people,” she said. “I’m really sorry to all the people that I disrespected and alienated from my own lack of understanding for, really, the depth of Jewish culture.” Noting that she wanted to make a point about “the ways in which Black people are not able to assimilate as easily in America” and her own experiences working in the fashion industry, she said she was sorry for bringing insulting biases to the table.

In her apology, Omondi also reiterated a statement from the end of the episode’s first part: that those “unconscious beliefs” would be the subject of the second installment in her conversation with Medine. Only now, six weeks after part one went up, Omondi has announced that part two is never going to air. On August 17, she shared a ten-minute clip on her Patreon, explaining her reasoning. In the aftermath of the controversy, she said:

There was an incredible amount of pressure about how part two was going to come out. What would be in it, what would be left out, what was said, what audio was used, and more importantly, how the story was going to be told. How it was framed. I was making some of these edits originally, but it got to a point where it pretty much reached a stalemate, and that was, either I am going to tell this story from the way I experienced it, and speak my truth, or I’m not going to talk at all.

Noting that the wait for the second half had gone on too long, Omondi said she “definitely heard” the criticism and thought part one did what it needed to do. She also said she knew “exactly what [she] experienced, not only in the process of recording this last episode, part one, but also as a Black woman in this industry.” Omondi will refund Patreon subscribers who “came for the tea” and never got it.

This post has been updated.

Upper East Sider Realizes She’s Privileged