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Some would say that Leigh Lezark’s looks are striking in an annoying way. Surely she must be equally peeved by the inevitable “piercing blue eyes, razor-sharp cheekbones, jet-black hair” description that precedes most of her printed interviews. After being fed all the buzz surrounding the one female member of the DJ trio The MisShapes, meeting her in person is refreshing, given that she’s actually quite shy, humble, and unfazed by the attention she’s been gathering for the most part of the last decade.

Sitting in front of a cappuccino in a Montreal café, Lezark stares at the wet streets, looking tired from her flight, or from the rainy day – it’s hard to tell. She is unexpectedly petite, dressed all in black and shod in flat oxfords, her famous hair pulled back in a ponytail. She’s not wearing any makeup, in sharp contrast to the heavy black eye shadow she usually sports when hitting the decks.

Lezark shares the café booth with her long-time partner Geordon Nicol, who looks fresh and ready for business. Nicol, a Toronto native, moved to the Big Apple as a teenager with no particular intention of becoming a DJ but, as he says, things “ended up working out.” While Leigh and Geordon are in town to spin their first Montreal set at the city’s infamous Mad Maus party, the third member of The MisShapes, Greg Krelenstein, is busy elsewhere on another of the group’s projects.

The monthly Mad Maus affair is one of fashion-forward artistic debauchery. Created by artistic mastermind Gibran Ramos, the movement draws its inspiration from Bauhaus’ modernist aesthetics, Dadaism’s anti-establishment concerns, cartoons from the Great Depression (surrealist, obscure, transgressive), and pays particular attention to the designs created by Hollywood’s Van Beuren animation studio, circa 1930. The result is a gathering of creative minds, an international movement where fashion, art, design and electronic music collide with a fascination for pop culture.

Having already spun at designer parties for the likes of Jeremy Scott, Narciso Rodriguez, Olivier Theyskens and John Galliano, at magazine bashes for Interview, Visionaire, Purple, AnOther Magazine and Fader, and at a myriad other tasty affairs, it was only a matter of time before The MisShapes would cross Ramos’ path. “[Mad Maus] seemed like the right fit,” says Nicol. “We were just speaking about the party and about how similar the concepts of our parties are.”

Dive-Bar Days
The resemblance to The MisShapes’ own beginnings is hard to ignore, as their early-2000s NYC dive-bar bashes were all about good fun with good people. Explains Nicol, “We never did the party for money or for a big thing. There [was] never a sponsor to the party; it was just a smooth, small bar. It was in two locations [West Village club Luke & Leroy and SoHo’s Don Hill’s], and each bar was very tiny.”

Soon enough, the weekly jam was packed with underground kids, as well as some more familiar faces. As the word got around, some serious line-ups formed at the ropes. Although they never put up any barriers to admission, the trio did end up having to establish a system.

“[The door policies] got stricter as time when on, because it just kept getting bigger and bigger and growing,” says Nicol. “We had certain guests, whether a Bloc Party, or Franz Ferdinand, or Madonna, or you know, Agyness [Deyn]. No matter what range [the door policy] was, it always drew the right and the wrong type of attitude in people. It wasn’t so much that we had strict rules, it was just somebody [we had] that was in the know and could sort of assess who was there for the right reasons, or if there was going to be problems letting [in] everyone we know and people that are regulars, and then try to figure out who else makes sense in coming.”

In 2007, Nicol published a coffee-table book entitled MISSHAPES which was put together using photos taken during the four years of the party’s reign. The idea of taking pictures came naturally, according to Lezark. “I guess because we just wanted to document the night. It always seemed so epic.”

In terms of photographic style, Nicol adds that early on they recognized the resemblance to photographer Jim Jocoy’s punk rock-era bible We’re Desperate.

“We noticed that [our photos] started looking like that – old punk photos against brick walls, or different coloured walls. And so we started intentionally taking photos that looked more like that.”
With the release of the book, the downtown cool kids became an international phenomenon, and the photographic style is now at the core of the street blogging, Sartorialist type of imagery.

Strutting with the Pack
Nowadays, the trio is on the road to satisfy the hunger of the stiletto-clad fashion pack. Twice a year, Coco, Raquel, Natalia, Daria and friends strut down the runway to the sound of The MisShapes’ careful remixes, while design houses rely on them to tear it up. Runway music is a beast of its own; unlike the smooth progression of a club night, runway beats need to get straight to the point. Usually a shrewd blend of classics and new releases, the 10- to 15-minute mix is an integral part of the presentation which reflects the designer’s vision. 
“Some people, like Jeremy Scott, want a really high-energy sort of pop; current songs. Not that it’s easier, but it’s clearer to us what the direction is, as in what he wants,” explains Nicol. “He wants new music, or maybe a specific artist that ties into his collection.”
Not everyone is so clear. Nicol recalls, “Someone like Sophia Kokosalaki, or when we did Bill Blass… They want something that’s conveying more of an emotion, or a mood, or something more ethereal or instrumental. Then you’re taking bits and pieces of things that they’ve been inspired by, or that you think work in this, and then you’re basically creating a 13-minute soundtrack. It’s not just songs anymore, or a cool mix or a remix of songs – you’re creating a score for this collection that’s coming down the runway.”
Because the fashion circuit runs back-to-back in New York, London, Milan and Paris (plus a few smaller local fashion weeks here and there), The MisShapes’ planning for shows rarely exceeds a week or two. Time constraints mean that when they arrive in Paris, they’ve only been emailing or on the phone with the client. Based on the general idea, mood boards and inspirations, they hit the studio and get the job done in a few days. Long days and sleepless nights require lots of discipline, as well as a readiness for the unexpected.
Says Nicol, “We definitely, though, had situations where we’ve been at a show, and we’ve gotten all this direction… and we got to the show and the stylist decided that they didn’t like a 13-second clip in the mix, right in the middle of it. The show’s in half an hour and they’re asking, ‘Can you fix this?’ We had to say, ‘No, we can’t fix this, the show’s in 30 minutes.’ And [the stylist] said, ‘Well, someone needs to fix this, it needs to be fixed.’
“So, in a situation like that, we do part of it live, which is really nerve-wracking because DJing in a club, if the CDJ falls off the table and the music stops for a minute, no one cares, the party keeps going. If you screw up, it’s not a really big deal because at a club or at a party it’s about the energy, having fun… But [at a fashion show] it’s like watching a movie and hearing the record scratch during a scene. It becomes really nerve-wracking when something like that happens where we had to do it live.”

Karl Who?
It comes as no surprise that Leigh Lezark would be chosen as an ambassador for Chanel. The MisShapes met Lagerfeld a while ago, at an art gallery opening in New York. As Nicol puts it, “He liked the music and he’s just the type of person – he doesn’t care who you are. If he saw you in ?the street and really liked your look, he’d say it to you. He’s really nice and down to earth.”

A little over a year ago, Lagerfeld announced to the world the House of Chanel’s new beauty ambassadors. Lezark was to join Caroline Sieber, Poppy Delevigne, Jen Brill, and Vanessa Traina to form some kind of über-It quintet of their generation. Aside from arousing the envy of women of all ages, the perks include first pick in the Chanel closet and an agenda filled with fancy social duties.

It’s nothing new that Lagerfeld loves to surround himself with the pretty young things of the time, earning him the nickname “Uncle Karl.” And being around the fashion legend certainly helps in picking up tricks of the trade. “He won’t tell you, ‘You should do this, you should do that,’” says Lezark. “He’s very good about saying, ‘Do what feels right.’”

Nicol agrees, and adds that it’s more about watching and learning than listening. “He’s not doling out advice to people about how to live their lives because he couldn’t care less how you live your life. Watching him, how he interacts with people, how he deals with people, how he works, just everything about him, he’s no bullshit.”

According to Nicol, the continuing relevance of Lagerfeld’s world has a lot to do with the man himself. Maintaining a sense of humour while keeping current are central elements of his character. “He’s in [his] 70s and he’s faster than I am. When he deals with people, he’s very direct and he knows exactly what he wants. If you can’t keep up with him, then get off the boat. Just watching him operate like that is interesting.”

So no King Karl-dictator type of behaviour?
“I’ve never seen him be mean, says Lezark, “but I’ve seen him be firm. Like, everyone looks terrified.”
Photography by:
September 13th, 2010