Rachel Fleit doesn’t do style icons. “Are they truly a real thing? When people ask who mine are, I have to make them up by googling cool women from the 70s. I believe style is in your behavior. It’s in the way you treat other people.” As co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of luxury brand HONOR, Rachel may be the head of a fashion house, but it’s her heart that she chooses to lead with. One could easily associate the image focused nature of the industry with those who work in it, but Rachel’s personal journey with appearance has strengthened her against it’s foils. At 18-months-old she was diagnosed with alopecia, a hair loss condition. This may have left Rachel with no hair, but her style is in abundance.
“Fashion is really just my job. I often forget that I work in the industry, it’s more like—this is just what I’m doing today. My background is in performance art, film and event planning, so fashion became an interesting way of putting my skills to good use. You have to be careful not to fall down the fashion rabbit hole. I stay grounded by surrounding myself with a really interesting, diverse group of friends—most of whom don’t work in the industry. Here and there I’m friends with stylists, set designers, photographers—then it’s just a bonus when we get to work together. I’m always looking outward through books, art, travel… engaging in all things that make you a well rounded human being.
Treating people well is really important to me.
My parents are very hard-working and have always opened their home to people. Everyone was always welcome and there was a lot of love around. The main message was to be kind others, which I’ve definitely taken on. I have my own version of what kindness means, because you also need to learn how to be tough. You can’t always be kind, but you can never be rude. My grandmothers had a lot to do with my upbringing and I was very close to them growing up. They taught me the importance of being direct and honest, which I’ve carried through to adulthood.
In addition to family, my alopecia has contributed so much to who I am. I wore a wig as a child, so a lot of my personality stems from defense mechanisms. I was terrified people would make fun of me if they found out I was wearing a wig, so I focused on making people like me. I was very insecure and in a lot of fear and pain. I remember blowing out my birthday candles and wishing my hair would grow, which is really sad to think about now.
That experience of
being scared and sad to taking off the wig has defined me.
Sometimes people ask if I’d grow my hair back if I had a choice and I’m not sure I would. I’ve spent so long accepting the fact that I have no hair—this has become who I am. A lot of your femininity is wrapped in your hair, so my own femininity has been challenged in that sense. Although I don’t have lustrous locks, I am 100% a lady. Some days I feel really butch so I throw on a dress, while other days I feel like I can do whatever I want. My confidence and self-esteem have had to catch up with my external appearance. If you just saw me on the street, it would be easy to think ‘That bald woman has got it going on!’ But it’s only recently that I’ve caught up to that outward appearance. As a little girl I was told that that I was very confident and self-assured, but that confidence waned from wearing a wig.
I was always effervescent and bright eyed by nature, but now it’s more refined. It’s more for real.
It’s taken a long time and a lot of internal work to accept myself, and it continues to be a daily process. My sense of self is constantly evolving. I learn so much about myself each day, my self-understanding will always be greater tomorrow. You have to stay open to see possibilities for yourself—it would be limiting to say that I’m going to be a fashion person for the rest of my life. Who knows, maybe I’m supposed to be a late career performance artist, maybe I’m supposed to teach. Life is a series of really hard things you have to get through, with joyful moments and really boring times too.
If you have the awareness that it’s a big learning process, everything becomes easier.
You need to surrender to the fact that life is going to unfold and you’re not necessarily in charge of the way it does. Gratitude is at the center of it all. Gratitude is my jam. A couple of girlfriends and I have a gratitude list—we start an email between us each day where we list whatever we’re grateful for. It allows you to reconfigure the day in your mind. In the morning I’ll be cranky, but I sit down on the subway and start a list: I’m alive. I’m healthy. I have all of the function in my limbs. I have a job. I have an apartment. I have tons of friend who love me. This coffee is amazing. This subway system is incredible. Suddenly, you realize everything is OK. My grandmother, particularly in her old age, would say to be grateful for the day. That was her thing. To treat each day as a gift.”
As told to Amy Woodside, June 2014
Photographed by Amy Woodside