Amanda Lepore wears many hats: model, singer, club kid, performer. Since the 1990s, she's been an iconic part of New York nightlife (not to mention a fixture in PAPER), and this April, will dish on the details of her life--from coming to New York to in a new memoir, Doll Parts, out from Regan Arts.

We're excited to share an excerpt from Doll Parts where Lepore details how she began with the iconic pop photographer David LaChappelle and forged a brilliant and long-lasting artistic partnership. Read below, and peep a gallery of some of the amazing shots that came from their creative synergy.


Sophia and I were hosting a party at Bowery Bar one night when Richie Rich came up to me. I hadn't seen him in weeks; he had been touring the world with a music single, modeling for Japanese beers, and working with Susanne Bartsch.

"David LaChapelle is here," he said, "and he's been asking about you." I looked around the room, trying to see him. David was the top photographer in the world. He'd just won Photographer of the Year at the VH1 Fashion Awards a few days before, and everyone was talking about him.

"What did he say?" I couldn't spot him anywhere. Sophia tapped me on the shoulder and gestured that she needed me.

"He said you looked intimidating and asked if you're a bitch or if you're nice." Richie was jumping up and down with excitement.

"What did you tell him?"

"I said you only had one mean bone in your body and you'd already had it removed."

Sophia gestured me toward some London kids who wanted to take a picture.

"What was that about?" Sophia asked as we posed.

"I'm not sure. I think David LaChapelle wants to meet me."

"What about me?" she asked. "You know I modeled for him once before. He's a tyrant, but he's the best."

I thanked the London kids for coming to our party and felt a big, manly hand fall on my shoulder. I turned around, and there he was.

"I think I Weird Science'd you into existence," David LaChapelle said in my ear. He was a hunk of a man—muscular, broad—and he smelled great.

"That would've been nice," I cooed. "And a lot easier on my body."

"Can I buy you a drink, Miss Hollywood?" he asked. Goose bumps covered my body. No one had called me that since Mom died.

I looked at Sophia, as though for permission. She seemed pissed but tried to play it cool. I said, "Okay," and went to sit down with him at a table on the outside patio.

I was nervous, and so caught off guard that I didn't know what to say. Luckily it didn't matter. David liked to talk.

"I worked the VIP room at Studio 54 when I was a teenager," he told me, "hanging out with Truman Capote, Liza Minnelli, and Bruce Jenner."

"What about high school?" I asked. We talked close, like lovers, the patio lights setting a romantic scene.

"I'd take the train in from Connecticut, then my dad would meet me at the train station in the morning. He'd take back the train pass from me and head in to work. If my eyes were too bloodshot, he'd tell me to go home. But if I looked half decent, he'd tell me to go to school."

Just like for me, high school had very little to offer David. On the rare occasion that he did show up, still wearing his disco attire from the night before, he would sit at his desk and fill his books with drawings of a woman. The woman was all enormous cheekbones, eyelashes right off the eye, giant lips, and gianter hair. Her body was an hourglass, and her tits were always out. He'd draw this woman in every position, over and over, to the point where it became like his signature.

One day his teacher confiscated his book and asked him, "Why are you drawing this drag queen?" But it wasn't a drag queen; it was me.

"So you see, Miss Hollywood, I conjured you into existence."

"Why do you keep calling me that? My mom used to say that when I was a kid."

"I don't know," he said, and laughed. "Sounds like fate, doesn't it?"

The rest of the club had receded and Sophia was long gone, but we kept talking. He told me he had seen me around for a while but was always too intimidated to talk to me. Because my look was so severe, he assumed I was another bitchy party queen.

"I don't spend this much time looking beautiful just to ruin it with an ugly personality," I said. "I have no room in my life for rudeness."

"I guess that's the biggest difference between you and Sophia," he said, laughing.

"Oh, Sophia's not bad. She's tough but she's got a good heart."

As the bar was closing down and the overhead lights came on, David took my number, kissed me good-bye, and said I'd be hearing from him.

After he left, Richie came to get the gossip from me. I told him David was very nice and that I thought we'd become friends.

"Listen, space cadet," Richie said. "That man is going to make you famous."

"Don't be silly." I gathered my coat and purse and stepped into the bathroom. There were dozens of tea light candles lit. I left the fluorescent overhead off and let the excitement course through me.

I looked at myself in the mirror and thought about Mom, and what she would think of the woman I had become.

"I miss you, Mom," I said, and blew out all the candles.

*****

The next day I woke to the hallway phone ringing, and Richie Rich banging on my door. "It's him," Richie was yelling.

"Who? Michael?"

"Don't be so morbid! It's LaChapelle! It's your future!" Indeed it was David's studio manager, Luis Nunez, calling to arrange a photo shoot with me at their Alphabet City studio that weekend. Richie was choking himself with the phone cord as I took down the details.

"What do they want you to wear?" he screamed when I hung up the phone.

"They didn't say."

"That probably means you'll be naked. Better stop eating now, girl."

"Oh, like I ever eat." I went inside and threw away the single strawberry I had been saving for breakfast.

Modeling had never really occurred to me. I don't have a model's measurements; I'm short and I'm curvy, with big tits and hips. My last boyfriend was Puerto Rican and obsessed with me having a big ass. I'd gotten the tiniest bit of silicone put in there—just enough to give it some pop. I loved it, and wanted to get more, but that's not what models were supposed to look like. Sophia was the model—tall, skinny, and moldable. I'd already molded myself into exactly what I wanted.

Never one to examine a gift horse's teeth, I showed up on time to my photo shoot. e studio was big— three stories—with colored glass windows. Luis, who was David's right-hand man, gave me a tour. Upstairs was a gothic-styled bedroom, "where," Luis told me, "David sleeps when things are busy." The room looked well lived-in.

The main floor was split into five separate, fully designed sets that we'd be using that weekend. David was running frantically between them, putting finishing touches on, moving lights around, and barking orders about the background colors and how the set pieces should be angled. He waved at me and yelled out, "Amanda! I'm sorry, I have one hundred thoughts in my head right now and if I stop I'll lose them all!" He didn't look up while he said any of this. "Go to hair and makeup and I'll be down in a minute to say hi!"

The basement had a makeup and hair station, and a large hangout room.

"Luis, I already did my makeup."

"We'll just do a light touch up," he said. "David likes everything a specific way. He's been working as a photographer since he was sixteen, taking photos for Interview magazine." Luis applied a thick layer of foundation as he told me this. "His work is meticulous, his sets are planned to the smallest detail. Nowadays people just Photoshop a background, but David makes a picture look like it was computer generated even though it is barely retouched. He is a genius in the truest sense."

"Does he pay you to say this, or what?" I asked.

Luis laughed. "You'll see what I mean soon enough." He applied another layer of foundation. I usually wear a very light foundation or tinted moisturizer, but this foundation was no joke.

David came down, unnecessarily apologetic and full of energy and excited to work with me, as though I was doing him a huge favor.

I got real quiet and shy.

"I'll do whatever you say," I told him. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

"Be careful telling me you'll do what I say. You might end up regretting it."

*****

The first shoot we did was for Visionaire's Diamond Issue. The idea was to portray an addiction to material possessions. It remains among my favorite photos David has ever taken of me, even though I think it looks nothing like me. There was no color on my eyelids and the lip color he had me wear was nude. My hair was straight and plain. It was a very big deal for me to let someone else control my look, after I'd spent so many years cultivating it, but that's what modeling is all about.

David set up a metallic blue table that was really just a piece of spray-painted foam board. On it he placed a circular mirror, a cocaine vial, a rolled-up bill, and diamonds lined up, as though they were a line of coke. He glued one of the diamonds to my nail and told me to position my finger as though I were about to snort it. I suggested gluing one to the inside of my nose, which David loved.

He shot several photos and then decided the blue table wasn't right. A gold table would look better with my skin tone. So the whole crew got up and left to get the new prop piece. The lights went out and the lighting guys left too.

I wasn't sure what to do. Nobody told me anything, and David had run out already to work on another set. I didn't want to move; they'd spent a long time setting up the exact angles of all the lights, I didn't want to mess up anything. I was told to sit there with my finger on my nose, and I didn't plan on moving again until I was told otherwise.

Half an hour later, everyone came back with the new gold foam board and I was still sitting there, my finger to my nose, in the same position they had left me in. The lights came back on. David saw me still posed the way he had left me and yelled out, "This bitch is my girl!" Everyone on staff started clapping and hollering.

I was a much better model than I thought I would be. All those years of being what my mother needed, my marriage to Michael, followed by the scripted interactions at the Key had taught me how to take direction and understand what people want. David would give me a direction and I would instinctively know exactly what to do. It was exhilarating. It also helped that I needed very little retouching. David says I've probably saved him a small fortune because he doesn't have to retouch me.

David is a perfectionist, and his setups and shoots take many long hours. When the bright lights went out, the music stopped (he'd played Whitney Houston's "I'm Every Woman" on repeat the entire day), and the adrenaline rush of the day started to float away, I pulled the diamond out of my nose and threw it behind me, happy to have it off my face. There was a loud gasp from everyone in the room.

"That was a real diamond!" Luis screamed. There was a mad dash as everyone started searching for it. I thought it was only a rhinestone, but Visionaire had loaned real diamonds for the shoot. I couldn't believe they'd let me glue a real diamond inside my nose. Were these people nuts?

David handed me a glass of champagne and we clinked glasses and laughed while his staff frantically searched on their hands and knees for a diamond that had been in my nose.

*****

That same weekend we did a plastic surgery photo shoot where a black model and a white one switched heads. We also did a photo of me with a crying baby.

I knew as we were shooting that the photos were going to be special, but I was still surprised and proud when they were published in various magazines. All my coworkers at Pat Field's were gagging, customers were asking for autographs, and everyone I knew was congratulating me...except Sophia.

"Tell him I'm the model," she said. "He needs to use both of us together."

"Oh, he asked about you the whole time," I lied. "If I see him again I'll tell him, but we did a lot of photos. I'm sure he's done with me."

Little did I know that David had other ideas. He began telling the media that Amanda Lepore was his "muse." He wanted me to be in as many photos as he could fit me into.


Doll Parts is out April 18th. Excerpt from the book Doll Parts by Amanda Lepore with Thomas Flannery (Regan Arts, April 2017), reprinted by permission from Regan Arts, LLC. All rights reserved. Splash photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com.