After being notoriously private for most of her life, the 25-year-old dancer, choreographer and model Lourdes "Lola" Leon is giving us a taste of her energy. Raised in New York, the eldest daughter of Madonna and fitness instructor Carlos Leon has been dancing her whole life. From ballet classes at age three to paying her way through the competitive dance program at SUNY, Lola is now a professional choreographer, whose client list includes Adidas x Stella McCartney and the intoxicating indie musician Eartheater.
Along with starring in music videos, the multi-hyphenated talent is the new face of Swarovski, and can be found in campaigns for brands like Marc Jacobs, Mugler and Barragán. Her interest in artistic movement makes her the ideal candidate for a successful modeling career, but the up-and-coming ingenue isn’t only interested in flaunting her looks. A talented singer and performer who is in touch with her body, Lola isn’t saying no to a music career. But for now she’s focused on staying true to herself and eschewing external pressures.
From TikTok trends to the male gaze, Lola is opinionated and wise beyond her years. Like her mother, she refuses to take heat — and isn’t afraid to clap back to haters online. In the age of omni-potent media and tight-lipped celebrities, Lola’s authenticity is anything but stale. But with media judgement and pressures to conform to the status quo, it’s a challenge avoiding scrutiny, especially as the daughter of one of the most famous women of all time.
For PAPER's latest cover story, Lola hopped on the phone with Raul Lopez, friend, fashion designer and founder of Luar. The two discuss bad fashion, community and the importance of originality in the era of social media.
Lola: Hey boss bitch!
Raul: How was your thanksgiving?
Lola: [Sighs] I feel disgusting.
Raul: Me too. I feel so nasty.
Lola: After my third piece of pie, I said, “I gotta hang up my jacket — I gotta go to bed.”
Raul: [Laughs] I’m weak. Girl, I went to my parents’ house. Next year I’m trying to do this thing in the projects where I rent out the whole community center, and invite my entire family and all my girlfriends and just throw them in one place.
Lola: That sounds like so much fun.
Raul: So what’s poppin? I guess I have to interview you? This is so funny and weird at the same time.
Raul: Ms. Lola, what do you think fashion needs the most, right now?
Lola: I don’t know, I don’t even think I would be someone qualified to give this response, but –
Raul: Why? You roll with all the girls.
Lola: Ok, I feel like there’s such a lack of personal style, like actual style that doesn’t have to do with trends or TikTok. Cause when something’s in, everybody is wearing it. Or everybody that’s trendy, but trendy for the masses. Because of TikTok and trends on social media, there’s so many different iterations of the same jacket or the same... It's like everything is copied by everyone. I guess that is fashion now, in a way. And people who dress fully for themselves get so much hate. I don’t know if it can go back now because of what social media has done to fashion, but I think that’s what it needs: [to be] based on the individual and how they choose to dress and live their lives. If they want to follow this algorithm of what’s trending, right now, then fashion will never be cool.
Lola: Yeah, I agree.
Raul: What’re some trends you hope never ever fucking return?
Lola: There was a time in high school when I was like, “Ugh that Y2K shit, that Ed Hardy shit is so tired.” I was like, “Ew remember when people used to wear trucker hats and low-rise [jeans]? That shit was so bad, the long tank tops pulled over the jeans.” And now that’s fully back, but now what I think of as the worst time in fashion where I’m like, “Ugh that’s disgusting,” is the Tumblr aesthetic era. Remember the people that would draw mustaches on their fingers, and [wear] fedoras and those thin scarves, or even me in middle school I’d wear vests. I was so into that hipster [look].
Raul: Are you forecasting? Maybe you’re forecasting.
Lola: I might be forecasting, but it’s like no matter how heinous I think trends are, they will come back and be cool at some point.
Raul: They always come back.
Lola: There’s so much ironic fashion happening, the Tumblr thing — and I see it too, I see these weird little hipster things making their way back in, squeezing their way back in. So I feel like it’s only a matter of time before the things that we think are heinous are going to be back. It’s just what happens.
Raul: She’ll resurface again. Every 10 years the trend comes back. What’s a fashion trend that you can’t get behind, a current one?
Lola: You’re going to argue with me on this, you’re going to be mad. I can’t get into the casualizing, or the casualization, of the blazer. The oversized blazer. Cause I’m not a blazer girl.
Raul: You’re not, you’re not.
Lola: And it’s because I have massive linebacker shoulders that it looks so bad on me.
Raul: Here you go... [Sighs] Girl, this is only you who sees this.
Lola: [Laughs] The corporate America casual going out to dinner look. I just can’t, I just can’t.
Raul: I think that’d look so good on you, that’s the crazy part. I see you with a little slutty look under it.
Lola: Yeah, that’s giving Hailey Bieber for me. I don’t really know...
Raul: [Laughs] Not that read.
Lola: So yeah, I said what I said. The sexy corporate America look is not for me. Maybe I’ll get into it when I’m a little more grown. We’ll see. Never say never, but that’s just something I have seen where I’m like, “All these bitches in these blazers three times their size,” I can’t.
Raul: You know I’m one of your biggest fans. You know I love your dancing, I’ve always been obsessed with your dancing.
Lola: That’s true, you’ve always been very supportive.
Raul: I think you’re fucking a nasty bitch dancing. I think you’re fab. Your creativity literally sneaks out through your toes and your fingertips, and I think you’re actually fucking iconic. Not because you’re my friend, but because as an actual dancer, I think you’re nuts. But going into that, what has dance taught you that helps outside the art form?
Lola: With dance, and specifically performance, it’s really an area where if you’re not present and being authentically, fully immersed in the movement — you’re half-assing it or you’re nervous or shy — people can tell. There’s no hiding in dance because it’s an art form where you’re wearing your emotions. Nothing against any type of visual — like painting, drawing, even music — you can kind of, not hide behind something, but what you’re showcasing is not really your body and the expression of your face. And that’s taught me in life to be authentically myself in any situation, because as soon as you’re not, people clock you. And I’m not the one to be clocked [laughs]. You know what I mean?
Raul: I know when you’re upset and I can tell right away, “Oop there she goes.”
Lola: I’m someone where it’s really hard for me to hide my emotions. What I present is what I am.
Raul: Where do you want to take your dance background? How do you see it developing into something bigger down the line?
Lola: I have these very baseline ideas of what I want to do: I want to choreograph for artists, people that make music, visual artists. I want to choreograph mainly, but there is a big part of me that still does want to perform. I don’t know if I’m ready to throw that away yet, that performance side, but I think there’s a way I can do both. Now I’m dipping my toes in the pond of choreography for music videos and stuff like that. I think something bigger will end up manifesting itself, but I have to take other steps in order to find that sweet spot of what is actually going to end up being my –
Raul: aesthetic and legacy.
Lola: Exactly. I don’t really have a huge end result, what I dream in mind. I just know what I love to do and I know that if I keep doing that then I’ll get somewhere eventually.
Raul: I know we’ve spoken about this a lot, but will you ever dive into music as a serious profession and what would that sound like?
Lola: I think about it, I have nothing against it. The thing is, I’m not really much of a writer.
Raul: Who cares? [Laughs] Who is anymore? Just dance and fucking mix it all up, bitch. Make your own fucking sound.
Lolal: Exactly. I feel like anything I do would be an electronic, experimental vibe. You know? Dance music, but also –
Raul: Super experimental, I could see that.
Lola: A lot of the artists I like are already like that. I love Shygirl, I love Eartheater, I love Tirzah. I love all these girls that are singers, but these beats they’re singing on are just so good. And they’re making their own genre of music, so I’m not really sure how that would look.
Raul: I think you should do it.
Lola: I know, I need to find someone to produce my tracks. So if anyone wants to produce beats for me, let me know.
Raul: Hit her up at 1-800-555-SLUT.
Raul: What do you want to be known for at the end of the day?
Lola: Oh god...
Raul: Just make it hot, bitch.
Lola: Like, being fab?
Raul: Period. For me, at the end of the day you’ve created this person that everyone kind of already knows. Everyone knows your vibe: you’re like the sexy va va voom girl who has the long locks. Even though you never think this, and I always tell you this, when you go out and give sexy vixen, it’s so hot.
Lola: [Laughs] When I try?
Raul: That’s what’s so good about it. That’s always been your vibe since you were a teen. Even though you’re giving, you don’t think you’re giving.
Lola: I don’t want to complicate that question too much. As long as I’m not known for anything horrible, I’m good. You know what I mean?
Raul: Period. As long as you’re a good person, that’s all that should matter.
Lola: As long as I’m not known for being an influencer, I’m good. Anything else is fine.
Raul: [Laughs] On that note, what’s your relationship with social media? Do you love it? Hate it? You don’t follow anyone on Instagram and can’t be tagged.
Lola: I just have a little issue with taking things personally, it’s really hard.
Raul: You don’t know how to differentiate between the real world and social media.
Lola: I love social media as a tool. I think it could’ve been so amazing. The Vine era? So amazing. I was obsessed with Vine, it was so cool. But it’s just turned into this horrible thing and you’re being fed lies and nonsense every day because it’s all an algorithm. You’re seeing things they want you to see so you become more and more of a consumer. Like this horrible vicious circle, but I think it could be used in such a funny way, which is how I use it. There are just a bunch of trolls online, but unfortunately people take it so seriously and it’s literally their life because it is a lot of people’s lives. That’s how–
Raul: How they make their coin.
Lola: I don’t want to talk down on that, but this is such a joke to me. Everyone is like, “[Lola has] a public instagram,” but for me it’s a joke. And I think people were really annoyed that I thought it somewhere I could joke around and be bitchy. I have a complicated relationship with [social media] because a lot of times it makes me feel shitty about myself if this algorithm has made it so I’m only seeing people that look a certain way or live a certain lifestyle, and then I’m going to compare myself to those people. That’s not healthy for anyone. That’s definitely not healthy for young kids growing up, nonbinary kids. Half these social media presences are a complete lie. Obviously nobody is documenting the pain and shiftiness they go through. Everyone wants to just show you their unboxing videos and skincare routines. And it’s like, girl there’s more to you than that.
Raul: You are not a social media person. You are, but as a kiki.
Lola: It’s a joke, it’s a ki. Unless you’re running a business, like a full business, which I understand, but a personal instagram should be a ki. It shouldn’t be like, “Oh my god, you have to follow all these rules,” it’s just ridiculous.
Raul: How do you feel the media has portrayed you, especially with so little information because you’re so private? The coverage is often hyper-sexualized. You a hoe-ass bitch.
Lola: First of all, I would say that showing skin does not equate with hoe activity, ok?
Raul: Tell them, bitch!
Lola: And I think it’s a bit ridiculous that people are still living in this world where we’re equating showing skin with wanting attention or being a hoe. Literally, like let a bitch. Let her wear what she wants.
Raul: That’s all like men’s notions.
Lola: Yeah it is, but obviously men fucking run the world, so men’s notions influence everybody’s notions. And everybody has their fucked up male views, even though they’re not even male. This ties back into the way I feel about social media. It seems to me that if you’re coming onto social media, you need to follow a certain set of rules to make people like you, is what I realized. You have to follow these rules and be cute, be polite and be nice. Not do too much of this, not do too much of that. You can’t talk shit to anyone because people will be so mad at you, even though they’re talking shit to you in the first place, but you can’t clap back. God forbid you clap back.
Raul: God forbid, you’re toast.
Lola: You can’t say shit. It’s just not a place where you can express yourself authentically, so I didn’t really follow those rules and everyone was so offended, which is just ridiculous. I have a base layer of hatred because so many people like to hate on my mom, so it’s obviously like I’m the spawn, I’m the oldest daughter, I’m going to see the tail end of that hate. So anything I do negative, it’s “Like mother, like daughter.” Y’all are so unoriginal.
Raul: You’re so comfortable in your skin, and so comfortable with the people you hang out with and the way you present yourself to everyone that you really don't think about being hypersexual.
Lola: For me, my values are that you can be as least or as most sexual as you want. I will never judge a person for that. I think that’s something people are really still not catching the drift of with sexual autonomy. I don’t judge other women in that way, so I don’t apply those rules to myself. As soon as you use what has been weaponized against you, especially growing up in the media as a woman, people put all these pressures on you. Be hot, but not too hot. Be the virgin and the whore at the same time. People really place a lot of value in women on how they look and how sexual they are. So the second you reclaim that sexuality as something that is your own, people are fucking mad. As soon as you use that thing that’s being used against you, and you’re like, “Let me make this mine, let me do this my way–”
Raul: You’re nasty.
Lola: Yeah, you’re nasty. It’s only ok if it’s other people telling you to be sexual. It’s not ok for you to decide for yourself. So that’s what I have to say about that.
Raul: So my last question is: how much do you love me?
Lola: I really love you so much.
Photography, styling and video: Indiana Piorek
Hair: Iggy Rosales (at Forward Artists using HiddenCrown)
Makeup: Loftjet (for Pat McGrath Labs and Augustinus Bader)
Model: Zack Knecht
Production: Amanda Kahle
Lighting technician: Huey Tran
Production assistant: Nick Talboys
Photography and styling assistant: Sara Beygi
Type treatment: Callum Abbott