Nature or nurture? It’s an old argument. Are we born as we will be, or do our surroundings influence and emphasize different aspects of our character? For Leandra Medine, the style and fashion media prodigy behind the unforgettably named blog Man Repeller, it seems her time as a student at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts made a lot of difference.
When Medine was nearing the end of high school, her favorite teacher pulled her aside. The teacher, who was also teaching at The New School, proposed that Medine might fit in at Lang, a school she had never considered.
“My high school wasn’t necessarily keen on introducing the more progressive liberal arts schools to us,” she said in a recent interview. She attended an academically rigorous but socially conservative orthodox Jewish day school, and Lang didn’t fit their vision of college. “The progressive nature of the school, I think that’s what their problem was,” she explained.
Medine loved fashion and wanted to be a writer. She was ambitious and had her own ideas about how the world should work. She was sure most fashion media was covering fashion wrong, “misrepresenting it” as something frivolous. She knew she could do better. And she was pretty sure Lang would be a great fit for her.
Medine studied journalism at Lang. She was struck by the educational mission of school. She learned that her point of view was valuable but also that she was allowed to live her life the way she wanted—in her words, that her “stance on life was allowed to be as different as it was.”
After a fateful, oft-described trip to Topshop with friends during her sophomore year, Medine realized, too, that the fact that her fashion choices didn’t, for the most part, appeal to the opposite sex didn’t make them any less fabulous. She had a vision for fashion that she believed in even if her favorite clothes seemed to drive men away. She started her Man Repeller blog soon after.
The press often focuses on Medine’s outré taste—drop-crotch this and leopard print that—but her thousands of loyal readers also love her irreverent tone. Man Repeller is written in a chatty voice edged with sharp wit. It’s easy to imagine Medine sitting on the couch with you as you flip through magazine fashion spreads together. “Models: Are You Human? Are You Dancer? Or Are You Cat?” wonders the headline of one piece. “Is Fashion Telling Me to Get Naked?” asks one article, which collects a half-dozen photos of models in various states of undress. Above an image of one woman leaning over the edge of a tub, her chest barely obscured, Medine writes, “bathtubs are better than shirts.” In another piece, she calls buying boots as “an easy, efficient and pleasantly distracting way to demarcate the climatic difference between summer (fun) and winter (stab me).”
Professors at Lang, encouraged her to pursue her writing, even forgiving the occasional absence from class, as long as it was reporting-related. Her teachers told her, “you’re in class to learn how to report and if you have the ability to do it, then do it.” The overall atmosphere at Lang—the commitment to helping students pursue their dreams—was essential for this burgeoning blogger. “There were no restrictions or tightly confined molds that we had to adhere to,” Medine says. “That was very valuable to me.”
The Man Repeller blog has been gaining fans for years. It was profiled in the New York Times Style section barely a year after Medine started it. This summer has been something of a victory lap for her: She released her first book, Man Repeller: Seeking Love. Finding Overalls, which has been enthusiastically reviewed everywhere, from WWD to Elle to Vanity Fair; she collaborated with Superga on a footwear collection; and she was included in Fast Company’s list of the year’s Most Creative People.
What’s next for an incredibly accomplished 24-year-old like Leandra Medine? Perhaps a move away from the industry that she’s spent most of her adult life thinking and writing about. “I cover so much digital and nonfashion stuff these days,” she said, “I bet I could write a book and not even talk about a single skirt.”