It’s a drizzly winter afternoon—New York at its least hospitable—and Lola Leon has found refuge in a bowl of red-sauce pasta. The musician and model is tucked into a quiet table at SoHo’s Sant Ambroeus, refueling after a late night in Ridgewood working with her producer and friend Eartheater. An incognito Leon looks the part of an off-duty dancer: bare face, black sweatshirt, hair scraped back into a bun. “It’s really giving, my hair is so dirty that it’s the only thing I can do with it right now,” she says between languid bites of penne. Even a set of cherry red nails reads as against-type. “If you see me on a regular basis, I’m usually missing, like, three,” she adds with a droll, down-tempo delivery.
The 26-year-old is in the swing of self-reinvention. Her familiar first name, Lourdes (given by parents Madonna and Carlos Leon), has fallen by the wayside. After shrugging off music as a possible pursuit—she instead studied dance at SUNY Purchase—Leon made her way onto the scene last year, with a summer single that heralded the November release of Go, her debut EP. If a taste for mononyms runs in the family, the musician has landed on Lolahol. I ask if the epithet has taken on a different depth of meaning in the months since she coined it. “I just think that the name itself is depth,” Leon says, leaning into the literalism alongside the ambiguity. “Eartheater calls it ‘Lola’s lair.’ It’s kind of just, like, inviting people into my world, maybe into my brain a little bit. My spirals.”
Leon’s latest role, though, is more surface-level than subterranean. This spring, she appears in her first-ever makeup campaign, representing the newest foundation from Make Up For Ever. Called HD Skin, it’s a velvet-finish powder formula designed for adjustable coverage—the sort of thing one can dial down or stipple on as needed, with the trust that it will behave accordingly. “That is what’s important to me: I don’t want to look like a wreck under lights, sweating, in the middle of the heat,” Leon says, hinting at upcoming performance dates. The waterproof foundation, packaged in an iPhone-slim compact, suits an unpredictable night out. But finding the right product for a given skin type and situation is a trial-and-error process—emphasis on the error, she jokes. “When I was younger and first started using makeup, I would just put the most insane amount of foundation in my hands, rub my hands together, and then smear it all over my face,” the musician recalls. “It was such a thick coating, but I just felt that that looked good in my mind.” The habit wasn’t enough to make her swear off the stuff. “I think starting with a clean base and having everything be even is important.”
Beauty still has its hazards. The same brows that dominate the Make Up For Ever campaign portraits—high, neat hedges framing Leon’s chestnut eyes—are “a disaster right now,” she laments. “I was dermaplaning, a.k.a. shaving your face, and I shaved off the beginning of my whole eyebrow. So I’m just looking crazy for a couple weeks, but it’s okay.” Luckily the mishap followed her recent runway turn for Luis De Javier’s New York Fashion Week debut, held inside a storied former synagogue. “I felt really lucky to be there,” she tells me, singling out the inspired casting and well-matched looks, styled by Patti Wilson. Leon modeled a strapless red leather minidress, with devil horns protruding from the bust; visible among a smattering of tattoos was her own lanky devil above the right elbow. “I don’t know,” she smiles. “People say that I can be a little prickly, so the horns make sense.”
Self-defense seems like an attendant mechanism for a famous upbringing. Hiccups have a way of becoming tabloid catnip, as when Leon, a former Marc Jacobs campaign star, arrived tardy to the designer’s February fashion show. (She made it inside, she assures me.) “Obviously I respect Marc and all the work that he does, but I think when people are making a story out of something, they’ll just kind of run with whatever they think is going to be interesting and gossipy.” Jacobs’s show touchingly paid homage to the late Vivienne Westwood: knitwear twisted into “tit top” rosettes, voluptuous dresses, coats with upturned collars and models’ arms folded tightly across their chests. To Leon, the stiff outerwear was a reminder that “you kind of have to be hypervigilant and hyperaware at the same time as minding your own business.”
But within that exoskeleton, there’s a sense of cheek. I bring up a lyric in “Lock&Key” (“No sleep, next plane, no sleep, make up”), which seems to reflect the harried pace of a certain kind of life. “That’s a Lady Gaga reference,” Leon points out, referring to an interview clip turned soundbite that swept the internet. “I was like, Oh my god, I have to use some parts of this. It was just too funny and too camp not to.” There’s a shade of reality in the words: “I love it when I actually have the fucking time to do my whole face,” she says, explaining that it’s usually a hasty situation. “[Makeup] really has the ability to, like, make you feel like a different type of bitch.”