Arguably one of the most recognized figures in fashion, Amanda Lepore started out as a teenaged housewife in New Jersey before she eventually became one of the most widely recognized figures in New York nightlife. After being discovered by photographer David LaChapelle, her fame landed her campaigns with M.A.C Cosmetics and Armani Jeans as well as shoots with Terry Richardson and Steven Klein. Lepore paved her way to success ahead of her time, but not without a heavy dose of struggle and perseverance. We sat down with Lepore in New York City’s Coffee Shop to discuss her recently-released memoir, Doll Parts.
What was the most difficult part about writing your memoir?
I’m really a person who lives in the moment. I don’t think about the past so much, so that was kind of hard. Some of the childhood stuff was kind of painful. It was kind of weird, but I did it [laughs]. But at the same time I have a really good memory—I remember everything.
When did you begin writing?
I had a ghostwriter and he would interview me every week for a year and a half. He approached me. I’m just that kind of person. I just do things that people ask me to do [laughs]. I finished it last year, but we’re just releasing it now.
What did you enjoy most about putting the book together?
Choosing all of the pictures. I like the pictures more than the story. I always like more recent photos of myself so it was kind of hard using older ones. Now that I see it all together, it looks great.
What were you like as a child?
I was really, really shy and scared. I would always try and get out of class before everyone else and run so I didn’t have to have a confrontation with anyone. But it was kind of weird, because sometimes the toughest guy would stand up for me. I think they were attracted to me or felt overprotective or something. So sometimes I would have it easy in that way. I was lucky, because I never got beaten up or anything…but I ran fast as well. [Laughs] I was very, very feminine. Lepore is my real last name and they used to call me “Miss Lepore.” I would make feminine gestures like putting my hands on my chest in a certain way and the kids would notice, but I didn’t even realize I was doing those things. They would say, “You look like a girl coming out of the shower.” But then there were times where I went through periods of trying to be more like a boy, and it would get worse because they were used to me [being] the other way. It just didn’t work, because they could tell I was trying to be something I wasn’t. I had some friends, and there were some people who would stay away from me. But I had an older brother and I had a habit of being friends with all of his ex-girlfriends because they were older and from other towns and seemed to understand me.
Did you include any personal photos from your childhood in your book?
I don’t have any. I think I destroyed most of them. Also, I was married super young, when I first had my sex change at 17, and I eventually had to run away from him. It didn’t turn out that well, and I had to leave my things behind. But we had good times, too.
Were you living in New York at the time?
I was living in New Jersey with him and his parents. My mother was in and out of psychiatric institutions.
Where was your father?
They were separated when I was younger. They used to fight really bad, and when my mother would go into the hospital he would buy me dolls to make me happy, but when she would come back he would take them away. But she always made him give them back.
How did you meet your first husband?
I went to hairdressing school when I was still in high school and I met this girl and she liked going out with me and fooling guys. I was already on hormones at that time so I looked very girly. She would take it further and further every time we would go out. She eventually introduced me to her fiancé’s best friend, and he turned out to be my husband.
What happened when you had to tell him about your gender?
He wasn’t too happy about it. [laughs] We went out for like three months and he really didn’t have any idea.
How did his family react?
Actually, his mother really didn’t know about it. His father didn’t want her to know. But his father really felt bad about it. My mother didn’t want me to have a sex change until I was 21, but his father legally adopted me and helped me get my sex change.
Do you keep in touch with them?
No, but he was really sweet.
How did you get the hormones at such a young age?
I was about 14 and I really liked showgirls and I was making things for myself and friends. One of the girls that my brother went out with, her and her twin sister would hang out with me and show me about eyelash curlers and bras and those kind of things—they knew I was transgender even more than I did. I would make things for them that they would buy from me. I was also friends with this other girl that was also kind of an outcast—she was a teenage prostitute—so I would make costumes for her and she worked at a strip club where there was a transsexual, who I ended up making clothes for and she would trade hormones for the clothes I made.
What was your look back then?
I had smaller boobs and smaller lips. I kind of looked like Mia Farrow. I was always blonde.
David LaChapelle has said that you never really wanted to look just like a girl. True?
Well, I always wanted to look like a pinup, I guess. I spent a lot of time by myself, so I would watch a lot of old movies, and I loved Marilyn Monroe. Later, it was Jessica Rabbit and Vargas pinups. I always wanted my lips to look like Marilyn Monroe’s. She used to put cotton on them underneath the makeup to pump them up. She had a lot of tricks. She used to do her makeup in 3D, kind of like an illusion, because she was really good at makeup. And then I wanted bigger boobs so I could fit in sexier clothing, so I just started doing things.
Are you done with enhancements at this point?
Yeah, I am. I did do my eyes, though, because when I made everything bigger it made my eyes look smaller. I did that pretty recently. It made everything look more proportionate.
Who do you let see you without your makeup and hair done?
A lot of people have seen me with no makeup. When I do errands I’ll wear sunglasses and do my hair up and just wear red lipstick. I can get out of the house in 15 minutes. I make sure I had sunscreen on because I’m really into skincare.
What is your skincare regime?
I use a lot of Kiehl’s products. I love their Midnight Recovery Oil. I like to use topical Vitamin C and also take the actual vitamins as well. I like to use hyaluronic acid, which keeps moisture in the skin. So I use those two first and then I’ll put on a retinol or whatever I feel like doing and then once in awhile I’ll use glycolic acid. And I’ll always put sunscreen on. But I really love the Kiehl’s products, honestly. They don’t make me break out and everything is great. I use these products everywhere. I treat my whole body like my face.
Do you ever wear jeans or sweatpants?
No, never. I’ll usually wear leggings if I’m out running errands. I like to go to the gym or do yoga, so I’ll wear things that I could do yoga in. I’ll wear a low-cut top, a tight belt, leggings, and usually ballet flats.
Do you wear sneakers to the gym?
No, I’ll wear ballet flats.
Where do you buy your clothes?
I usually have them made. It’s a lot easier. I used to shop and then I would have to make so many alterations that I just started having them made. I have a lot of things made by Jimmy Helvin. He’s a designer in New York and he makes a lot of things for entertainers. I usually get the same dress just in different versions or ways of doing it. So at this point, I can just order the up on the phone and he’s really fast because he has a really good team.
How did you end up in the club scene?
Someone took me out to Disco 2000 for my birthday, and then after that, they started hiring me just to go to parties and go-go dance. I was doing nails when I first moved to the city, but I had a roommate who was a dominatrix who told me I should start doing that, because I could make a lot of money. But I didn’t really like it, and it made me not like men for awhile. Eventually, I got hired at the club and I go-go danced in a cage and made eye contact with the guys that I liked, and then I started getting more into men, because these guys were more normal.
Is this when you got involved in the whole “Club Kids” scene with Michael Alig?
Yes, it was right then. I think I met Michael the second week I worked at Disco 2000. It happened really fast.
You were interviewed in the Michael Alig Netflix documentary, “Glory Daze”. What did you think of it?
When I first heard about it [the murder of club kid Angel Melendez], I didn’t think that he did it. I thought it was a hoax and then Angel would appear [at the club] and then they would have more publicity. But I knew that drugs were involved, because Michael wouldn’t show up at parties sometimes and he wasn’t the same anymore. In the beginning, he didn’t even do drugs and wouldn’t even really drink most of the time. It was dark, but I didn’t think he killed him. I actually didn’t know until I was working at Twilo and Larry Tee told me it was true, because Michael Musto had written about it.
He’s back in NYC. Are you still friends?
It’s really difficult, because I just can’t get it [the murder] out of my head. At first, I didn’t really want to speak in the documentary, but I did it because my friend Kenny Kenny was doing it, but I was really nervous about it because I didn’t know how it was going to be done. I was scared. Even though I’m artificial looking, I’m really spiritual, and a good person. He would come to parties I was at and say hi, but I couldn’t go to coffee or anything with him. He wanted to get together and said he missed me, but the whole thing was just too dark. Even if it was self-defense like they claimed, then why didn’t they call the police? It was just dark at its darkest. It’s just really creepy.
What was your life like after the Club Kid days came to an end?
When Limelight closed, I tried to be a waitress at first. I had a lot of friends at this one restaurant where a lot of drag queens worked, but one day the whole kitchen came out and said they had to fire me because I had long nails and I wasn’t punching the right thing in. Then I applied for a job at Pat Field’s because I figured I could do makeup. I was really good at that. It was respectable, because all I had done before was worked in nightclubs and been a dominatrix. [Laughs] I did that five days a week and I still had a go-go dancing job at Twilo. Sophia Lamar was dancing with me there at the time, and there were only a small amount of people out still doing things.
Eventually, you started landing campaigns. Which one was your first?
It was with David LaChapelle for an Armani Jeans commercial. It was an Italian commercial with Ryan Phillippe. After we went to the Armani show and David brought me to Italy and they went crazy and called me La Silicone. I loved it. I felt like a movie star and met all of the editors from Vogue and things like that. David would make me not eat a thing for a whole weekend. He would just give me a pea or something. [Laughs]
Was that the first time you met David LaChapelle?
I had met him at Bowery Bar and then he wanted to do a photo shoot with me right away. He did this plastic surgery fashion shoot where I was in a nursery and pregnant with a baby. I think that was for Flaunt magazine. Then we did something for Visionaire. He’s amazing and really sweet and funny. At first I wasn’t sure he was gay—he was so handsome and paying a lot of attention to me. Then I figured it out, and we became really good friends.
Are you dating anyone now?
Not really, but I’m going to go see this guy in Rome. I was on Tinder when I was in Milan and matched with him and he was really eager to meet up, and we started communicating on Whatsapp. He told me he was really into Jessica Rabbit when he was 11. He’s 28 and really hot and he’s driving six hours to Rome to meet me there. He’s trying to relocate to New Jersey for his job. He sees me in my hair rollers because he will FaceTime me in the middle of the night because of the time difference. Sometimes I don’t know what to do, so I just take off all my clothes, and he’s happy.
What do you think of the representation the trans community gets now?
I think it’s great for kids and it makes me really happy. I think before the internet and all of the attention on it, there was only one known transsexual every 10 years, when you think about it. I think it’s great to see that and I think it’s really important. It’s also good for parents to see so they can look for signs and help their children right away. Now you can Google anything and it really helps people just be themselves and find role models. If I had had all of these resources we have now, I probably would have done it when I was five. I was fearless with my transition, but I really didn’t have a choice. I have a great life, but I wonder what it would have been like had I had the knowledge earlier.