Mae Lapres’ idea of fancy dress might sound better suited for a madcap costume party in a bohemian art commune than some Crillon-hosted Great Gatsby-esque affair. “If there’s one thing that I adore, it’s circus clothes,” she gushes in between takes at our cover shoot on a balmy Spring afternoon in Paris. “If I see a clown outfit – even if it’s from present day and really cheap-looking; just two pieces of cotton with big buttons – I want it.
“I’d wear it with heels, flats, bling bling necklaces,” she continues, glee very much evident from her looming doe eyes. “There are nice ones that date back to the early 1900s and are very pricey, even though they usually have holes in them. For a mainstream person, they’d just be rags, but I consider them fancy because they’d be very delicate, with the fabrics having survived through time.” Did we add that she could just wear such a piece with anything from her collection of thrifted punk-style tartan trousers, pink fringed Yohji Yamamoto bowling-style lace-ups, and vintage Jean Paul Gaultier on any given day?
In the nine or so years that she’s been in the industry, Lapres has become as recognised as a renegade style star as an enduring top model (she’s 27 – and still in demand). Her eclectic garbs – worn with a mix of cool disaffection and girlish charm – have made her a scene-stealer amid a sea of all-black, leather jacket- and skinny jeans-clad models off-duty on the street style circuit.
Her wardrobe – so expansive, she keeps pieces in compression bags in her storeroom (she claims to archive everything that she’s amassed since she was 15) – includes 20th century theatre costumes and old military uniforms. She regularly trawls eBay, as well as the flea markets and vintage boutiques of Paris, where she was born and raised, and hits important castings in ’80s Chanel.
And while her doll-like Canadian-Chinese beauty has led to shows and campaigns with commercial titans (from Tod’s to Shu Uemura to Zara), she’s a darling of revered designers and image-makers who pick models for their individuality as much as looks. Among them: arty, finger-on-the-zeitgeist photographers such as Harley Weir and Hugo Comte; the Rodarte sisters; and Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquiere. She’s walked in every one of Alessandro Michele’s shows since he became creative director of Gucci, bagging two seasonal ads along the way. When she brought her pet cockatoo Kiki to the S/S ’19 show that was held in the French capital, Michele got her to strut down the catwalk with it, perched calmly on her shoulder.
“A lot of people might think that I’m a dressy person, but (really I’m just) eccentric,” she says. “I actually think I’m a casual dresser. By that, I mean an old T-shirt with checkered pants and cowboy boots, but some might think I took hours to come up with the look.”
Her latest coup seems like a natural fit with her kookiness: the retro-soaked campaign for Gucci’s debut makeup line that’s made waves for its use of far-from-perfect smiles showing off the brand’s vivid red lipsticks. (Lapres, on the contrary, has enviably straight, white teeth and fine, rosebud lips, but checks off the quirk factor with a shot of her puckers sensually parted – as if in the throes of ecstasy – all while applying said lippie.)
“I’m a girl, so I love makeup,” she says. “On the eyes, I really like pop colours – flash blue and green. And for lips, I like to go dark. When I first started modelling, the market here wasn’t that open to Asians, and whenever clients saw an Asian girl, they would apply the same classic look: pink blush, eyeliner, red lips. It got me a bit traumatised.” Her ideal lip colour? Deep, goth-appropriate brown.