Leah McSweeney on Helping the Next Generation of Designers and Her Memorable RHONY Fashion Moments

The Real Housewife is supporting rising streetwear designers with her new Parson's partnership

Leah McSweeney
Leah McSweeney. Photo: Charles Sykes/Bravo

When Leah McSweeney joined the cast of The Real Housewives of New York for season 12, she never expected that one topic of conversation would get as much discussion on the show as it did — her sheer outfits.

"Little do people know, they think that the black mesh is some kind of 'get back at Ramona thing,' but I love black mesh," McSweeney said, referring to when castmate Ramona Singer bashed the sheer dress McSweeney wore to Singer's birthday party. "There was a whole year where I wore a black mesh turtleneck bodysuit with jeans everywhere I went. That was my look. And I still love that look so much. I love Wolford so much and I have so many bodysuits. So black mesh it's just epic."

As soon as photos of McSweeney's reunion look surfaced (she wore a sheer gown by Saga NYC with matching face mask and gloves), everyone was curious to know: What did Singer think?

"She said it looked great," McSweeney says. "And I'm going to say this because all the people are in my comments like, 'Ramona must have died when she saw this.' But Ramona looked amazing. No matter what my complaints are about her, I'm never taking that away from her. She looked really good."

Just like McSweeney's unapologetic attitude on the show, she didn't let any other comments about her style throughout the season get to her. "People find something to obsess over and either they love it or they hate it," says McSweeney. "Some people hated the black mesh bucket hat. Some people loved it. But it became a thing. It became a topic of conversation. Same with that red and yellow tie-dyed jumpsuit I wore with the gloves [in my confessional look]."

"People were like, 'What is she doing?' And some people were like, 'This is f—ing epic.' But you know what? All the drag queens that I'm friends with on Instagram, they love it. And if they love it, that's how I know it's dope. So I don't even care."

She actually used both viral moments to shine a lot on up-and-coming designers (her jumpsuit was by New York-based designer Gabriela Ostolaza) and parlayed the bucket hat fame into a new collaboration with the Swedish designer Ida Klamborn on a collection for her streetwear brand, Married to the Mob. "Look, I love the big name brands too, of course, but it's fun to wear stuff by these more young up-and-coming designers."

Another way she's helping newcomers in the business is by getting involved in a new scholarship program with the Parsons School of Design and Complex Magazine. Together with Yellowbrick Company, they created a five-course module program called Streetwear Essentials, which teaches students multiple facets of the design industry.

The program tapped McSweeney, along with other designers in the field (including Rob Cristofaro, the father of her daughter, Kiki), to choose and mentor the winners.

"Once the winners are selected by me, I'm going to meet them on a Zoom call to kick off the course," the designer says. "And I'm going to be checking in with them once a month for a mentorship-type conversation. There's a possibility that once they complete the course, I'm going to pick a student or a few students that will have a chance to collaborate with my brand, Married to the Mob, for a limited-edition drop on my website."

One of the things she's most excited about is personally connecting with the students "because that's what's inspiring to me."

She says starting out in the industry herself, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome was learning how to handle rejection. "There are a lot of no's and a lot of stores that you have to contact that don't want to carry your brand," she explains. "So I would take things personally in the beginning, and you have to just continue to put yourself out there and be vulnerable and continue to expose yourself to the possibility of failing at this. That was the biggest hurdle, getting over that fear."

Now, like many other business owners, she's learning to navigate the uncertain times brought by the coronavirus pandemic, but says she's "rolling with the punches."

"You have to weather many different storms throughout having a brand for 16 years. There's been lots of uncertain times, obviously a lot different than this, but you have to roll with it. You have to be able to keep up with the different demands people want. Now we have to wear face masks all the time, so [we have] to make face masks. Now we're focusing on the online store, because most people are shopping online. You have to be malleable, and you have to be able to change the way you're doing business."

The Real Housewives of New York City airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo.

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