Leilani Bishop: Model, Mama + Fragrance Queen
Having grown up immersed in the ALOHA spirit of the Hawaiian islands, Leilani Bishop understands a thing or two about the relentless beauty of mother nature. After being whisked into the modeling world at the age of 15, Leilani traveled the world only to find Hawaii calling for her again when the ultimate act of grounding happened to her: she became a mother and soon after created her fragrance line, Leilani Bishop.
Now residing on the East Coast full time, Leilani and Surf Bazaar founder, Stephanie Meyer, just opened the brick and morter, Botanica Bazaar — a new beauty and wellness boutique (think holistic French pharmacie) — a much needed and timely destination for locals and visitors with a like-minded mentality.
Everything about Leilani's persona — from her home, to her store, to her essence as a woman oozes with her sweet, grounded, Hawaiian roots. Not to mention, this woman is breathtakingly beautiful — inside and out.
What was the journey like to where you are today?
I was born in Hawaii and lived there until I was almost seventeen. I was scouted and moved to New York City to model for the summer, but was still going back and forth between Hawaii and New York. Basically I've traveled, worked and lived between New York, LA, Hawaii and the Hamptons for the last twenty some odd years.
When I was in Hawaii, I conceptualized my fragrance line. That was seven years from conceptualizing to launch, which was perfect timeline with my family. My son, Cassius, was super young and by the time he was ready to go to school, we wanted to be back on the East Coast. It was perfect to be around all my peers in the industry and manufacturing and producing and all that. It kind of just unfolded pretty naturally, and I've been doing the fragrance line for about four years.
I had always wanted to do more of a third party thing on my website within the health and wellness world. My girlfriend Bethany Mayer also wanted to do another shop — she owns Surf Bazaar in Montauk — she also lives out here full time, and wanted to create a year round business that she could really commit to. She and I started talking this past March, and we realized we wanted to do pretty much the same thing. Since then, it’s been, ‘Are we really doing this? Okay, we’re doing this!’
The space is called Botanica Bazaar and we opened in Amagansett Square on Memorial Day weekend! It’s like a European pharmacy but all holistic, organic, and natural. Besides just doing beauty, we also do wellness and remedies for men, children, mommy, baby, all of that. It’s been really fun and crazy sometimes, but great.
It's been exciting to dream up — it’s been about integrating all the things I’ve learned about business. With modeling, I think a lot of people don’t realize that you’re pretty much self-employed: it’s all about you doing your own marketing and pushing your work with agents on the business end. Then, I have all this knowledge from launching my fragrance, so all of that kind of came into play to help get this off the ground in such a short period of time. Bethany also has a plethora of experience in retail which is such a blessing.
What was the “aha” moment for Leilani Bishop the fragrance?
As a model — and I think that a lot of us do this — I always said, ‘What am I going to do next?! What's the next step? What do I love to do and how do I figure that out?’ I knew that I loved working within my industry, because it’s a woman-run industry, I just wasn't yet sure how that would look. I had played around with some design stuff and people would always talk to be about doing a bathing suit line, but none of that grabbed me.
I was in Hawaii with a friend, picking flowers — as I tend to do when I’m home, to put in my hair, as cliché as that sounds — and she said, ‘Leilani, you should do a perfume line.’ That was truly an “aha” moment. I started to think about what that would look like and what kind of fragrances I like to wear, and truly, a lot of fragrances give me headaches. I’ve always loved the smell of traveling — that smell of an individual place that brings you right back, and for me, that includes a lot of flowers. Fragrance companies will do the lily of the valley heart note with rose, plus all these other notes, and it doesn't end up really smelling like that particular flower. It ends up just being a floral bouquet— I knew I didn’t want that. I wanted the packaging to be shaped as something that you could take out at night and fit in your clutch and when you take it out to put on, it looks really sexy to roll on.
We have this thing on the site called “fragrance etiquette” — it’s about not letting your fragrance smack someone in the face before you’ve actually arrived. I’ve always seen women as being the carrier — you experience their scent when you lean in close to say hi or catch a whiff. It’s just another thing that a woman can do throughout the day to make her feel good and happy and light and beautiful and sexy. I always say that it’s a little bit more for the woman than for the man, or whoever else. I also say to have fun with where you put it, because then it can be fun for the man.
What was it like growing up in Hawaii, and how has that shaped you?
The more I traveled around the world, the more Hawaii would amaze me. I’ve been in amazing, beautiful places in the world but would come home and be like, ‘Wow, I was seriously lucky to grow up here.’ It is such a stunning place! The air, the ocean, the mountains, the foliage — everything is just so, so beautiful. I left at various times after the age of sixteen, but I came back with my son when he was one year old, and we lived there for four years. I was able to really ground down. I was turning thirty at the time, and after traveling and living the glam NYC life, I got back to Hawaii and was like, ‘Okay, this is real life — this is who I am.’ I’m thrilled to have grown up there and carry those values.
And when I talk about values, I’m really talking about the importance of being respectful of the earth and having a connection with the land. In Hawaii, we talk a lot about that because unfortunately there is a lot of death and tragedy in Hawaii. There’s a lot of ocean death. There’s a lot of hiking death. We always say, ‘You have to respect the earth and you have to respect the land.’ That’s something so important that I feel has definitely been carried over into my passion projects and the organizations that I support. The water to me is so precious and huge, we have to keep our oceans clean. Once you’ve tapped into how important it is to treat the earth well, it trickles down through your whole life: what you put in your body how, how you treat others makes all the difference. We are so small on this big earth. It’s important to remember that we are just one of many species. Hawaii has taught me that.
After being in the fashion industry, what is your relationship with your body like today?
It’s interesting, because I came out of it with the opposite experience of what most people do. I was very thin growing up and I actually became super self-conscious of my thinness. Even when I was young, I went to Japan to work but they sent me home because I was too skinny. In New York my agents would take me to lunch and make sure I was eating a lot — they would give me protein shakes and all that kind of stuff.
From traveling as much as I did, I found that for me, it was really about sustaining energy from eating. When I was young, I had a diet of french fries and peanut M&Ms. But now I realize that the M&Ms were the sugar and the energy, and the french fries were the carbs for a quick fill up. I found myself burning out, tired and jet-lagged all the time. I learned early on that it’s also about water, water, water.
I’ve heard stories and seen girls completely fall apart. It can be really hard. You have access to this amazing life and this amazing career if you have this amazing face, but sometimes your body does not match it within the industry standards.
I’m super impressed with young models today — it’s such a different industry now. Working out is a huge priority for girls and it wasn’t so much when I was young. I think that the girls are more health-conscious today, which is amazing to see. I didn’t meditate, I didn’t practice gratitude, I didn’t think about my manifestations or any of those things. It’s awesome that there are so many young girls doing that today and sharing it on social media. That’s the positive side — they can teach people how to live a healthy lifestyle.
With opening a holistic beauty pharmacy, surely you have some new rituals of your own. What practices have you brought into your lifestyle today?
My biggest goal in life is to be consistent. bout fifteen years ago, I really started working on my thought process through meditation and yoga. It dawned on me a couple months ago that for years, I’ve been working towards my life being how it is right now, so I’m feeling very satisfied, very full, very complete. I love being a mom and having a family. With the modeling and before the fragrance, I always had this angst of feeling that I knew I had to do something new with my thought process, I just didn’t know how easily I could get into it.
Over the years, I’ve been working with everything from gratitude books to positive affirmations to changing my thoughts. I’ve come to this place in my life where if something isn’t working out or making me happy, then I can instantly choose to be happy. I do that by trusting that I have everything I need. I feel that by trusting these things that I believe in, then I’m allowing them to actually work.
I’ve started the road into my 40s, and I love the 40s so far. It’s kind of the ‘I don’t really give a shit what anyone thinks’ era. In my 30s, I think we can tend to feel a little depressed and existential and stuck. It’s like, ‘What am I doing with my life? Why am I here? What’s my purpose?’
I was recently reading about the different thoughts you start to have when you reach a new decade. Every thirty years, you go through something called your “Saturn return” and people go through it at different stages. It hits at different times and it’s interesting because I always thought that the 50s were when people reached mid-life crises, but it's really the 30s where we try to define who we are and what we want in our lives. We're looking for marriage at that age and there’s all these societal pressures it feels like a very tumultuous time, and it feels like we’re expected to have our shit together. But it’s okay not to! I definitely wasn’t gung-ho in my 30s, that’s for sure.
We heard that your mom is an astrologer… Can you talk a little bit about that?
My mom and dad are amazing. They were both raised in Indiana and were both the black sheeps of their families. They became hippies and traveled and lived in teepees and that’s how we ended up in Hawaii. My mom has always been huge into astrology and has studied it forever.
She’s amazing and has taught me a lot. There’s a lot of times that I’ll feel icky, and astrology is something else that helps me change my thought process. I like to listen to a couple of laymen astrologers that break down what’s happening — that takes astrology off the shelf and gives you a big picture of what’s going on. Then I’m like, ‘Okay, I can ride this energy for a day or two.’ It also gives me compassion and tolerance for anyone else I encounter.
In what ways do you let astrology play a role in your life?
I think that just because someone may tell you that you’re going to have a big change in your career doesn’t mean that you should go and quit your job in a month. I don’t go to psychics because I don’t want to manifest something that someone put in front of me that might not be true for me. It’s funny, because my mom and I have this thing where if I want to know what’s going on in my chart, she tries not to be so specific. Sometimes she can see stuff coming, so when I tell her, ‘This friend of mine just got divorced…’ She’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, I knew that but didn’t want to say anything.’ It’s not so much that she sees things, but astrology is more of a road map. It’s a way to define.
People will sometimes feel like if they’re a Leo, then they’re bossy and social. But it's only if you have no consciousness and you're not self-aware that, yes, you will be all of those things. It’s good to know what your tendencies are so that you don’t have to be that way. Then you can choose how to act. I always say that astrology is just a good way to become more conscious of who you are, especially when someone gives you the bigger picture. Just pay attention if someone is giving you information and see where it fits in your life.
How has becoming a mom changed your life?
It’s changed everything and I think it's the greatest role you can have. I also think you can still be completely fulfilled not being a mother, too and I know plenty of women that have made that choice. But, for me, it’s been super grounding.
I chose to have a home delivery, just like my mom had me. It’s interesting, because as soon as you get pregnant, you become a parent. You start having to make choices for your child immediately — about what you're going to eat, what you’re putting in and on your body, how you’re going to deliver, who's going to be there when you deliver, the whole inoculation process, then the school process.
Becoming a mother gave me a voice where I might not have had a voice for myself before. It really gave me a backbone. I became more firm on what I believe in and I became vocal about that because another person’s life and well-being depends on it.
I also started making choices from feeling instead of reasoning. I think a lot of people decide something by they’re trying so hard to figure it out. We have this whole thing about being unreasonable — we’re told that we have to be reasonable all the time — but then that creates societal pressure, and we end up making choices that don't fit in our lives. We make all these agreements with each other about how we have to live or who we have to be or what we have to do, and we find ourselves making big decisions from those places. For me, having a child brought me a lot more clarity in all these areas.
What is your idea of legacy?
I saw this great quote the other day that said, ‘You don’t have to agree with someone to be nice to them’, which for me is about that wall that comes up between people. I think that legacy is about encouraging humanity — I would love to be known for helping facilitate that.
When I was young, I felt like the label of “model” put this barrier between me and connecting with someone. It took me a long time to own that part of myself in a way that I could make it work for me. I feel like that goes back to legacy too — just being able to show people humanity and have them show you their humanity too. I've also always loved the quote, ‘Individually we can make a difference, but collectively we can change the world.’ I hope my legacy will be bringing people to the mindset that anything is possible when we work together.