With her seriously cool model-off-duty style and her entrepreneurial spirit, fragrance designer and former model Leilani Bishop has us pretty much enchanted. We hopped around town with her and learned how her globe-trotting career inspired a return to her simple first love: the wild-blooming flowers of her native Hawaii.
Growing up on the lush island of Kauai, Bishop spent lots of time gardening with her parents (“the original eco-hippies”) and forging her own connection with nature. It was while surfing that she was noticed by a model scout—the very moment that launched her decade-long career modeling in runway shows and for magazines like ELLE and Vogue. She calls being discovered a godsend: “I didn’t realize how much I was craving new experiences,” she says. “I needed to explore myself.”
Bishop has since returned to those laid-back island vibes she was raised with, after the whirlwind pace of nonstop traveling and modeling left her craving balance. She grew to love fragrance oils for their calming, therapeutic properties: “Most perfumes are so strong, they give me headaches,” she says—but, she noticed elegant, one-note scents were absent from stateside shops .
Once she moved back to Kauai, she realized that the flowers she loved growing up were a natural match for fragrance oils, so she set out to make them herself. The resulting trio of one-note scents is full of personal references—pikake, the white jasmine bloom, for her childhood; orange blossom, which scented far-flung locations like Africa and southern France where she modeled; and lilac, an ode to the flower she has planted in her garden in Amagansett, New York, the beach town where she and her husband are raising their son.
Bishop’s old work wardrobe of couture gowns and high-fashion pieces has been replaced by jeans, leather pants and rubbed-and-worn button-downs. She picked up the treasure-seeking bug along the way, so her closet also functions as a miniature world bazaar—a gauzy blouse from an outpost here, an embroidered popover from a market there.
These days, she makes trips to Melet Mercantile, a New York and Montauk–based vintage boutique-cum-wonderland of collected pieces, from Woodstock-era concert T-shirts to broken-in leather brogues. Lest her style sound a little too picture-perfect (and with a fashionable CV like hers, could you blame her?), it’s also pretty practical, and she’s quick to level: “I’m my best self when I’m working and have lots of movement in my life, so my clothes have to be easygoing.” And as for finishing touches, like the diamond tiara she wore on that famous Hole cover? “My accessories are more about sunglasses now. They’re simple, but they can be very powerful.”
Bishop wanted her packaging to reflect her love of antique cosmetics, and the roll-on vials also make it easy to dab the oil onto pulse points, which heat up and activate the scent. “Fragrance evaporates as it rises, so apply it to your ankles and behind your knees in addition to your wrists and décolletage,” says Bishop. Another reason we love the slender applicators? They’re easy to tuck into a bag and will pass any travel-size regulation. Not that you’d need it, though—the scents alone will transport you.