“I Just Wanted To Give Severe Cunt”: Precious Lee Chats w/ Mel Ottenberg
MONDAY 12 PM MAR. 13, 2023 LA
It’s the morning after the Oscars and Precious Lee has just been woken up by hotel housekeeping. She’s feeling a little “under the weather” after last night’s party—like any supermodel with a taste for excitement should be—but she doesn’t cancel her noon meeting. Zooming with Mel Ottenberg is easy
PRECIOUS LEE: Hello?
MEL OTTENBERG: Precious!
LEE: You’re in for a treat, man.
OTTENBERG: Lucky me!
LEE: [Sings] I didn’t wash my face last night.
OTTENBERG: Oh, hot. Tell me all about that.
LEE: Oh, gosh. I’m in L.A.
OTTENBERG: Precious Lee just got on the Zoom, she’s got her full beat on from Oscar party night and I want to know what happened.
LEE: All the bad bitches know, you have to take your makeup off at night. I literally keep the makeup wipes right on the nightstand, so it’s no excuse. But then I was lying there and I was just like, “I cannot do this right now.” [Laughs] I woke up for you, and housekeeping banging on the door because I did not put up the “do not disturb” sign. Here we are.
OTTENBERG: People, her face still looks perfect, she is a true beauty. [Laughs] I mean, it’s very Anna Nicole [Smith] to sleep in your makeup, right?
LEE: I swear that was not the plan but the day started like this, so I think we should roll with it.
OTTENBERG: She’s wearing a strapless bra, panties, and some—you look so hot right now. She’s bouncing her titties for me. Precious is my dream woman.
LEE: Look, I had enough sense to take my contacts out.
OTTENBERG: What parties did you go to last night?
LEE: Oh my gosh. I mean, personally, the whole Oscar turn-up, as a model, is the funniest shit because it’s like the West Coast Met Gala. People are prepared. And you know fashion is fast, right? So I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I only need like a couple hours for glam, I can turn out this dress.” I had this couture custom piece that I worked so closely on. This shit ever happen on time? No. I was so late to the red carpet. [Laughs] Then I just got screwed over with time so my partying was very sporadic. I had to choose wisely.
OTTENBERG: And you chose Vanity Fair?
LEE: Well, I had to do that.
OTTENBERG: Absolutely. So because it’s the day after the Oscars, I want to tell you this one story. Twenty-two years ago, I had gone to L.A. and I knew no one, but somehow I got on the list for the Vanity Fair party, which is the hardest list in the world to get on. I was wearing ripped jeans with a rip in the crotch and a t-shirt that said, “COME N GET IT,” and a black bomber jacket. It was the same night I chipped my tooth on an Oscar that was—
LEE: I’ve heard.
OTTENBERG: It was for Best Visual Effects: Gladiator. Need I say more? What designer were you wearing?
OTTENBERG: Honestly I’m so dead because I just came from a Venetian ball in Venice and I was up all night and I flew back to New York and now I’m in the office and we’re closing the issue so I don’t even know what your dress looks like. I’m looking it up now.
LEE: Okay, I’m going to—
OTTENBERG: I’m looking it up. Oh wait, it’s not even on Instagram. You haven’t even woken up and done your thing.
LEE: Babe, I woke up for you. Right now.
OTTENBERG: Hold on, will you text me a picture of this fucking dress though?
LEE: Oh my gosh, I wonder if you’ll like it. Hold on. I’m quite obsessed actually. I didn’t want to take it off. I wanted to give severe cunt. I had this vision and I changed the dress last-minute, like, three different times.
OTTENBERG: You’ve got to pick the right thing, boo. Be obsessed.
LEE: They may have created a little monster because now I’m like, “Ooh, I want to go back and do this.” I’m kind of obsessed with conceptualizing looks and working on them. It was a super collaborative process and I remember feeling like, “Damn, did I just get bit by a little design bug?”
OTTENBERG: Well here’s the thing, sweetie. You look great in clothes but you also can’t expect everyone to know how to dress you well in clothes because you don’t have the average bod, so it’s cool for you to collab. I learned that from Rihanna, who I styled for many years. She was really good at knowing what’s going to look good on her body and how to make things work on her. So be a nightmare. They don’t know how to dress that big juicy body, sweetie.
LEE: Can you say that loudly for the people in the back?
OTTENBERG: They want to dress your big, gorgeous, juicy body. They just don’t necessarily know how, so an expert can help share that wisdom.
LEE: Yeah, and there was a seamstress and I honestly thought, I don’t know how to fucking sew but I know about cuts, I know about lining, I know about fabric. I’m like, “I want a four-way stretch crepe.” I’m like, “Damn, maybe I need to put more energy and time into that.”
OTTENBERG: She’s an expert. Wait, it came through. Oh, it’s hot. You look great.
LEE: You like it?
OTTENBERG: Okay, so your makeup really is still on, by the way.
LEE: I know. [Laughs]
OTTENBERG: You’re really stun on this call. For real, I was looking at the retouching from your photo shoot for this issue and I was like, “No, I don’t like this one. It’s too retouched. She looks too perfect.” And they went, “Oh that picture’s unretouched.” I was like, “Oh, work. Okay, Precious.”
LEE: I’m obsessed.
OTTENBERG: So wait, remind me where you’re from.
LEE: I’m from Atlanta, Georgia.
OTTENBERG: And you were always bubbly and popular?
LEE: Yeah. I was homecoming queen in high school. [Laughs] I got best dressed, I got best hair. I don’t know if you know about it, the whole entire school has to vote. The faculty, the staff, the students from 9th grade to 12th grade. So I was a little homecoming queen and I was a cheerleader. I was in the Thespian Club. I was the girl that had groups of friends that were nerds in the band and I was the quote-un-quote popular girl. I’ve never been cliqued up.
OTTENBERG: You know what? We’re very similar. I’m not cliqued up. I’m just part of many, many, many cliques. The main clique I’m in is a clique of one.
OTTENBERG: Are you in a clique now?
LEE: No. First of all, cliques are literally oppressive. Fuck cliques. That is a mess. [Calls off camera to house-keeping] No, thank you!
OTTENBERG: She wants in.
LEE: This is why I put my latch on my door. At least it’s not like Paris. In Paris, they just walk into your room all the time. They’re like, “Bonjour.” I’m like, “Excuse me, my vagina’s out.” Anyway, I think that being in cliques is one of the lamest things ever, especially a clique that ostracizes other people. I bullied bullies as a kid, so I don’t like the idea of, “You can’t sit with us.” I’m a very diverse girl. I like to connect with different types of people. I was super smart and I was popular. And that just really wasn’t common. It was usually one or the other. Right?
OTTENBERG: Yes. And then remind me how you were discovered, in Hollywood terms.
LEE: I guess technically in college. I went to Clark Atlanta University and there was the homecoming fashion show, which was put on by the student fashion department. My friends were getting ready to go to the casting and they were in hoochie club dresses and tight stiletto heels. And I’m like, “No, you need to wear a white tee or a wife-beater and some jeans.” I knew about what models were supposed to wear to castings since I always loved fashion and my sister was a model. So I literally styled everybody and did their little minimum hair and makeup. And then at the end it was, “Just come with us to the tryouts.” So we get there and it’s in the huge atrium. There’s music, there’s people practicing their walk on the side, and it was a key. My friends go up and I’m like, “Remember, shoulders back,” hyping my people up. And the next thing you know, I’m halfway down the runway. They literally picked none of my friends and picked me. And then my friend that I met in the show was like, “Ford is here, Elite Models is here.” Went with him to an open call, did digitals and stuff, and they offered me a contract.
LEE: I struggled to be a full-time college student and model. I was begging my professors to let me do exams early so I could do photo shoots and stuff. It was so hard, Mel. But I finished it and I did as much as I could while I was in school. Then I moved to New York the same week that I graduated. I was like, “I’m going to give it one year. If it’s not epic, I’m going to law school.” I did my LSAT test and I will not mention how long ago that was.
OTTENBERG: Yes. What was the moment that you went from that to full, C-word Steven Meisel supermodel status.
LEE: Well, in my head, I was there in ninth grade.
OTTENBERG: Sweetie, obviously you were, but when did it click for them?
LEE: I feel like it really clicked in 2020 for people. We all know what happened in 2020.
OTTENBERG: Yes. And you rose up in the noise and chaos of the time. You were in Interview in 2020.
LEE: Yes. It was an all-Black femme team, photographer, hair, make-up—RIP Latisha Chong—nails. And I felt so empowered that I was able to collaborate in that moment with an all-femme Black team, that was so nourishing to me. And I loved the fact that it was my first time doing Interview.
LEE: Although I came out to so many people in 2020, I’d been modeling for years prior to that. So for me to get on set and do that type of shoot, hair in the wind, crawling on the ground, to do that for Interview was just really, really cool.
OTTENBERG: Happy to be of service. Okay, we met on a Savage X Fenty campaign. You sang a really fringe Anna Nicole quote and I started singing along with you, but I can’t remember which one. I thought it was, “It’s raining, it’s pouring, my whole life is boring because of you.” But that couldn’t have been it.
LEE: No, that was yours. Oh, and then I was like, “Sugar Pie,” and we just went into full-on Anna talk for, I don’t know how long.
OTTENBERG: Well, the shoot is Anna Nicole–inspired. Anna is a major inspo for you, right? Not for, like, living life, but for the glamorama.
LEE: It’s a tragic story, but before I knew what was happening, I was drawn to her presence. First of all she was curvy. Okay? I’ve always thought Anna was gorgeous, even when she first started stripping, when she didn’t even have her hair teased out that good. She was always just this beautiful face and I was drawn to her energy. And then finding out she’s fucking hilarious was icing on the cake. I was a very visual kid. I had mood boards. But Anna Nicole, I connected with her because she was a bad bitch. She felt sensitive but confident. And she’s not necessarily the role model that somebody should look for, but she was living an honest existence and was so unfairly judged. On top of her other struggles, people were talking about how she’s fat and I’m like, “These people are fucking psychotic. She’s gorgeous, fat or skinny.” It’s a cult following in a sense. She was timeless.
OTTENBERG: Yes. Anna is just a real celebrity. She’s glamorous, it’s tragic. It had a terrible end. She was a drug addict. She was a mess. But she was a real star, man. Also, when Anna was a stripper before she met her billionaire husband, she couldn’t dance, but she wore red and her song was the “Lady”—
LEE: “Lady in Red.”
OTTENBERG: Yeah. I still have to find the New York magazine article that I promised you when we met. I remember that it said she was so wasted on pills and couldn’t dance so she’d just sway back and forth to that song so she wouldn’t fall off the stage. That said, we live for Anna Nicole. So wait, before I kill you, because I’m sure you’re dying, what other questions should I ask you for your glamorous Interview magazine feature, Precious.
LEE: Oh my gosh, don’t say that. So first of all, I love how you interview. You really are that person.
OTTENBERG: You’re so cute.
LEE: There’s open bottles of DayQuil, this feels very aligned. Wait, let me show you my terrace. I don’t think I would’ve been able to pull off a civilized interview with anybody else because we’re not really supposed to—
OTTENBERG: You and I just vibe. Oh, that’s a major terrace.
LEE: We up here. We’re in L.A.
OTTENBERG: Where are you?
LEE: They didn’t pay for my hotel, so don’t mention it.
OTTENBERG: Oh, okay. She’s at an undisclosed location. Living large, people. Wait, this is major.
LEE: Rihanna “Needed Me” vibes, remember the glass windows?
OTTENBERG: Yes. I styled that video. You’re giving that right now.
LEE: Where is my white sheer fucking bra with marabou feathers? Mel has to style me again. Also, Mel, I do want to let you know that our Von Dutch corset moment is going to relaunch Y2K style in another way, because people thought they knew, but they forgot.
OTTENBERG: We’re always here to remind them again. Okay. She’s looking for a lighter in her Dior pocketbook, people.
LEE: You’re so annoying. I was like, “Wait, I cannot reschedule with Mel. I’ve just got to fucking do it.” I told my agent, she’s on the phone right now. I was like, “Liz, I feel and look like shit right now but it’s Mel. I just have to deal with it.”
OTTENBERG: We won’t hold you up. Also, listen, one of the reasons I became the editor-in-chief of Interview is because I was like, “People have such boring conversations in magazines, let’s have fun.” I am not trying to get anyone in trouble and I am not the principal. There are other times when you maybe should have canceled this interview, but this is not that time.
LEE: Yeah, you’re the best chaperone. You’re the one that lets us actually have fun and act like it’s not that big of a deal that we’re, like, naked on a terrace in fucking broad daylight.
OTTENBERG: Yes. Well, you’re looking PG-13 right now. You are so glamorous. Where are you going after this?
LEE: Well, my plan was to stay and dig my heels into L.A. I was actually going to look at places. It’s time for my L.A. crash pad era.
LEE: But I have to go to work on Wednesday. So I’m leaving tonight on the red-eye to Miami to do this show, and then I’m probably going to come back to L.A. next week—or try to come back. But something crazy’s going to happen and prevent all of that probably and then I’ll be back in Paris.
OTTENBERG: Well, listen, I’m going on vacation on March 25th and I’m sure a million things will be preventing that too. But this is a good interview. I have to hang up now because my editor is sick, and she’s going to be devastated that we talked for 43 minutes.
LEE: I love you. Thank you.
OTTENBERG: I love you too. Bye. Bye
Hair: Mideyah Parker using Pattern Beauty at Bryant Artists
Makeup: Raisa Flowers using Pat McGrath Labs at Edma World
Nails: Dawn Sterling using Kiara Sky at Edma World
Set Design: And Or Forever
Studio Manager: Alex Malbin
Photography Assistant: Malcolm Sales
Fashion Assistants: Aliana Crocker, Austen Turner, Maddi Thompson, and Francesca Mendoza Vargas
Hair Assistant: Diana Rocha
Set Design Assistant: Shane Smith
Production Assistants: Grant Guillory and Brayden Alms
Retouching: One Hundred Berlin