A history of Violets with Leith Clark

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Leith Clark is the founder of Violet Book, a biannual printed magazine and constantly updated online version, which describes itself as ‘a space for powerful femininity to be investigated, celebrated’. Though that’s only one part of what Leith does.

Canadian-born and UK-based, Leith began her career at Interview magazine and Vogue UK. Before Violet Book, she founded fashion magazine Lula and is now the style director-at-large for Harper’s Bazaar UK.

We chatted to Leith about Violet Book and her ambitions for the project.

Had you had the idea for Violet Book for a while before it was launched?

Yes, I had been editing Lula for eight years or so and I started to think, what would I create if I created something from new right now? Lula was very much a part of me and my identity, and it had a very strong aesthetic and universe, and I started to wonder outside of that. It started to not feel as free as it once had.

My friend Luella Bartley and I started having brainstorming sessions together about what that ‘something else’ would look like, and the idea of Violet was born. For a while I had the intention of running both titles simultaneously, but then Violet just kind of took over. 

What was the catalyst that made you decide to do it?

I had started Lula when I was 24 and I was growing up, really. I wanted something for me for now. Margaret Atwood said ‘Envision the kind of world you want to live in and act accordingly.’ I think it was like that. I was feeling frustrated about how feminism and fashion were separate and unrelated. I was frustrated about how a woman growing up was something to prevent rather than to celebrate. I felt frustrated with how youth was over celebrated, and I wanted to learn from women who I admired in a more in-depth way, whilst looking forward, not back. I wanted female wisdom and female stories.

I was in my early 30s. Actually, I had my daughter around the same time that the first issue came out. I was pregnant on the cover shoot for the first issue of Violet (with Brit Marling) but I didn’t know it yet. I don’t think it is a coincidence that those things happened at the same time.

Did you see a market that was looking for something like Violet Book?

I have never made things thinking about how they would be received. I make them because I need and want them. I am delighted that other people love Violet and are loyal, part of the community. I think of Violet as being something that is liberating and celebratory of freedom, wisdom and a kind of wildness of women… I love that there is an audience for that. Thank goodness there are women like this.

Is it important to you that Violet Book is a print as well as online magazine?

Yes. I think it is important to be able to spend time with it and be able to turn off your phone and move away from technology. Like getting lost in a good book, holding it in your hands. However, our summer issue which we released mid-pandemic, we also made available digitally for the first time (with sales benefitting the Young Women’s Trust). And we liked it. So we will make issues available online from now on, except we will change the way it will be received, so it’s slowly available in its entirety by the time the next print issue comes out, rather than all at once like we are doing now.

So the site and the print issue will work together, with added online content and the availability of what is in print to be experienced online, too. For our winter issue, which comes out in a few weeks, the digital issue will be available the same way it was the last issue, but moving forward it will be a more unique experience.

Did your work at Lula provide a solid grounding for working on Violet Book?

In the creation of Lula I definitely forgot other people would be reading it. It wasn’t until I first held it in my hands that I realised that and I felt very vulnerable, and very scared. I had forgotten it would be out in the world. It was so personal to me. But the experience was wonderful because of that. It was honest and personal. With vulnerability comes authenticity.

It really taught me to trust my instincts and to continue to create in an honest and personal way. Being vulnerable and sensitive can be like a super power if you aren’t afraid of that. Or if you just do it anyway.

How do you go about finding the content?

I don’t need to find anything, really. I am just interested. I am curious. I want to learn. I want to empathise and understand. So it is all organic in how it happens, really. There are amazing and inspiring women who contribute to Violet that also help to make the process feel very natural.

Do you work closely with contributors?

Sometimes extremely so, and sometimes it’s some voice notes explaining my feelings or intentions and then I leave them to it. It depends. Each is different.

What are your future intentions for the magazine?

Keep exploring. Grow.

Image credits

Cover images shot by Yelena Yemchuk.