Gillean McLeod has career in fashion that most people couldn’t dream up if they tried. After 25-years spent as a successful stylist for commercial and editorial shoots, the Los Angeles-based talent stepped out from behind the scenes and into the modeling spotlight at age 53.
“A photographer friend suggested shooting a portfolio for me, which led to an agent Los Angeles,” explains McLeod, who credits her years of dressing models and watching them work with kick-starting her own career in front of the camera. “It’s really been a trip these last seven years,” says McLeod, who went on to appear in print campaigns for the likes of Charles Schwab, Bank of America, and, most recently, Banana Republic. Last year, a 60-year-old McLeod starred in a swimsuit campaign for Swedish fashion giant H&M, which went viral. “That shoot opened up doors for me, and so many women wrote to me to say that I inspired them,” she says.
Fashion has been part of McLeod’s life for as long as she can remember. “My mother was always so well put together, very glamorous,” says the Scottish-born McLeod, who spent her formative years with her family in Malaysia and Indonesia, where she recalls her mother’s closet brimming with designer labels—think Yves Saint Laurent, Salvatore Ferragamo and Gucci. “People stared at her wherever she went.” That keen sense of style also informed her mother’s jewelry collection, filled with pretty jade and coral pieces acquired from their family travels in Southeast Asia.
So it’s no surprise that McLeod inherited that same flair for fashion and eye for the unusual, especially when it comes to her own jewelry pieces. “I’m not a fan of traditional jewelry or anything which looks too fancy,” says McLeod, a longtime fan of August. Case in point: the stylist-turned-model recently acquired three of Lee M. Hale-designed rose-thorn earrings, which she likes to pair with white-gold shells.
There’s also her collection of Ted Muehling designs, which has steadily grown over the last 20 years. Her most treasured piece? A simple gold bangle, gifted to McLeod by her ex-husband. “It has become my signature piece,” she explains. “On my styling shoots it often gets put on the models, so it shows up in a lot of ads.”
And then there’s a selection of gold rings, which McLeod bought from August over a period of three years to mark important milestones in her life. “Every year I buy a little piece as a treat or as a birthday gift to myself,” says McLeod, who likes to wear the trio stacked together. And with back-to-back modeling and styling gigs on the horizon, it appears there will be plenty more life-defining moments for McLeod to celebrate in the future. “It’s all a joy and I’m so grateful for everyone who has helped me and encouraged me along the way,” says McLeod. “I’m looking forward to another 10 years of it, at least!”