It all began with a single bejeweled garment hidden in a thrift store. Suddenly Leslie Hall had hundreds of sparkly sweaters and thousands of fans. A Recipe for "ceWEBrity."
Courtesy of Leslie Hall
Leslie Hall now has hundreds of gem sweaters. Fans wear their own finds to Hall's shows and she christens them with special names.
Leslie Hall now has hundreds of gem sweaters. Fans wear their own finds to Hall's shows and she christens them with special names. Courtesy of Leslie Hall
Hip-hop sensation Leslie Hall straddles the line between hot and utterly dorky. The size 16 singer piles her dishwater blond hair high in a bouffant and sports huge, thick glasses along the lines of the teacher in junior high whom everyone made fun of.
This unusual mix is just what her fans love about her. Hall has a growing following and she's currently on her first U.S. tour.
From Iowa to Sweaterville
It all began with a lone sweater. Nine years ago, Hall was at a Goodwill store in Ames, Iowa, searching for something special to wear to a high school dance. Suddenly, her hand graced a gaudy, plus-sized bedazzled blue sweater. It was love at first sight.
"I was thinking to myself, I cannot believe someone with hands made this garment, someone bought it and then gave it away to a thrift store. It was like Little Orphan Annie all over again in the form of blue beads and sequins," she says.
From that moment on, Hall made it a mission to buy every "gem sweater" she could get her hands on. And there were lots of them buried in the racks of thrift stores.
Like fine works of art, Hall gave the sweaters fanciful names like Moon Light Gravy, Gypsy Leather and Flowered Fortune Cookies. When there were too many for her to keep to herself, she shared them with the world through the Internet.
"I was photographing myself in these sweaters, in these jewel-embellished garments. People are fascinated with their courage to be beaded and sequeny and shiny in the nightlife," she says.
Hall's gem sweater gallery was an instant Internet hit in the early 2000s, but that had some unintended consequences.
"You have to pay more if people visit ... your bandwidth goes up," she says. "I was slammed with this huge bandwidth overage charge, like over $1,000." As she pondered how to pay for it, she had a sudden revelation.
"OK, I'll put out a hip-hop album, sell CDs, get rich and famous, and this bill will go away. So, that's what I did. I just made some songs about style."
From Sweaters to Gold Lame
With help from the do-it-yourself music software Garageband, Hall has produced three albums. The latest is titled "CeWEBrity," a nod to her online fame.
"I'm pretty honest with myself when I write my music," she says. "I talk about things I know. I talk about, 'Hey, I'm from Iowa, let's go to a party and dance.' I'll sing about 'Hey, I'm gonna wear those stretchy pants because it makes my legs look thinner you know?'"
Indeed, when Hall performs live, she tends to ditch her gem sweaters for shiny spandex body suits, specially crafted by her mom.
They hide little of Leslie's 5' 10" 200-pound body and that's by design — Hall is not shy about her size. On her MySpace pages, she proclaims, "Line the pan with Crisco when I dance this disco."
The audience at Hall's recent L.A. show was an eclectic mix of punk-rockers, 20-something hipsters and teenage girls dressed in outrageous gem sweaters and gold spandex pants.
The lucky ones will be selected for a "sweater christening." During her shows, Hall pulls audience members onto the stage and carefully inspects their attire.
"Tell you what, this is a really pretty piece. Can I ask how many village markets did you seek to find this?" she asks a young girl to wild applause.
Like a preacher testifying, Hall forces one young lady down on her knees and pronounces, "I shall name this sweater 'Keepsake Lovers Wrapped in a Blanket.'"
Her fans often bring her gem sweaters and her collection has now grown to more than 400.
Still, it's not enough. She has big dreams that the sweaters, the albums and her online videos will propel her to bigger fame. But she realizes that CeWEBrity is a fleeting state.
"That is literally the scariest thing that could happen. You get famous real quick, everybody knows you and then you disappear. One-hit wonders," she says.