Cleo Wade: Poet, Artist, Author, and Girl Crush

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cleo wade
Photo: Courtesy of Liza Voloshin

She’s got that coveted co-sign from Oprah. She’s BFFs with Nicole Richie, Reese Witherspoon, and Katy Perry. Her thoughtful words have been emblazoned onto Nike ‘Air Force 1’ sneakers and influenced Gucci’s ‘Chime for Change’ campaign. She is a woman of caliber and character. She is bringing a powerful message of self-love and self-care to the masses via her poems, lectures, and books. She is Cleo Wade, and we have a major crush on her.

Wade wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth. In fact, her family experienced many hardships as she grew up in New Orleans to an art photographer father and chef mother who struggled to make ends meet. Wade’s parents divorced when she was six, and she forged a sense of independence early on. Her mother often tells the story of how Wade would wake herself up as a young girl, pack for school, and then wait by the door for someone to take her. Inner strength exhibited early on became the foundation upon which Wade would later build her brand of honest self-examination, unconditional love, and intersectional activism.

The first introduction we have to an individual is usually their exterior and, in Wade’s case, the packaging couldn’t be more beautiful. As a young woman interning at M Missoni and working as an office manager at Halston, her beauty and self-possessed sense of style made her an alluring figure to brands. Soon, she caught the eye of the right people and landed a coveted consulting gig for Alice + Olivia, and was tapped for campaigns for Armani and Cartier.

These opportunities grew naturally out of her radiant appearance, but they weren’t where Wade’s heart was at. Her interests weren’t attuned to the physical plane so much as the spiritual and emotional, and a solo trip across the world with typewriter in tow ended up being the journey that launched her current career. It gave her perspective on herself – and the world at large – and provided ample opportunity for self-discovery.

On November 18th, 2014, Wade posted her first message to Instagram, one that would resonate with hundreds of other people around the world: “Dearest, I am writing this letter to you to inform you of my unbreakable nature. That’s all. Love, Women Everywhere.” The simple, powerful message was amplified by popstar Katy Perry, and Wade’s following began to grow. Her Instagram account began to fill with hand-scrawled poems, typewritten missives, and Post-It notes, reminding the reader to love oneself, forgive oneself, have adventures, embrace creativity, destroy negative thinking, and accept failure as a jumping off point for new beginnings.

For Wade, empowering others wasn’t a choice – it was a calling. So much more than an “Instagram poet”, she sought out real connections with her audience, making appearances at The Lower Eastside Girls Club in Manhattan, the Democratic National Convention, and the TED Talks series. Her message also took on physical form when she installed a 25-foot long love poem along the skyline of the French Quarter in New Orleans entitled “Respect”. In 2017, her public art installation Show Love, Spread Love debuted in Los Angeles on the facade of the Beverly Center, which featured ten-word mantras on 46-foot screens.

Her poems eventually led to a full-fledged book of poetry published by Simon & Schuster entitled, Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life. Some of our favorite excerpts from the book include “Hearts break. That’s how the magic gets in” and “Baby, you are the strongest flower that ever grew, remember that when the weather changes”. Growing up with few comforts forced Wade to become adaptable and resourceful, often turning to thrift stores and hand-me-downs to cultivate her personal sense of style.  

“I became expressive through whatever weird thing I could find,” she told The New York Times. Today, her self-expression is evident in her eclectic sense of fashion and consummate “It” girl status that has made her a fixture at Fashion Week. A truly eclectic, unique, and fearless sense of style makes Wade a true original in a landscape filled with copycats. She effortlessly mixes bohemian accessories, colorful African-inspired patterns, sophisticated high-fashion pieces, streetwear, and tailored separates with a fresh and inspiring sense of fun. As we celebrate Wade and all she does, we invite you to browse her red carpet looks in the gallery, below.

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