Detroit designer draws inspiration from multiple avenues. 

Fashion as Street Cred

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Leslie Ann Pilling says her overall philosophy has to do with fashion.

“It comes from the street. It comes from couture. One of the ways Detroit is going to make a mark is if people start dressing up,” she explains. “If you put a suit on a gentleman or a dress on a woman, they stand up taller.”

Pilling looks out the window at the passers-by and offers an opinion: “They have great-looking shoes. They have great looking outfits on. And they have smiles on their faces.”

The PR maven and gallery owner was the organizer of Detroit’s recent FASHfest — (FASH stands for Fashion Art Sound History). “We call ourselves glorified show and tell,” she says of her PR firm, Presence II Productions. “We create our own events for other people. I ask them who are the buyers that you want in those seats and we do outreach to them.” 

FASHfest, a three-day event featuring a runway show, trunk shows, music, art installations — and even a puppet show and kids’ fashion show, was an example of what Pilling calls “experiential PR,” which puts her theater background to use in events “where the audience would be completely submerged.”

The daughter of two Ph.D.s, Pilling comes by her creativity and her industry honestly. “I come from a real intellectual background.” Born in Detroit and raised in Birmingham, Franklin and Bloomfield Hills, she grew up immersed in cultural anthropology, archaeology and oral history, but carved out her own path. “I was a rebel with a cause. I was the rebel with the short miniskirt — that was me.”

She describes her style now as “rocker elegant. A little bit of chic cowgirl.”

Her business operation began modestly. “I started out in my home with $15 doing temple shows,” said Pilling, whose operation has moved from Birmingham to Southfield, and now at its current iteration, Presence II Productions Gallery of Art and Design on Library Street in Detroit.

About half of the designs in the gallery are Pilling’s jewelry designs, earrings and necklaces that she makes from found objects and beads, and occasionally cast pieces that she commissions. “It has its own look. Very culturally diverse, tribal if you combined Japanese minimalism, pieces that are Native American, with an elegant touch.”

On Oct. 17, Pilling will present Efe Bes, the Detroit composer, drummer and designer who can often be found drumming at the Eastern Market. Bes paints worn boots with African tribal designs and will be doing a performance piece using a live model and painting boots. Will he be painting the boots on the model? Pilling doesn’t quite know yet, “We just formulated it less than an hour ago.”

“It’s about connecting, realizing what would benefit people and getting it out there — it’s show and tell,” she repeats, “observing opportunities that need to be explored and giving people the platform where they can see and experience it.”

“It’s your brand,” says Pilling, circling back to her commitment to fashion. “You’re getting attention for good. Positive attention. I think that’s really going to help the city.”

Beth Robinson  is a freelance journalist and contributor to Metro Times. Send comments to


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