Léa Kichler (’18) is majoring in Cinema Studies. She designs, she cooks, she sings and she makes scarves…and videos. Who wouldn’t want to their eat vegetables when Léa can make them look so beautiful? To see more cool stuff Léa has created, check out her website.
Condé Nast is notorious for ending its internship program…yet you managed to spend the summer working with Bon Appétit. Could you tell me a little more about how this happened?
Earlier in the year I was making food videos for Penn Appétit, the food magazine, and found it to be a really enjoyable activity. Suddenly, it then came time for me to start thinking about internships. So I thought, maybe if I am super specific about what I want as a job and what company I want to work for, then maybe I’ll get that job. I called my parents and they were like “You’re crazy! Why are you just picking one job? You should apply to more just in case.” Despite their initial apprehension, I was still determined, claiming, “No. I’ve got an idea.”
Over winter break, I decided to make a creative video out of food saying “Hey, let me be your intern!” I got all of this food together and arranged it into exactly these word. I posted this fifteen second me creating this arrangement and posted it on Instagram. On the Bon Appétit website, you can see all of the Instagram handles of their staff — I like being very eager on Instagram and tagged every single person, individually, to show them the video. Initially, I did not get an internship offer. People were very nice; they responded positively but they insisted that they just didn’t do internships. Very reluctantly, I gave up on my quest for working for Bon Appétit.
A few months later, I got a DM from the creative director complimenting me on the video, and eventually a job offer.
I think Penn has really taught me to never consider anything as unattainable until you have tried attaining it. Working for Bon Appétit seemed unattainable — it was really my dream job. But why couldn’t I do my dream job as an internship? I figured that the worst thing that could happen would be them saying no…putting me in the same position that I was in before, so there was really nothing to lose.
Incredible. Well, this sets a new standard for the kind of Instagram DMs I hope to receive in the future.
Honestly, Instagram is a great tool for reaching out to people. You would be surprised by the number of people I admire that I have been able to interact with by sending them drawings or whatnot through Instagram. For example, last year I reached out to this girl at Refinery29 called Lucie Fink. She does a video series where she tries a trend or something crazy, like crystal healing, for five days and films her experiences.
I feel as though these short food videos have really become popular over the past few years. What is it like being behind the scenes?
It is interesting because even though these videos are really short, like 30 seconds or so long, there is so much production effort that is required to create them. On each project team, there is usually a chef and a food stylist, as well as camera people. There is a lot of thought that goes into these really short videos. One of the first projects I worked on was a video showcasing the different ways you could make eggs. At first, I was like, do we really need to make a video about how to scramble eggs? But to see the food stylist arrange the egg in a perfect way… Being behind the scenes taught me to never again underestimate the care and effort that is injected into each creative project. I will never look at these videos again in the same way because now I know how much thought went behind choosing the perfect piece of wood that is used as the background for the scrambled eggs. In fact, when you look further into anything, you realize how many people are involved in bringing an idea to fruition.
A lot of your creative endeavours seem to be related to food. Why do you think that food is such a special subject?
I think there is an intrinsic sense of community when it comes to food. Everyone needs it. This contrasts with, for example, the fashion industry, where there is this element of untouchable luxury. Food is very important to me and runs a large portion of my social life. I am always trying to invite people over for a meal because I think it is a great way to have a conversation — kind of like my version of ‘small talk’.
How did you get into graphic design?
I always was really into ads and fonts as a kid. One of my favorite pastimes was going on a computer, opening up Word and playing around with the design tools. I ended up using the drawing tool in Pages a lot by seizing every opportunity to design things, such as little booklets for my friends’ birthdays. When I finally had access to legitimate software, I start doing my own projects outside of high school. I just think I needed a creative outlet. Taking my own project beyond like the constraints school really pushed me to take initiative and learn. I made a video series called ‘Minute Portraits’ where I would ask my friends questions and then edit the footage into a minute video. I came into Penn knowing that graphic design is what I wanted to do, and consequently enrolled in a bunch of classes that related to this passion. I’ve been really lucky because the department here is amazing and even though we are given assignment prompts, we still have a lot of freedom when interpreting these prompts in our art.
When you end up at your dream job during Junior year, what happens next?
I have yet to decide whether I will return to Bon Appétit or not. Last summer I was really interested in starting my own YouTube channel. I made one video, but it hasn’t progressed since. However, really would like to start that up again. I have learnt that if I were to work for a company after school, it would be a place where I can like have creative reign over my projects. It is important to me to work with a community, whilst simultaneously having creative control. It is easy to settle by working for large companies that are constantly churning out content without much afterthought. I think it is really important to be attached to what you are creating and I don’t think I would happy if I didn’t have the opportunity to do that on a daily basis.
So, let’s talk about neck scarves?
*Laughs* Yeah. I am actually in the process of designing and creating my own collection of scarves! This project has been great because I’m usually always making things that exist on screens, and having a physical product just has this different quality to it. I didn’t want to make just normal scarves because I don’t have a background in fashion and so it didn’t really feel personal. Instead, I started thinking about what a scarf represents and why I’m so interested in them. Scarves are interesting because usually they tend to have a central design or image that you can see when it is laid out flat, but when someone wears the scarf, this image is concealed. Therefore, the entire visual experience is different — what you see versus what is there. It is kind of analogous to a secret.
I decided to ask people to anonymously submit their secrets so that I could incorporate them into scarf designs. I ended up receiving a range of secrets, some are funny like “I eat my boogers sometimes” and “I steal a single cracker from my roommate’s cupboard every night”, and others are more serious like “I miscarried and felt relief.” I feel as though a scarf is an interesting way to represent these secrets because there’s something so covert that is also in plain view as a series of patterns.
I’m currently having these scarves produced but it’s kind of a tricky thing, like am I going to be profiting off of other people’s secrets? Is it ethical to buy a secret? To wear someone else’s secret? Either way, I am planning to donate the funds to a women’s sexual health organization.
What is something that you appreciate about Penn?
I love my classes. Throughout my time at Penn, I have been privileged to have incredible professors. I feel as though I have connected with the material in the majority of my classes. I also love the motivation people have here. People will have an idea for a project and will put in their all to make it a reality, whether it be related to sustainability, business or anything in between. It has been super awesome to be surrounded by people that are creating their own things, and it pushes me to continue creating my own projects.
The quality of work that people produce is incredible and I think we can so much learn from everyone’s experience and expertise. For example, when you’re a Fine Arts major, you have a class called ‘Senior Seminar’ where all the seniors in the program essentially have complete creative reign over the class. People do both personal and joint projects, and it is just so inspiring to be exposed to what other amazing artists are doing.
On the flip side, what is something that could be improved at Penn?
I think we could do better at showing people that there are alternative spaces for hanging out and I think it’s up to upperclassmen to create these spaces. There are so many alternative ideas for socializing on a Saturday night that doesn’t pressure you to be someone that you are not, and require you to get blackout drunk. I think that as a freshman it can be difficult to find these spaces, but they do exist. It gets easier to create your own space when you move out of the dormitories. For example, I invited my friends to come over to my house and listen to my musician friend, who was doing a tour on the East Coast. I also like to organize these open mic nights where anyone is invited to perform, whether it be a story, a song or a poem. It is a very different space than the frat parties and downtowns that seem to propagate the social space at Penn. I think it is important to find a way to bring people together in a way that goes beyond showing status or affiliation with a club. Even though that tends to be the mentality here, I don’t think that’s the way the world should work.
What is something that you recommend? Book, film, restaurant — anything?
There is something call Sofar Sounds, and it happens in pretty much every major city around the world. You signup to see a show, except you have no idea who will be performing or where it will be held. You arrive and are presented with usually three musical acts, and the musicians are different musicians each time. They each put on a set so you essentially get three shows for $15. The shows are amazing and are typically held in very intimate settings, like someone’s home. You go there and the expectation is that you will only pull out your phone to share with the artists, so you’re not watching the show through someone else’s screen. The people are great and it is amazing to hear the artists telling their stories.
Who should we talk to next, and why?
I think you should chat with my friend and incredible girl-boss, Juli Choi. She sings like an angel, delivers babies day and night and will outrun you in a half marathon.