At only 20 years old, Beijing-born musician Leah Dou exudes a calm and self-assurance beyond her years. But beneath her shaggy pixie cut and baby braids, Dou’s eyes light up in youthful excitement when the conversation turns to Lana Del Rey. “I’ve been obsessed with her since I was sixteen,” she tells Billboard. “I just think she’s got the whole look and sound down. It’s so special and unique.”
Though her music and style influences aren’t pinned down to one genre — she names ’90s trip-hop groups like Portishead and Massive Attack as well as alt-folk pop band Frente! her teenage favorites — Dou greatly admires artists who are authentically themselves.
As the child of famous Chinese alternative rock composer Dou Wei and actress/pop star Faye Wong, Dou’s inventive space in music came from seeking out new acts online and discovering sonic elements to mix and match for herself. Her 2016 debut album Stone Café is a jazzy, sensual, and brooding record, evocative of ’90’s downtempo production and straight-up pop choruses.
This fluidity crosses over into Dou’s personal style of grungy oversized sweaters, dark colors, and androgynous looks. It’s a contemporary approach to fashion, one that Gucci’s Alessandro Michele recognized by inviting her to perform at his No Longer / Not Yet Shanghai exhibition last October. Fellow fashion house giant Chanel has also co-signed Dou’s style with a special invitation to attend their Paris/Roma collection launch show in Beijing this past May.
“I’m not as in touch with the fashion [houses],” Dou says of her recent exposure to these designers. Her own wardrobe is largely thrifted pieces, colorful headbands and Yves Saint Laurent shoes. “But it was amazing to see and learn how they combine music with their shows.”
Dou recently soundtracked and starred in the Beats By Dre short film The Way I Am — a campaign for Chinese New Year — with a previously unreleased track “It’s Not a Crime (It’s Just What We Do).” In the film, she takes the stage in a men’s leather jacket, dedicating the track to “everyone who’s ever been caught in between two things they love.”
The singer’s confidence both on camera and in her style comes from an intuition she can’t quite articulate. When asked about her tattoos — which include an alien doodle on her palm and a line down her chin — she has no specific explanations. “A lightbulb would go off and I’d go get [the tattoo] as soon as I could,” Dou explains. “I’ve never regretted any of my tattoos. And I don’t really give it much meaning because I feel like if you do, then it’s easier for you to regret it in time. More than anything, it’s just aesthetically pleasing.”
With her sophomore album due later this year, Dou’s label-bending style will only continue to evolve. “Sonically, it sounds completely different,” she explains of the forthcoming project. “There’s some experimental stuff in [the new album] that I don’t know how people will react to, but I’m really passionate about it.”