Leona Naomi Wong’s 10 Secrets to Happiness

Leona Naomi Wong is everything you’d never expect her to be. Born on an off-grid farm in Knowlesville, New Brunswick, Canada (for those inclined to Google it the way I did, Knowlesville is a town of <1000 people), her dreams of charting a path to Hollywood found her moving away from home at thirteen to study acting in Ottawa, and remaining just as zealous ever since. Now 20 years old, with a prodigious social media acumen and a well-established and burgeoning modeling career, Wong looks to the future while never forgetting to stop and smell the flowers.

Today I sit down with Leona via FaceTime, receiving a photo of her actively awakening laptop about fifteen seconds before our call starts. We’re both very, very excited. Her video feed connects and my screen is filled with images of her sun-speckled Los Angeles apartment, which she has lovingly jammed with gilded picture frames, decadent rococo inspired couches, and a clearly ironic American flag hanging from the wall above the TV. Tiny specks of dust hang in the air in front of her acutely glamorous image, and the scene exhibits a comfortable disarray and clutter that paints the picture of a well-loved and cherished home.

Written by Orly Estrin


Four words to describe yourself?

“Happy, optimistic, self-assured, and artistic”

Introvert or extrovert?
“That’s an interesting one… I think I have a lot of traits of an introvert, but I’m super super outgoing and love humans. I can talk to anyone easily and really genuinely want to know people. I’m a bit of both. I’ll say both.

Jacket – qian hanliu @qianhanliu, skirt – perception f @perceptionf, shoes – maison margiela @maisonmargiela

Brittney Spears interviewer voice Coke or Pepsi?
“Definitely Coke, Diet Coke. Or actually, Coke Zero!” I ask if she falls into the camp that can taste the difference and she responds “When I DO drink it, which I’ll admit isn’t often nowadays, I really do believe Coke Zero tastes better. There was a second there in highschool where I was, seriously, living off of Diet Coke. Since then I’ve had to pivot hard in the other direction to where I barely drink soda at all. I was definitely one of those people where I had to completely exorcize the Diet Coke demon from my body in order to break the obsession.”

Mini bag or skinny belt?

“Mini bag… Yeah. Mini bag.”

Strawberries or cherries (visually or for eating)?
She ponders for a second “Honestly… I have to say cherries. I often find myself eating strawberries more, but cherries are better. Really GOOD cherries. Sweet, dark… They’re like nothing else.” Leona picks up a bowl from off-camera to show me a pile of bright red strawberries and laughs, “As I’m eating strawberries right now!”

Favorite flowers to receive, and favorite flowers to buy yourself?

“I like lilacs. I’ve never received them, but if someone were to get me lilacs… We’d be getting married. To get for myself, I like tulips and daffodils. I like to pick my own flowers, so the best is when it’s something I can pick outside.”

Staying in or going out?

“If it’s between the two, staying in.”

Go-to karaoke song?

“Zombie by The Cranberries”

Dress – taste of moon @tasteofmoon_
Dress – unnamed nyc @unnamed.nyc
Jewelry – malakai @houseofmalakai

Morning person or night owl?
“Recently I’ve been a morning person! I used to be a night owl, but lately I love to get up when the sun rises and it makes me feel amazing. I like to be fully in the new day. I used to stay out late and wake up late, and I’d feel like my whole day was already over. It stressed me out and just made me feel so sad. Being awake with the birds just feels correct. My body really responds to it. It feels like what I should be doing”

What did you want to be when you grew up?
“The first thing I ever wanted to be was an environmental activist, when I was very young. I think because that’s essentially what my mom is! And then around age 10, that’s when I knew I wanted to get into entertainment and be in movies. The idea of working in Hollywood, it felt like the polar opposite of the world I came from and so the whole concept was very magnetic. I grew up with zero access to TV and spending my free time running barefoot in the woods behind my parents house. The contrast from the world I was raised in felt like it’d be such an adventure. It was the reason I ended up moving to Ottawa at 13! I attended Canterbury High School [an Arts Magnet school] for Acting. I picked up and left my family in NB to live with my aunt in Ottawa and then eventually got my own apartment at 16, all in service of pursuing acting. I wanted it more than anything, and in retrospect i’m very proud of myself that that drive pushed me so far outside of my comfort zone.” I ask if she still sees herself pursuing acting and she quickly responds “I’d love to act! I’m always open to whatever the universe feels like throwing my way. In many ways I feel like I’m still so new on my journey in modeling and content creation and I’m enjoying every step of the process. As of lately I’m giving my everything to being the best model I can be. But in the future… I absolutely will act. I have a deep trust that everything will happen when it’s meant to happen.”

What’s on your keychain right now?
Leona picks up her laptop to take me across the room with her, and fishes through her purse for a moment, brandishing keychain in hand. “This is perfect since I only just got home! Right now I have this anime head,” she says, showing the camera the decapitated head of a Nendoroid figure keychain of anime character Nezuko Kamado. “It’s from an anime called Demon Slayer. She had a body; she doesn’t have a body anymore.” She fluffs the keychain to reveal a hot pink-wrapped key emblazoned with Hello Kitty’s face.  “And then, maybe most importantly, I have my Hello Kitty key”

Dress – unnamed nyc @unnamed.nyc
Jewelry – malakai @houseofmalakai

What was your first ever job?

“My first job was on a cow farm in New Brunswick. I was making $8/hr at the time, and knowing my parents would’ve never bought me any kind of device, I saved and saved from that job and bought an iPod nano! I think it was from eBay or something!”

Who are your beauty icons?

“Angelina Jolie and Winona Rider. I didn’t really grow up watching any kind of pop culture so all my beauty icons are women I’ve come to love as an adult.”

How/when were you discovered as a model?

“I really started by doing my own photoshoots on Instagram during the Covid lockdowns, and then shortly after that I was lucky enough to really gain my audience on TikTok. TikTok was really where it all took off for me, and every platform grew as a result of it. It was really that boost transfering over to Instagram that allowed it to take off on its own. I was contacted by That Agency shortly after, in the summer of 2021. They were who encouraged me to come to LA for work! I was staying in Texas at the time and made my way over right away.”

“If I’m being really honest… Up until very recently I didn’t fully consider myself a model! Or at least, I didn’t feel ready to own that label. I still felt like I was in that aspiring model phase. It’s only now that I’ve worked really hard on showing up to work with no expectations every day and just focused on being the best model that I can possibly be that I feel like I’ll own that title. It was always ‘I’m learning to be a model, and I’m going to work really hard and be the best model I can be… But I’m not there yet’. That was my mindset. I still have so much to learn. I want to master it!” 

I compliment video footage I’ve seen of her modeling and tell her she’s a consummate professional. Leona’s face lights up and she responds “Thank you so much, that seriously means everything. I’m scared of a boring photo! I run from a boring photo. I’ll do anything, even if it’s a bit weird. I’d so much rather try something and have it not quite work than make something boring. It’s just not inspiring to me otherwise.”

What would your dream creative project be, in any medium?

“I’d love to sew an amazing vintage-inspired vampire gown. Loads of satin and earth tones. That’s my dream. I’m obsessed with the idea of making dresses nowadays.” She takes the camera with her to the next room of her apartment, and changes into a drop waist micro mini dress complete with puffed skirt, sewn in denim-blue satin while we chat. “I made this!” she tells me, and I marvel at her ability to translate the fashion ethos she witnesses at work into impressively professional-looking works of her own. “I still need to sew the back and add these amazing green buttons. I’m so excited to finish it.”

How do you define cool?

“I think cool is authenticity. The coolest people I’ve ever met are themselves in their most raw form, even if that makes them a bit weird. They’re not looking to anyone else for inspiration, it’s just someone who’s brave enough to fully embody themselves in their own thing. Cool is in the eye of the beholder though, definitely! It’s whatever you think is cool. It can be anything, as long as you’re authentically excited and walking your own path.”

Dress – unnamed nyc @unnamed.nyc
Jewelry – malakai @houseofmalakai

Thoughts on being a Canadian girl in the US?

“God bless America, first of all,” she laughs. “I love America, and I love being a Canadian girl in America. Canadian girls have a really unique perspective on everything. Every single Canadian girl in the US that I’ve met has her head screwed on so straight–they all have such an edge. To find a place in the US as a Canadian immigrant requires such a focus and passion and a drive to create an amazing life here. I think a lot of Americans don’t fully understand how tough it is to immigrate as a Canadian. It’s very difficult even though we’re neighbors!”

What does a typical set day look like for you? Any rituals?

“I’m very focused on having every photoshoot teach me something new. I’ll sit there in the morning before going on set and think to myself “I need to come up with something fresh”. There’s also an almost method-y approach that I have to it, I think? I’ll spend the morning really embodying the emotion I want to portray… I put on the character.”

When did you know it was time to relocate to the US?

“It was very seamless… it all happened the way it was meant to. I came to Los Angeles for the first time when I was 17, and I had been flown out by the brand Finesse Studios, who at the time was interested in building a TikTok house. That was the first time I was ever completely on my own in America. It didn’t work out in the long run, but it was at that house that I made a lot of really good connections in LA, a lot of really beautiful friendships. Right after that I got stuck due to Covid! I couldn’t go back across the border at all, and I ended up staying for four months when I was only originally supposed to be out here for two weeks. I had to continue doing highschool online from LA until I could make it back. Even from that first visit though… I knew LA was where I needed to be. It was like showing up to my real place of work for the first time, if that makes sense. Coming from New Brunswick, nobody is trying to cultivate a creative scene or work in fashion! It was a really powerful energy for me to be around, seeing so many people with such a drive and a dream aggregated into one place.”

“I think also, coming from a world that was so far removed from Hollywood as a concept, growing up it didn’t really feel like a real place to me. It was almost parasocial. When I got here, I remember those first instances of seeing people I’d seen on my phone living out their lives. It dissolved any gap I might have felt between myself and them almost instantly. When I was at a distance from it it felt like it was on such a high pedestal. So when I got here and it was a real place with real people, it was almost like it had fallen so far down into normalization that it made me realize I could do anything. That’s the magic in LA for me. Ever since that time, I don’t have any limitations on what I believe I can do. I really believe that’s true for anyone though. I believe in the bottom of my heart that anyone can reach anything if they believe it’s for them.”

What’s something that only your hometown friends know about you?

“Probably that I used to get detention for not wearing shoes in elementary school!” she laughs “I very much carried the philosophy of my parents home to school, and I’d say things like “I never wear shoes outside so why should I have to wear them inside?” I’d be told that it was for safety reasons, you know,  in case we had to go outside for a fire drill, and I’d be thinking “Perfect, then I’ll be exactly the same as any other time I don’t wear shoes outside”. I was in middle school and was definitely too smart for my own good. But yeah, that’s the one they’d all remember! Hearing my name on the loudspeaker, getting called to the principal’s office for refusing to wear shoes again.”

What’s one thing that’s guaranteed to make you feel grounded?

“Hmmm… Being with nature. Being alone with nature. No question. With where I come from, nature is always the baseline that makes me feel like I can return to myself no matter how far from home I am. I carry it with me.”

When you’re home in Canada, what’s the first thing you’re jumping to do?”

“There’s a couple things, and it depends on the time of year I’m going! The first would be making fresh apple cider with my parents’ apple crushing machine. I miss fresh apple cider all the time! And the second one… I have a favorite climbing tree that lives behind my parents house back home. It’s an enormous pine tree that I’ve been climbing since I was tiny. The last few times I’ve gone back home, I’ll climb to the top of the tree and sit in the crown where I used to sit as a kid, and I’ll just write and sit with myself for hours. I think there’s no place in the world where I feel more myself than there. The last time I went, I bundled up in every piece of my parents wool and knit insulation that I could find. My hoodie was tied close around my face, not having to think for even a second about what I looked like. I sat at the top and all I could think to myself is ‘Wow, younger me sat at the top of this tree before any of these big instrumental changes in my life ever happened.” In a way it now feels like every time I return to it, I’m bringing her, both the tree and my younger self, stories of what I’ve done out there in the big wide world. It feels like that tree is my guardian in a way. My inner child lives there and also within me. There’s something very spiritual about having a physical place to return to my inner child and speak with her.”

On social media:

“I have such an internal conflict when it comes to social media. I feel like the avatar I’ve created on social media… She’s not me, and I’ve done that very intentionally. She’s the farthest thing from what you’d expect a farmer’s daughter from New Brunswick to be, and she’s totally separate from myself. I’ve created an “It Girl” caricature. And the thing is, I would never apply that label to myself! I’m me, I’m just Leona. But the way I make my content… I don’t want it to be exactly myself.“

 “I’m good at creating content around her, it’s a talent I have, but I’ve come incredibly close to deleting everything and just living my life as myself away from the internet. It’s partially I think a dissonance with the kind of person I am at my core – my psyche knows it’s not the healthiest thing for me or others to be building this caricature. It’s not how Offline Leona is wired if I’m being honest. But then on the other hand… I’m very good at engineering content and I can see how that’s an objectively valuable and specific skill that I possess. It’s such a dissonance for me and I’m still going back and forth with it every day! Half of me feels like I’m not meant to be on social media, and the other half knows that if I started a YouTube channel, I’d have a lot to share with the world and with other young women and I’d be so ready to take it all the way.”

We chat for a while about the nagging reminder that floats from the back of almost every young woman’s subconscious, the idea that social media is perhaps junk food for the soul. Despite her sweeping success, Leona is not immune to this anxiety.

 “That’s another thing I struggle with, I definitely wouldn’t say I make people feel good about themselves! That’s one thing I really don’t like. I don’t know what influence exactly I have on people, but I’ve definitely created something and I grapple with whether or not that thing is a good influence, or if it even needs to be. But then there’s the other side of the coin! I’ll intentionally put something out there that’s meant to break the illusion that I always look the way I do in my most curated content, and then it’s ‘you’re a catfish!’. I’m coming to the realization actively as we’re speaking that it’s on me to be as authentic as humanly possible, and for me, that means showing both sides of the duality of who I really am. The part of me that loves to make art that might feature my own image in a curated way, and the part of me that’s actually fundamentally very normal. I’ll always get comments along the lines of ‘you’re weird!’, but for my real life, I know that those people thinking that about me isn’t on me to worry about. Not everyone has to like me, I don’t expect that from people I know in real life! That’d be insane.”

On privacy and the future:

“I’ll wonder to myself if I’ll put more of my authentic personality on social media in the future, and it makes me wish I had a window into what I’ll be doing ten years from now. One thing I do know for sure is that if I’m more online than I am now, it’ll be in a way that shares a lot more of the IRL Leona. I do love the idea of showing every facet of myself, all the layers. I want to show that I can be someone who makes the kind of media that I’m good at making, and also be a flawed and complicated human being who is learning every day. For now though, I like that not everyone knows me. I don’t need everyone to know me. I like that there’s a bit more of a social intimacy there, where the people who meet me in real life get to meet a whole person and we get to share in the privacy of that, in a way. They get to meet me with no preconceived notions. They might know what I look like, but they don’t know who I am.”

 Since your birthday in February, what has this chapter of your life been about for you?

“It’s definitely been about making an effort to be more creative, and really just connect to my source of creativity. I recently read The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin and I couldn’t put it down. That book told me so much about myself and my own creative process. It was so interesting to see how universal it all is.

Who do you feel most seen by?

“My dad. My dad really sees me. He’s my spiritual guide in this life.”

Do you believe in manifestation, and if so, what are you manifesting right now?

“I go back and forth about the idea of manifestation, not because I don’t believe in it, but because I think the language around it has become so far-removed and strange! For me it’s not a matter of believing in it, because it’s something that I think is so innate to the experience of human consciousness. I create my reality every single day, every moment I’m alive! That said… Right now I’m in my sewing era, and I’m manifesting hand making fifteen absolutely beautiful dresses, and then I’m going to throw the most amazing fashion show in the coolest punk warehouse venue I can find in LA. I want my best friend Paris to DJ for it, and I want all my amazing hipster friends to be there. In my head it’s already happening. My hot vampire girl runway will happen.”

On her creative process:

“It’s so important to me that my art comes completely from within myself. I realize more and more over time that when you’re making something for other people, that’s less your art, but a business proposal. It’s a product! Art for art’s sake is entirely for you and what  you think will be perfect. No one but you can tell you when it’s done and ready and finished.”

On journaling and poetry writing:

“I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the concept of the self, and perception, whether that’s self-perception of self, or the depth at which others can truly know your personal concept of self. It goes a lot into the fluidity of personhood and identity. Also relationships, platonic and romantic. Social dynamics.”

What’re you excited for this week, this month, or this year?

“This week, submitting this interview! I love Galore and I could not be more grateful and excited. There’s almost no words. I was jumping up and down this morning. I was so excited. This month – technically this week too, going to Coachella! I’m going with Von Dutch x Sparkle, I’m going with my other best friend Bella, she took me under her wing when I first came to LA and I’m so excited. This year, I’m just excited to be alive and keep learning. I’m so full of gratitude that I get to wake up every day with a new chance to learn something from the world and meet new people and live in joy. That gets me every single day.”

 What are your 10 secrets to happiness?

1. Going to the farmers market!!! 

2. Smiling at strangers on the street, just always smiling at everything! It makes you happy.

3. Papaya with lime juice squeezed on top

4. House plants! Having a citrus tree in your room. They make your house smell beautiful when they flower, and plants are friends!

5. Connecting with mother nature as much as possible! Run barefoot through the grass!

6. Journaling!

7. Yoga/meditation, even just 10 minutes in the morning is so important

8. Affirmations

9. Making art!

10. Music!


Editor in Chief: Prince Chenoa @princechenoastudio

Features Editor: Perrin Johnson @Editsbyperry

Photographer & producer : Oceane Auclair @oceane_auclair
Interviewer & Written by Orly Estrin
Model : Leona Naomi Wong @leonanaomii
Stylist : Jasmine Amini @jasmine.amini
Make up artist : Sara Robey @sararobeymakeup
Nail artist : Sara mésidor @studiosazz
Photo assistant : Raphaele Sohier @raphsohier

Gimme More POP

Do You Like?

Some things are only found on Facebook. Don't miss out.