Lauren London didn’t see the Hollywood sign until she was an adult. Despite the fact that the actress and LA native grew up only a few miles from the iconic landmark, she wants to make it clear that wasn’t the city she grew up in. “When you say you’re from LA, everyone immediately thinks of the Hollywood area,” she tells me over the phone with West Coast energy. “Maybe you went on a field trip by Universal Studios growing up, but like, that just wasn’t the culture of growing up out here. That wasn’t it at all.”
The LA she knows is one of laid back vibes, spots on Slauson Ave, and visions of hoodies wrapped around your waist when the temperature drops below 70 degrees. That homage to simple style is also the inspiration behind her latest collaboration with PUMA, as part of her new “Forever Stronger” collection.
I’m a born-and-raised Angeleno and a London stan from way way back, so her words hit different as we reminisce about growing up in Black LA. In a way that’s earnest and conversational, she asks me what high school I went to and where I grew up. When I tell her I went to Marlborough, the small all girls school in Hancock Park, she says, “Oh yeah, I pass by that school all the time,” and then goes on to share she went to Palms Middle School around the block, and then Palisades High for a year, just up the Pacific Coast Highway. (“They kicked me out. So they better not claim me, cause they were dirty.”)
That tonal shift between chill homegirl and unapologetic is exactly the Lauren London I, and many other Black girls, fell in love with in the early aughts. From her appearance in the “Frontin” video with Pharrell at 17 to her iconic role as New New in ATL, the 36-year-old actress has been the cool girl opposite some of your favorite millennial dreams. You could always count on London for her laid edges and effortless vibe that you wanted to wear like the last bit of your Juicy perfume before the school dance.
That early aughts style is one that London recognizes is already making a comeback, babygirl necklaces and all. But London’s off-screen style leans more in the joggers and sweats direction, and if anything from the ‘90s is coming back, her vote is for something functional, but cool. “You know what I’d like to see come back fully? Slouch socks — plus overalls,” she shares.
It’s a look that an Angeleno like London could pull off without a thought today, and one of the reasons she’s so specific that her work with PUMA serves as an authentic reflection of that spirit.
“Whatever energy you put out there, you know, you create. And so every little piece matters. What you wear, what music you listen to, what conversations you entertain — all that really creates our life in our day to day. And so I just wanted to incorporate what I wear that I like and I’m comfortable with, for how I live my life now.”
That life looks different than London had expected. Just a few years ago, London, along with her partner and icon in his own right, Nipsey Hussle, were Black LA royalty. Hussle’s store, The Marathon Shop, is a Crenshaw landmark, just a few streets up from the house I grew up in. Watching them together in magazine spreads and videos like “Never Call Me,” an ode to the LA crew from another native and close friend Jhene Aiko, only seemed to solidify their status.
That all came to a devastating halt when Hussle was gunned down in front of that same shop, an unimaginable tragedy that London is gracefully honest about.
“I lived through a personal hell. You know, the worst thing in my eyes I had to experience,” she candidly shares. With a disposition that seems so grounded for having lived through such trauma, she’s intentional in acknowledging the pain, but doesn’t dwell at its center.
“Here’s my thing. I don’t think that God has blessed me with the opportunity to speak to you, just to speak in vain. I have to get the energy right, and be humbled with this opportunity,” she shares. “And if this could just be, you know, a gateway or if I can just be a bridge for someone, I’ll just be the bridge or the messenger for that.”
What London has created then with the “Forever Stronger” collaboration is a continuation of that message Hussle started and an opportunity she doesn’t take for granted. Embodying the “Marathon Don’t Stop” energy that made Hussle and his shop so successful, London worked with the brand on a series of campaigns starting in 2019, and now a new collection.
As the first clothing collaboration with the brand, London wanted to bring a classic eye to the drop, which features a hoodie, T-shirt, and black and white sneakers, embroidered with the “Forever Stronger” moniker. With items ranging from $30 to $75, she says it was important to make this collection feel accessible for everyone, since both Hollywood and fashion industries have fallen far short. It’s also one of the reasons she chose to shoot the campaign at Simply Wholesome, the Black-owned health restaurant that’s been a local mainstay since it opened in 1984. “I feel like art has to imitate life and it hasn’t, up until recently. And they’re trying to, but for my brand, I want everyone to feel safe to be authentic.”
In 2021, a year and a half into the pandemic, and nearly three years after Hussle’s death — feeling “safe to be authentic” looks different for many of us, including London. That “hustle hard” mantra doesn’t quite mean what it used to. And for her, that’s more than ok.
“I didn’t rush myself and I’m not rushing myself. There’s plenty of things I don’t do. And places I don’t go because I just don’t have it right now. There’s a time for recharge, there is a time to reset and to trust your intuition,” she says. “There are times I just don’t and I can’t. And so I don’t. And with the times that I can, I do.”
When I ask about what it feels like when she can’t, we talk about the “Forever Stronger” name and the double edged sword of being strong as a Black woman despite the daily trauma that she — and many other wives and mothers who’ve been affected by gun violence, she’s quick to note — all endure. London’s honest about the tension and defines her own strength in the moments she didn’t feel it.
“I’m sitting here today talking about healing, talking about light, talking about love, and so it’s forever. To me, it’s like man, no matter what life throws at you, you’re going to stand up. Even if you’re on your knees, you’re going to stand up and you will forever be stronger… You won’t feel like you’re okay for a very long time, but you will be here and you will have opportunities to speak your truth. You will breathe, and you will laugh again, and you will smile again and you will enjoy TV again. Life will just keep unfolding.”
Life keeps unfolding for London; it’s unearthed some new discoveries about the way she moves along the way.
“We have so much pressure to get back up and work, work, work, work, work, and sometimes we just want to not work,” she says. “One time, I just wanted to read all day and I told everyone, I am not working today. I’m just going to read. And I realized that was work. That was work that was worth it.”
Her reading list right now includes spiritual treatises from the likes of Iyanla Vanzant and Queen Afua, the holistic health practitioner she says is like a mother to her. She’s also taken to penning her own thoughts on the daily, a practice she started about six months ago, and one that she thinks most of us could benefit from too.
“Even if it’s just a 10-minute morning routine with yourself, with a book, with a song, with a stretch, you have to start your day with an intention. Even if the intention is, ‘I’m just going to be today.’”
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