The Ambitions of a Black Swan

Lea Black – Entrepreneur, Author, and Reality TV Star – is Off on Her Next Adventure

By Katrina Daniel and Julia Piantini

December 2019

It is a full moon, and Lea Black is addressing a gathering of young women at the Coral Gables Museum. It is the monthly Glow-Up event, a combination of holistic talks, group yoga, trendy vendor booths, and Kettle One Vodka. Like Lea herself, it’s a perfect combination of new age sensibility mixed with martini chic.

The invite to the event featured the image of a glowing Lea in the middle of a harvest moon, as radiant as a zodiac icon. “Good evening, and thank you so much for coming out tonight,” she told the crowd of yoga devotees. After a minute or two of pleasantries, Lea turned the mic over to the evening’s yoga instructor and went to check on her display of CBD beauty products.

Lea Black, entrepreneur, author, CEO, podcaster, mother, and wife of legendary attorney Roy Black was here to promote her latest beauty line. Glamour symbol? Clearly. But working girl? Definitely. A Texas native and the oldest of four sisters, her parents encouraged her to be ambitious. So Lea started working at a young age, leaving college after a short time to manage a gym called Fitness World. She ended up managing 40 Fitness World gyms before leaving to launch several health and wellness brands. One of her skincare products, Sudden Youth Facial, became highly successful. After that, there was no turning back; ultimately, she would help develop more than 400 products.

Flash forward to 1991, to the infamous Palm Beach rape trial of William Kennedy Smith. The now 35-year-old Lea Haller, as she was known then, had moved her business to Palm Beach County and was on the jury that voted to acquit Kennedy Smith in a controversial verdict. Kennedy Smith’s defense attorney was Roy Black, a well-respected Miami criminal defense attorney dubbed “The Professor” for the intelligent, erudite defense he provided his clients. Kennedy Smith went free and Black, 11 years Lea’s senior, went on to date and then marry the former juror. Talk about meeting your mate at work.

The couple moved to Coral Gables. Roy went on to build a powerful legal practice, ultimately representing famous (and infamous) clients ranging from Kelsey Grammer and Rush Limbaugh to Justin Bieber and Jeffrey Epstein. Meanwhile, Lea’s first big project in the Gables was the renovation of a historic home built by developer and city founder George Merrick. Roy had bought it years before he married Lea, but was too busy to renovate. Lea jumped right in. “I renovated it because it deserved it. I had an unlimited budget and I exceeded that,” she says. “We made the effort to maintain the historical integrity of the home. It really is a one of a kind treasure. It has a peaceful energy about it. It deserves the nurturing we’ve given it.”

At this point Lea could have just ridden on her famous husband’s coattails. She could’ve stayed home in her historical multimillion-dollar Gables manse, eating the proverbial bonbons. Instead, Lea resurrected her skincare business, started a reality TV career, became a mom, started a podcast, wrote a book, and became an activist/philanthropist.

In 2011, riding the “Real Housewives” success craze, Black was tapped to be one of the original Real Housewives of Miami – or ROHM, as it’s known – a gig which she says was a major learning experience. “I learned that some people will do anything for attention,” she says. “It can be fun, and it can be hurtful. Most people are not team players. Everyone has an agenda. Reality TV doesn’t change who you are, it exposes who you are. I went into it with the best of intentions and was quite naïve… It opened my eyes to things I had never thought of before. ” Despite the cattiness of the show, she credits it with providing a platform for the housewives themselves. It gave several cast members, Lea included, the momentum to pursue other projects. Housewife Larsa Pippen now has a lifestyle website and blog. Housewife Alexia Echevarria launched Alexia + Frankie’s Beauty Bar. For Lea, her momentum was focused on writing a novel and expanding her businesses.

Black speaking at the Full Moon Glow-Up event at Coral Gables Museum

The novel, “Red Carpets & White Lies,” was published in 2015. Starring a thinly disguised Leigh White, it is the story of a philanthropist throwing her last blowout Charity Ball amidst “the world of Miami’s rich and shameless.” The book got rave reviews; the New York Post’s trendy Page 6 pronounced her “the next Joan Collins.” Lea, however, is almost dismissive of its success. “I wrote that book on my Blackberry phone,” she says, and without any fear of failure. “When I jump into something I just jump in and do it. And if it’s a success, great, and if I screw up then I just move on.”

One part of the autobiographical fiction of “Red Carpets & White Lies” that clearly mirrored her life is Lea’s ongoing commitment to charities for troubled teens. Since 1992, she and husband Roy have hosted an annual charity event, The Blacks’ Annual Gala, to raise money for their Consequences Charity and Foundation. Having raised millions over the years, she was the subject of a 2008 documentary entitled “The Fundraiser.”

But what gets Lea excited these days are two things. The first is her weekly podcast, “Lunch with Lea Black.” Several years ago, she had co-hosted a Google hangout and chat room with Frankie Grande, brother to Ariana Grande. The two focused mostly on political and celebrity gossip. But when Frankie joined the television show “Big Brother” in 2014, their collaboration was put on indefinite pause. Lea looked to other media options to connect with her fans. James, her social media manager, knew how to create podcasts and so the two began working on “Lunch with Lea Black,” which officially launched last year. Episodes are released every Wednesday and there are now over 400 to date. Fans have the opportunity to ask questions and along with answering them, Lea chats about news, politics or whatever she feels like talking about that week. She uses it as a platform to support her products as well as those of her friends.

Her products? Lea’s other passion is the continuing development of her Lea Black Beauty Collection, a skincare system with anti-aging serums, moisturizers and skin exfoliants. Never one to rest on her laurels, Lea began to invest in the CBD market more than three years ago, “getting in on the ground level.” She is now full-on with the CBD craze, incorporating the hemp derivative into her line of cosmetic creams.

Lea Black’s book, “Red Carpets & White Lies” and skincare line

“I’ve been in the skincare business since 1984 and I’ve always been able to create cutting edge products that work,” she says. “CBD is something I was into years back, and I teamed up with scientists, doctors, laboratories, and marketing companies to do clinical studies to prove the efficacy before I made them available, so that I could launch one of the first CBD skincare lines in the industry. I guess karma finally caught up to me – it’s been one of the most incredible result-producing skincare lines I’ve ever created.”

If Lea’s appearance is any indication, her hemp-powered products are indeed potent. Now 63 (she was the oldest of the housewives), she looks stunningly attractive. She is also stunningly successful, worth an estimated $65 million (more than $100 million if you add in husband Roy). So why is this doyen of pop culture TV and new-age cosmetics out working a Glow-Up gathering at the Coral Gables Museum?

“I ask myself why I don’t just sit back and relax, and I guess the answer is that I feel everyone should carry their weight in life, and if you have a skill set or talent you have a responsibility to use it for the better good, including yourself,” she says. “I’ve been able to create thousands of jobs for others during my career – and watching people see that they can earn their worth, that has energized me to keep going.”

So how does this philanthropist, author, mother, wife, reality star, and entrepreneur want people to think about her? “What they think about me says more about them than it does me. But if they care to get to know me, they’ll find I’m just a simple girl with big ideas that cares about others and believes the world can work for everybody if we just allow it.”

The monthly Full Moon Glow-Up event at Coral Gables Museum