FOLLOWING THE STEPS OF TRUE TRANS ICONS SUCH AS CANDY DARLING AND AMANDA LEPORE, TRANSGENDER MODELS – ABOVE ALL HARI NEF – ARE UNSTOPPABLE AND, BETWEEN HITTING THE RUNWAY FOR HISTORICAL MASIONS AND SHOOTING A COVER STORY, THEY'RE RESHAPING THE WAY WE SEE BEAUTY.
The fashion world is changing. Plastic poses and Gigi Hadid-Kendall Jenner look-a-like models are no longer the only options. Our reality is way more diverse and inclusive, gender boundaries are blurred and labels are starting to fade. Man, woman, straight, gay, bisexual; do these words still mean something in the gender fluid era?
Over the last year, the catwalks presenting menswear along with womenswear and vice-versa have multiplied. Fashion is opening to our millennium’s infinite shades and is ready to embrace an endless number of possibilities.
It all started with & Other Stories, when, for AW15 capsule collection’s campaign, the brand recruited an all transgender creative team, not just the models (Hari Nef and Valentjin de Hingh) but also the stylist, photographer and make-up artist. Then, Alessandro Michele’s Gucci, Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent, Rick Owens, Vetements and Balenciaga were just a few of the major fashion houses to embrace the phenomenon of mixed-gender fashion shows. Then it was the turn for the low-cost giants, Zara and H&M, with the production of “ungendered” capsule collections, addressed to everyone.
It’s especially been the transgender community to be projected into the mainstream market, with transgender models increasingly involved in commercials, targeted campaigns and big fashion shows.
Of course, since the ’60s the most visionary and open-minded artists saw the charm of transgender models’ diversity, considering them as real muse. International Chrysis not by chance was a constant inspiration for Salvador Dali and Candy Darling not only was the star of several films by Andy Warhol, but also the muse of the Velvet Underground. Not to mention the blonde Caroline “Tula” Cossey, who played the role of a charming Bond girl and was the first transgender model to appear on the coveted cover of Playboy, or Amanda Lepore, a true icon in the transgender community, who, with her Jessica Rabbit-like look and her trademark huge lips, became David LaChapelle’s and Terry Richardson’s muse and has also appeared in several campaigns for MAC.
All these personalities have made history in the transgender culture, trying to open a window towards integration, yet in a world which, unfortunately, still struggled to break away from old traditions. What is happening now is, instead, a global, unstoppable phenomenon. Transgender models winning this or that magazine cover do not make hardly a stir, indeed they finally start to become the norm. Models such as the Australian Andreja Pejic (the first trans to gain a profile in Vogue), Valentijn De Hingh (who has contracts with top fashion houses), the Dutch Loiza Lakers (just appeared in the new Diesel campaign) or the beautiful Isis King (the first transgender model to participate in America’s Next Top Model), represent the voice of an entire generation that’s every day involved in a constant struggle to liberate the world, and especially the beauty industry, from outdated dictates and schemes.
But one name stands out above all: that of Hari Nef. Class ’92, model, actress, activist, honorary member of Petra Collins & Co.’s clique, Nef was also the first ever transgender model to sing a contract with the prestigious agency IMG Worldwide. For AW16 she made her official debut in high fashion parading on Gucci’s catwalk, wrapped in a red hood matched with ton-sur-ton shoes, pants and hat, immersed in a Lynchian atmosphere of mystery and star of one of the most crucial moments of the season.
But it’s not only the big brands to challenge classic beauty conventions. It is, indeed, a phenomenon starting from emerging designer, from the most alternative independent brands, which are free from an imaginary settled in the decades as those of historical fashion houses and therefore more daring and ready to take risks.
Gypsy Sport, Hood By Air, Telfar, Chromat, Eckhaus Latta, Kim Shui, Gogo Graham, are just some of the independent brands to watch, not only for the uniqueness of their collections but also because, by bringing on the catwalk a diverse fauna of models and models, they are an example for those brands who are still struggling to free themselves from tradition.
Diversity is the key to today’s beauty industry. The acknowledgement of it, the appreciation of diversity and, consequently, inclusion are the only possible ways to move towards the future. And for once, even a world like fashion, often too attached to ‘standard’ beauty ideals, seems to have noticed.
Text by Francesca Milano