As humans, androgyny and gender have fascinated us since the dawn of time. The ancient Greeks depicted the God Aphroditus (later Hermaphroditus) as having breasts, a beard and a penis; it has also been discussed by historians whether the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, Akhenaten, was androgynous. Throughout history beautiful men, handsome women and stunning transgender people have penetrated culture and art, and now they’re penetrating the world of fashion. You probably couldn’t name individuals of this new strain of supermodel, yet they are the ones pushing social constraints surrounding gender in the fashion world.
Take Andrej Pejić, for example. Pejić is a 22 year old Australian man with who walked the catwalk for the Jean-Paul Gaultier men’s show and women’s show in January 2011. Another gender bending model is Stav Strashko. Strashko starred in a Toyota advert: clad in red bikini bottoms he walks towards a car, hair flowing, hips swinging… It’s only when he turns to reveal a lack of breasts do you realise he is actually male. This example of blurred gender should only be applauded, hence it’s disappointing to hear that such an advert has been banned.
On the opposite side of the gender spectrum stand Casey Legler, Elliott Sailors and Erika Linder. Casey Legler is a 36 year old French woman who was the first woman to be signed exclusively as a male model earlier this year; she likens modelling as a male to performance art. Elliott Sailors worked as a womenswear model from her early teens, it was at the age of 30 when she walked into her husband’s barbers and asked for her hair to be cut off, that she found her inner male model. Finally, 23 year old Erika Linder’s looks are often compared to Leonardo DiCaprio; she has been signed to modelling companies as both a menswear and womenswear model and starred in Katy Perry’s music video ‘Unconditionally’. These women own their gender identity, but aren’t afraid to push the conventions surrounding gender: if you can make more money strutting down both the male and female catwalks, why not?
Perhaps most boundary challenging of all are transgender models. In the 1960s, a 26 year old April Ashley was a fashion model gracing the pages of Vogue, until a friend betrayed her confidence and told Sunday People that Ashley had undergone gender reassignment surgery – she never worked as a model in Britain again. In 2012 Ashley was awarded an MBE for her campaigning work for the transgender community, work that cannot be gone unnoticed since 19 year old transgender model, Jackie Green, made it through to the finals of Miss England this year. Another transgender model, Lea T made the cover of the androgynous issue of ‘Love’ magazine in 2011 in a photo where she was kissing Kate Moss. Finally, Nicole Gibson participated in the Catwalk For Change campaign during London Fashion Week, challenging a lack of diversity within the fashion industry, just days before her sexual reassignment surgery. Not only are these phenomenal stories, but it shows just how far the fashion industry has come over the past fifty years, and encapsulates how much potential they have to grow in the next.
The fashion industry are beginning to open their doors to a wider horizon of people and it’s a beautiful thing to see. In the words of Casey Legler: ‘I think what’s interesting is what it says about how we celebrate difference. I think that this in the fashion world is just an example of what’s happening in a larger sphere, about celebrating excellence in whatever package it comes in.’ One can only hope that the fashion industry will continue to open their doors to people and celebrate peoples’ differences without prejudice in the future.