Who is beautiful? As you know, that’s debatable. But not about whether colored people, transgender or drag queens belong to it. We present courageous pioneers who successfully stir up the fashion industry.
“Fashion always looks the same – presented by tall, thin, imaginary models. The model, whose face has been seen in numerous glossy magazines and fashion magazines in recent years, is a migrant – and transfrau. In 2010, the 26-year-old emigrated from Thailand to New York with the career aspiration of modeling. It soon became clear to her that her background and sexuality would not help her. “I met with several well-known modeling agencies, but none of them wanted to sign me,” says Peche Di.
But Di didn’t want to be a victim, just turned the tables and took care of jobs himself. “The audience loved my catwalk performances and my editorials were well received. I realized it wasn’t me!” Rather, she wanted to be the one to tackle the fundamental problem: in 2013 she founded Trans Model, the first model agency for transgender.
“The idea was very well received. Everyone wondered why no one had come up with such an obvious idea so far,” says Peche Di, describing the reactions to the founding of the agency. “I wanted to create something inclusive to give transgenders a chance to celebrate themselves and their beauty.”
In 2013 another pioneer came on the scene: Nafisa Kaptownwala founded her model agency Lorde Inc in Toronto, and today the company has around 60 models under contract – nobody knows about that. “The idea came to me as some of my colleagues gradually gained a foothold in the fashion world, but none of them worked with the coloured,” she says. Little has changed in this respect: According to statistics from The Fashion Spot, 70 percent of the models were white at New York Fashion Week.
“At the last Gucci Show, three of 76 models were colored. And designers like Demna Gvasalia from Balenciaga obviously don’t think it is necessary to book coloured models at all,” says Kaptownwala with a view to the coming spring collection. This dusty attitude reminded her of the 1950s.
At the pulse of time
According to a Human Rights Campaign report, 21 women were killed in the United States alone in 2015. Equally worrying are the racially motivated murders of the past three years, to which the movement “Black Lives Matter” is currently drawing attention. On the other side of the Atlantic, the refugee crisis seems to be accompanied by discrimination against the Muslim population, culminating in a temporary ban on Burkini on the Cote d’Azur.
The fashion world should not reproduce such fears and reservations, says Henry Ravelo, American TV producer and manager. “The majority think they have nothing to do with such problems,” he says. “But violence against whomever is a problem for society as a whole.” Ravelo is committed to making the transgender part of the public.
“When AIDS broke out in the 1980s, people invented all sorts of names such as’gay disease’. With such terms one can sweep the topic well under the carpet. Fashion, however, is part of our culture, which we all share. It can change people’s consciousness.” The producer has a very personal reason for his commitment: A friend died in the terrorist attack on the gay club “The Pulse” in June 2016, and the loss still brings tears to his eyes.
The fashion world seems to be slowly changing. Peche Di and her models run at New York Fashion Week, are featured in editorials of mainstream magazines or even as the face of campaigns like Smirnoff or Equinox. World-renowned photographers like Steven Klein want to work with her. Kaptownwala’s agency also regularly hosts her models in high-class photo shoots such as the magazine Dazed & Confused or i-D as well as at worldwide fashion shows.
Muslim designer Anniesa Hasibuan from Indonesia presented a hijab collection at the last New York Fashion Week, which was celebrated with standing ovations and discussed in the social networks. Some of the models were recruited by the agency Underwraps, a company founded by the Muslim fashion designer Nailah Lymus. “Something’s happening in the world of fashion,” says Ravelo. “Recently the station Oxygen showed the first episodes of Strut, a new reality show by Whoopi Goldberg. In it models are accompanied by Slay, a model agency from Los Angeles, who has transgender under contract,” he says.
A similar format, which is already running in its eighth season, has just won an Emmy Award: In RuPaul’s Drag Race competition Drag Queens for “America’s next Drag Superstar”. One of the former candidates, Kurtis Dam-Mikkelsen, is currently visiting fashion shows and parties in Paris, for which she is equipped by Marc Jacobs or Prada. “I don’t want to sound pompous, but when I was growing up, there was no one for children like me to look up to. I want these children, who are different and afraid to be honest with themselves, to know that there is someone like them,” said “Miss Fame,” the Drag Queen’s stage name.
Who is a model?
Fashion is omnipresent. It is therefore hardly surprising that it provides a perfect platform for minorities to express themselves and gain recognition – despite resistance from the fashion industry. “My goal is to stir up the fashion industry,” Di explains. “All my models are trans, but that’s not why they’re unique. Some are a bit fuller, some define themselves as non-gender and model for both men’s and women’s fashion.”
When asked what the word “model” means to her, her answer has universal validity: “A person who can wear and present clothes in a beautiful way. I want to show that body size, skin colour or identity do not hinder anyone in their career – as long as they are passionate and want to achieve something in this industry”.