Models like Lea T and Andreja Pejic are expanding the fashion industry’s field of vision.
Lea T looks exactly how you’d expect a Brazilian supermodel to. With her lithe limbs, tangle of glossy dark hair and cheekbones that could slice a guava in two, the only thing that seems surprising about her international status is that, now 34 years old, she didn’t break into the fashion industry sooner. But Lea T is not just another beauty queen. In a nude photo shoot with French Vogue in 2010, she bravely revealed something. She has a penis.
Born Leandro Cerezo to Toninho Cerezo, a famous footballer, and a devout Catholic mother, Lea T has endured relentless public scrutiny as a transgender model. Afternmaking her modeling debut with Givenchy in the house’s fall/winter 2010-11 campaign (prior to that, she had worked as assistant to creative director Riccardo Tisci), her success has been stratospheric: magazine covers, turns on the catwalk for European fashion houses, the face of Benetton’s “Unhate” campaign and contracts with major beauty brands. Lest anyone forget, there was also that Love shoot: as she languidly locked lips with Kate Moss, it cemented Lea T’s status as a global player and garnered headlines galore. In the meantime, her success and her openness has sparked conversations about the transgender community across the globe, with Lea appearing on Oprah, America’s most beloved barometer of popular culture, after the controversial photo shoot with French Vogue. Yet she is sanguine about her impact. Explaining her decision to publicly identify as a woman to Italian Vanity Fair, she said simply, “the choice is between being unhappy forever or trying to be happy.”
Accusations of Lea T’s accomplishments being a mere gimmick have been silenced by the arrival of another transgender supermodel on the scene. Discovered in a McDonald’s in Melbourne at the age of 16, Andreja Pejic was initially coined as simply androgynous, walking the runways for Jeremy Scott, Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs. During his fall/winter 2011-12 show, Gaultier deliberately played with the fluidity of her gender. Clothed first in an elegant tuxedo jacket and shirt slashed to the navel in a homage to James Bond, Pejic later emerged in furs and sky-high stilettos, a sultry, slinky “James Blonde.” But she wasn’t merely androgynous – she was transgender. In 2014, Pejic underwent gender-reconfirmation surgery, capturing it all in a documentary that hopes to “humanize” the experience.
“There was a level of social responsibility in my decision to go there and document the journey,” she said, speaking to an Australian news station. In a later interview with Vogue, she recalled her horror as adolescence approached. “I wanted to stop puberty in its early tracks,” Pejic remembered. “I was worried about my feet being too big, my hands being too big, my jawline being too strong.”
But today, non-conformity has become fashionable – and the fashion industry’s a better place for it.