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March 4, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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Dude Looks Like a Lady

Jean Paul Gaultier had his muse close his Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2011 show. Amidst an opera singer’s undulating voice and a backdrop of soft lavender light, a bride appeared. Dressed in skin-tight ruffled tulle with a feather headdress, she briefly paused before sauntering down the catwalk. The audience immediately applauded. Hourglass in figure, poised in manner, supermodel in face, she looked every bit like the bride Gaultier had envisaged. Post show, everyone asked, “who is that girl?” They would discover not all was as it seemed. 

Google Gaultier’s show and you will find photographs of her. She’s beautiful, right? So what do they say about assumptions? “When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.” The word “ass” is now stuck to our heads. It turns out she isn’t a woman. Nor is she transgender. She is actually a he. And fashion’s latest poster boy for androgyny.

Andrej Pejic stands at a long and lean six-foot-two. Blue-eyed with platinum blonde hair, his impeccably high cheek-bones, the Cindy Crawford beauty spots and Lana Del Rey-like lips offer a challenge in discerning his gender. The only indication of his masculinity is his Adam’s apple.

Early on the Bosnian-turned-Australian felt he had to be somebody else. At 14, a wish to be happy saw him start to experiment with his ‘look’. By 17, he was signed to a model agency after being scouted whilst working part-time at McDonalds. The rest is history.

Fashion’s constant quest for a new kind of beauty guarantees that controversy is not far away. Time declared Pejic the only “top-tier” fashion model who can walk down the runway either as a man or a woman. Of the 14 magazine covers he appeared on last year, Out magazine had him wearing a bridal veil and red lipstick, with his locks full of flowers. The magazine named him “stylemaker of the year.” He even had the balls to model an ad campaign for a Dutch pushup bra (it really makes a difference, even to the boob-less). In a showing of either acceptance or mockery, FHM readers voted Pejic the 98th Sexiest Woman in the World. I wonder if they knew Pejic was a guy.

In less than two years, Pejic has commanded more attention than any other model. There is no denying his beauty, a pre-requisite for his job. But it is his ability to manipulate his aesthetic that fools us. If the saying is true, that “appearances can be deceiving,” then we have been deceived.

For too long, the fashion world’s concept of beauty and gender had been black-and-white. Appearances never deceived, you got what you saw and that was that. As paraders of beauty, designers provided an ideal that we took to heart. Beautiful men were ideally masculine: strong-jawed, broad-shouldered, chiselled and athletic. Beautiful women were ideally feminine: those impeccably high cheek-bones, a delicate waist, curvy yet slender. Who better to represent those looks than fashion models? But when designers got tired of the old, the typical, the conservative, and craved the new, the atypical, the progressive, androgyny was hailed as the next big thing.

Initially it applied only to male models. Androgyny gave menswear a thinner silhouette to fall in line with the feminine ideal—strong jawed turned to gaunt looking, broad shoulders were narrowed, chiselled and athletic were now bony and lanky. Still, males modelled menswear and females modelled womenswear. Only in the last two years has androgyny dared to do the unthinkable. Pejic merely opened the lamp and let the genie out.

Because androgyny refers to the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics, its blurred nature plays upon, and tests the limits of, those gender concepts. Some will vehemently take a ‘pigeonhole’ approach, some will see things a little more fluid. And others will either pity or not care. In the end androgyny celebrates the blurriness, takes pride in its tolerance and patience, and advocates for the freedom to represent both sides of the coin.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in the fashion world’s eye, beauty must always be unique. Gaultier witnessed beauty in Pejic. And in that, the French fashion designer witnessed beauty in androgyny. Whether Pejic is a bride, an incarnation of Amy Winehouse, or the face of Gaultier’s new men’s fragrance, you are assured that beauty is on full display. I wonder what’s next for him. Victoria’s Secret?

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  1. C.K says:

    I found this article to be so interesting and insightful, the writer obviously knows what he is doing. Good on you Rewiti! :)

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