Fashion’s desirable ambiguity.
This morning I came across an article at the Huffington Post which linked to a Vogue Italia article on rising fashion model Valentijn De Hingh. Certainly fitting the image of today’s supermodel, upon first glance, there’s not much that’s overly remarkable about her, outside of the fact that she has a striking image, and as such, it’s a no-brainer that she’s a model. However, to know Valentijn is to know that she was a he.
The subject of a nine-year documentary on transgendered children, which aired on Dutch television in 2007, Valentijn subsequently received a sex change and moved onto a career as a model, scoring spots on the runways of Maison Martin Margiela and Comme des Garcons (which, incidentally is French for “just like boys”.
Valentijn is certainly not alone on the runway. With a slightly higher profile, transgender model Lea T has been garnering notices and working with some of the best known fashion houses such as Givenchy. Given the way in which fashion literally sets trends by being shocking, knowing that transgendered models are not only working, but working for established names isn’t all that shocking.
Add to the mix the phenomenon that is Andrej Pejic, a male model whose gender bending style has had him model a variety of looks for an even wider variety of houses.
When you think about it, it’s clearly not a big deal that this is happening, and to be honest, it really isn’t. But what it does do in my mind as a photographer, is bring into question the idea and concept of the model. Now you have models who are generally all-purpose, be it runway or print. The classic image of models had drifted to one where the thinner you were, the more work you would get. Kate Moss made her career off of having the body of a 12 year-old boy, so why would it be a surprise that eventually you would have a male model ape the look of a waifish female model who is aping a young boy.
It makes no sense, because it makes perfect sense.
At PopLife, we have always celebrated the image of the curvy female model, but there have been instances where thinner models simply made more sense to shoot. The image carries it’s own connotation, and while I personally don’t shoot male models, it’s not an issue of discrimination as it is personal preference. Fashion, however, can always be far more accommodating, as it should be.
Fashion, if it isn’t anything else, is a constant work-in-progress. It moves, it evolves and it transforms. Having transgendered, or gender-bending models seems like a natural progression, and an accepted one at that. Certainly none of the names I mentioned came first in this way; for that, you’d have to look at April Ashley, one of the first transgendered models who gained a good amount of success, which included gracing the pages of Vogue UK. But what makes this all a curiosity is what fashion makes of the model, or more importantly, the emphasis of what is more important, the model or the design.
Certainly the reason you have runway shows is so that new designs from houses are shown off. Technically who is wearing the design shouldn’t matter. By their very definition, a model is pretty much a fancy clothes hanger. Whose to say that in a few years, instead of transgendered models, or androgynous boys, there won’t just be androids? Because it’s pretty easy to see things go that way, which in turn could quite possibly mean the death of the supermodel, both male and female.
Yes, fashion is indeed an evolution. Wait long enough, and it may evolve right past you.