celebrating change with elliott sailors
Chatting to the inspiring model about life and the powerful, transformative effect of a simple haircut.
Photography Olimpia Soheve. Elliott wears Giorgio Armani coat.
New York City model Elliott Sailors has been modelling since 2001, and is a well known face in the world of womenswear. Her recent decision to cut off her long blonde hair has taken her career in a completely new direction and she now does most of her modelling in menswear. Androgyny has been a trending concept in high fashion for some time now and also an important contribution toward the normalisation of the trans narrative. Along with the intention of extending her modelling career, Sailors had hoped her transformation might also open up a conversation about gender. We recently got the chance to chat with her in New York City about change, avoiding categorisation and her new found interest in acting.
Why did you decide to transform your image?
There were a number of things that led up to me cutting my hair, but what had me finally do it was that I participated in The Landmark Forum. It was there that I got connected to the fact that it's not just about me or my image, but about other people being able to see themselves in the fashion industry. It became clear that, at the age of 30, I wanted to re-create my career in a way that was true to me and also offer up the encouragement of authenticity to others at the same time.
Had you always wanted to be a model?
Modelling originally just seemed like an amazing opportunity to travel and meet a lot of interesting people. It wasn't so much about working in the fashion industry for me in the beginning. What I love so much about the fashion industry now is the freedom of self-expression. Not only is there a tremendous freedom and artistry that can exist in what we wear, but it's also a world of artists and incredibly interesting people in general! The fashion industry is a community that truly allows people the space to be who they are.
How did your work change after your haircut?
Well the kind of work I got completely changed for one thing. The clients who were looking for the girl with long blonde hair were still looking for that. So once I cut my hair and wanted to work in menswear, the clients obviously altered. What I absolutely love about working in menswear is how incredibly chill it is. The male models have always been more than supportive and we all have a great time when we get to work together. I also knew well ahead of time that male models make less than female models and that I would loose the clients I had before, but beyond that there haven't really been any ramifications. I've had a blast essentially getting to start all over again!
How did you feel adapting your demeanour to match your look?
In modelling we always adapt the way that we move to match what we're wearing. The biggest change is really just that I don't have to think as much about how to be traditionally feminine so often. Now I just get to hang out more. But when I am wearing something ultra feminine I still have a lot of fun with it.
Is your day-to-day experience different now too?
Yes! By far the biggest change since I cut my hair has occurred in my day-to-day life. People are completely different to me now than they were before. For one, it seems people find me more approachable. Before I think I was immediately put into a box of what "those kind of girls" are like. Now I feel like I have a lot more room to play! I confuse people more often now, like when they don't want to let me in the women's restroom, but I'm so grateful I've got to experience such contrasting ways of living within the same spaces.
Why do you think these constructs for gender are so hard to break?
You know what's pretty cool? There's only really one article out there that is completely negative and critical. One. There are others that have questioned my intentions, which is valid to wonder, but only one that was so entirely narrow-minded. And I think that's awesome! The world IS changing! People say crazy stuff sometimes, some of that stuff can be hurtful and horrendous. But going on and on about the problem just perpetuates it. Celebrating the changes and advancements I think is where the freedom will come. Although it may sound trite, it's like we've always heard "focus on the solution, not the problem!
What are your thoughts about being an icon for the queer community, as a non-queer individual?
I've never said I'm a non-queer individual. In fact, I've made a point of never really identifying myself in any way. Others have chosen labels for me, but other than androgynous, I haven't said anything about how I see myself. Well no, I have said that I do identify as female. But the way in which I experience myself as female is probably considered pretty queer by a lot of people and I'm okay with that. My personal identifiers, or lack thereof, do not matter and that's exactly my point. I just want people, all people, to have the experience of being completely free to be who they know themselves to be. That is the world that I am interested in living in and creating.
So what's next?
I'm not entirely sure what will be next. I'm looking at participating in a web series that explores spectrum - both the gender spectrum and the spectrum of sexuality. I want to move forward with my acting, I'm working on a new concept entitled "Tom Is Not A Boy". More importantly I want to keep cultivating a planet that breeds freedom and acceptance of all kinds of human beings.
Text Sabina McKenna
Photography Olimpia Soheve