andreja pejic: all about that girl
Andreja Pejic has built an enviable career breaking boundaries in fashion and gender – and she’s only just getting started. Here she speaks to journalist and fellow trans trailblazer, Paris Lees.
Andreja wears jacket Richardson. Hoodie Carhartt.
"You won't be special anymore. You'll just be a woman who can't have kids." That was the charming reaction Andreja Pejic received when she told a former lover about her plans to undergo genital reconstruction surgery. Andreja's response? "Women are not baby machines. There's a lot more to being a woman, so reducing them to that is quite disgusting. And if I'm so special, why don't you want to introduce me to your friends and family?" Fashion's nouveau femme doesn't waste her time with guys like that these days. She ditched the fuck and kept the feminism.
When I first came across Andreja in 2010, the global conversation about trans rights looked very different to the one we are having in 2015. A lot can happen in five years. Trans, for example, can go from taboo to tipping point. Laverne Cox can grace the cover of TIME. Caitlyn Jenner can beat Obama's record and gain a million Twitter followers in four hours. In this brave new world there are trans people prospering on all fronts, but when it comes to fashion, Pejic is the pioneer par excellence. Gaultier adores her.
Her beauty transcends gender, and she first attracted attention modeling both men's and women's collections: "Androgyny was a way of expressing my femininity when I was younger. Then the modeling came up and that was definitely based on me having this sort of unique look, so it extended that period for longer than I'd intended." There were some unglamorous considerations too: "I needed the money, frankly — to support myself and to give back to my mom. She's a working-class, single mother." She may have won the genetic lottery, but don't for a second think that Andreja is an uncomplicated child of privilege.
She was born in Bosnia in 1991. Six months later her mother took her to Serbia to escape the war. "I was living in a refugee camp before we moved to Australia. The last time I went back there properly was 2010, but I'm hoping to visit soon. It will probably be a very emotional experience to see my dad." They are close and stay in touch via email, but her father is going through his own 'transition' phase: "He does say Andreja, but Serbian is not like English — there are a lot of masculine and feminine words, so he struggles with that. But at the same time I haven't really been around him. When it comes to family and people who've known you all your life, you have to show them how you've changed."
Change hardly seems the word. Andreja is currently the face of Make Up For Ever, the brand's first trans ambassador. I doubt many refugee kids grow up to find their faces splashed across billboards in New York, let alone trans ones. "Sometimes I feel a little guilty about it," she says, "but I suppose it's one of those rags-to-riches stories. I do feel privileged, and accomplished, but at the same time I think there's a lot of luck to it as well."
When Andreja and I were growing up, being trans was a huge source of shame. Halfway into the decade and, dare I say it, trans is cool. "I think that has a lot to do with a younger generation and Tumblr," she says. "When I started modeling it was still sort of confined to fashion. A lot of people felt like it was a trend. Now it's a cultural movement." Like many 'girls like us' Andreja never thought she could be proud of being trans. "I was thrust into the spotlight, so I didn't have much of an option. But I realised that, while there's still a lot of work to be done, I can still be open and successful."
Despite this era of celebration, she describes 2014 as "one of the most difficult years of my life" - a period explored in her upcoming documentary Andrej(A). She didn't take as long as she would have liked to recover from genital surgery; she jumped "straight out of the hospital bed" to figure out her next move: "I honestly didn't know if there was going to be a future for me in the industry. Could I keep doing it? Or would I take a college course?" Hang on - college course? No future? "You know how it works. One minute you're in and the next, you're not. So you just sort of have to figure out when they are over you. Luckily it all worked out."
She didn't tell anyone in the industry about her plans for surgery apart from her menswear agent, and only then two weeks beforehand: "I didn't want anyone to stand in my way. It was just something I had to do, career or not. When the issue came up in conversations with my previous agent it was clear to me that, from a professional perspective, it would be better for me if I didn't transition. It might seem strange to a lot of people, because obviously it's a very gay-friendly industry, but there is ignorance in the fashion industry and it's my mission to change that."
I think Andreja is just the person to do it. Determination and intelligence are traits she's been blessed with from an early age. As a teenager she researched trans issues and bought female hormones online: "Google was everything to me. A lot of trans people turn to the internet because they might have been shunned in their communities, so it's a way to find like-minded people across the world." How does she feel about the fact that, today, anyone new she meets can Google her entire life? "It's strange. But it's sort of like a filter. It filters out negative people and then the good people come in."
Emotionally she's clearly reached an incredibly strong place: "Freedom is about accepting who you are to the point where nobody has the ability to hurt you. Before my transition I was trapped. I had to hide certain parts of myself for such a long time and it felt like it wouldn't be fair to experience that again." She's also positive about the future: "I understand there's a lot of discrimination, particularly in America, but I do feel the general public can evolve. Look at what's happened with gay marriage."
And another thing. Andreja Pejic may - may - just be in love. "We haven't had that conversation yet! But it's going great." Thankfully she's graduated from the sort of men who treated her as no more than a sexual fantasy: "He's open-minded and willing to learn. It was a shock at the beginning, but then you find stuff that you have in common. You get to know someone and show them your humanity - that you are funny. It has taken me a long while to have that confidence, but I like to think I'm quite a catch!" All it takes, she says, is for someone to break through that first barrier: "If they can get over the surprise they may find that there's someone they can really connect with. You know how it is, girl. You've just gotta show the world!"
Text Paris Lees
Photography Cass Bird
Styling Stella Greenspan
Hair Rolando Beauchamp at The Wall Group
Make-up Yumi Mori at The Wall Group using Oribe Haircare
Photography assistance Jon Heller, Diane Russo
Styling assistance Derek Ezra Brown
Production Ashley Scott
Production assistance Welsey Torrance
Model Andreja Pejic at The Society