jazzelle is the gender-bending, gold-grilled model slaying on instagram
Jazzelle Zanaughtti has walked the runway for Gypsy Sport, amassed over 100k followers on Instagram, and modeled for Nick Knight so many times she's earned the right to casually say "we just kind of vibe." So you might expect her to, understandbly, be careful about what parts of herself she lets the very attentive public see. But Jazzelle, who is represented by Storm, is an open book. The sound of her rhythmic, sass-filled Detroit voice immediately puts you at ease. You feel as if you're spilling the tea with a good girlfriend, rather than conducting an interview. She talks excitedly about her unexpected blast into the modeling world — the fumes set alight when Nick Knight DM'ed her on Instagram after seeing her signature bald head.
As a mixed-race female with a quirky androgynous style composed of puffer jackets, gold grills, and drawn-on hearts for eyebrows, Jazzelle sits right in the center of fashion's rising representations of racial diversity and queer gender expression. She talks to i-D about the awkward situations passing as a white model can create on set, being grateful for her childhood bullies, and thrifting.
How did you get into modeling?
Nick Knight, one of my biggest idols, had started liking my photos on Instagram. He told me he wanted to work with me one day. Then, I shaved my head randomly and he hit me up right away and said, "I'm working for this magazine and I'd love to work with you." I flew out to London, which was my first time being outside of America, and we did this beautiful shoot with Comme des Garçons stuff. I wasn't sure if I wanted to get into the fashion industry — there's so many egos you have to deal with — but I said, "If he believes in me, then let me try it out and see what happens."
So everything just kind of fell into place?
Yeah! My luck isn't usually that great [laughs], but it's turned around.
A lot of models have stories about being bullied for their strong features before learning to embrace and appreciate them. Was that also the case for you?
Growing up, I was bullied for being weird in general. Looking back, I wasn't ugly, per se, but people would make fun of me for my frizzy hair and for dressing weird and my skinny legs. They would call me "chicken legs" — although, I'm a lot thicker now! Of course no one wants to be bullied, but I'm kind of glad I was — it really shaped me into the person that I am today.
When did you come into yourself and your gender expression?
Two weeks out of high school I got out of Detroit and moved to Chicago. I started getting in the queer scene and doing drag. That's when I began finding people who accepted me for who I was and that was a really big thing for me.
And what's your relationship to gender now?
It's something I don't think about, to be honest with you. I just do me! I love to feel my masculinity just as much I love to feel my femininity. At the end of the day: I'm just doing me and living my moment.
And what's your experience as a person of color in the industry been like?
You know, because I'm mixed-race and very pale, there are a lot of encounters I've had where people will say a lot of off-key things to me and it's very, very, very uncomfortable. Especially when you have to work with them for the rest of the day. I'm usually the person to put someone in check, but I'm not going to pop off because this is my job and I have to pay my rent. But I want to educate these people. I definitely pass as white, so I have that privilege and I have to support my people and rep where I come from.
You have some interesting, cutting-edge outfits. What's are some of the brands in your closet right now?
I'm not even a brand queen! I just thrift and I thrift and I thrift. I like the thrift stores in Brooklyn! They'll have some cool throwbacks like FUBU and old school Tommy Hilfiger. I really like to shop in the kids section too, because they always have the most popping shit. I just got this neon-yellow Pokémon shirt. I just want it to be cute and part of my color scheme.
With over 100k followers on Instagram, is there anything you think about when it comes to what to post and not to post?
I only just realized that, for some odd reason, people listen to what I say. So now I like to use it to spread positivity. That's the only thing I really think about. Other than that, it's just stupid selfies and the beat of the day!
Jazelle is represented by Storm Agency. You can follow her Instagram @uglyworldwide
Text André-Naquian Wheeler
photography courtesy storm agency and jazzelle