She has never felt accepted like other Australian darlings and admits to being a ‘little hurt’ by that
Even those with their fingers firmly off the fashion pulse may recognise Andreja Pejić. Standing at six foot two with ice-blonde hair, a striking hawkish gaze, and frankly, unnecessarily long legs, Pejić appears on the surface to be the archetypal supermodel (add in her eastern European lilt and this impression becomes positively cartoonish). However, for somebody who so assuredly conforms to the mould, as a transwoman Pejić has also done a hell of a lot to break it.
The first-generation Bosnian-Australian became an androgynous fashion icon in 2011 after walking both the men’s and women’s show for Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris fashion week. She has since become the first openly-trans model to be profiled for Vogue and one of the first trans models to secure a major cosmetics campaign when she modelled for Make Up Forever in 2015.
However Pejić’s career has consisted almost exclusively of international exploits and she told me that up until this point, she has never found any significant success in the Australian fashion industry.
“I can’t say I’ve worked a lot in Australia – and if I’m being completely honest, I was a little bit hurt by that because Australia is my home,” she said.
“I never really felt accepted in the Australian advertising market as much as the other Australian darlings but, you know, I was different and that’s how it is when you’re a bit different.”
It doesn’t shock me to hear this. As a short (relatively speaking) ethnic model who has worked in the Australian industry for over six years, I’ve witnessed firsthand the unwillingness of most brands to budge from the slim, Caucasian beach aesthetic that has dominated our nation’s beauty ideals since the dawn of our, well, beach-bound whiteness.
The first few years of my career were defined by hours in casting rooms milling about as what I’ve come to refer to as the “guilt call” – the single brown girl that brands could pretend to consider as a legitimate option while never actually landing the job. This alienating feeling has thankfully become less and less common as casting rooms in Sydney have filled up with more diverse faces over the past two years.
Even while the understanding of beauty in Australian fashion is becoming more progressive, with the inclusion of more models from diverse ethnic backgrounds in large campaigns and the inclusion of the first plus-size model on the runway of Australia’s Mercedes Benz fashion week last year (the first! In 2018!), the conversation regarding the inclusion of trans or non-binary models has remained remarkably quiet.
That is why it is surprising and heartening to hear that underwear brand Bonds have hired Pejić to front their latest campaign for new line, Intimately. This is only the second lingerie advertising that Pejić has landed and she hopes that being hired by such a well-known Australian company is the first swell in a changing tide that will bring her home to work more frequently.
Models, despite their reputation for being rather vapid and ridiculous, serve an important cultural purpose; for a person to conceptualise their own beauty, they need a point of reference in the world, and fashion can provide that framework. Pejić believes that it is the job of fashion to “be plugged in and see what’s happening in the world”. By leading a major advertising campaign – for underwear nonetheless – Pejić is hopeful that she can assume the position of a role model for young trans people.
“I do think we [models] have a purpose to serve and I hope that young people can gain some courage from what I’ve done. It’s not easy to grow up different, it’s certainly not easy to grow up trans,” she said.
However, Pejić is careful to avoid grandiosity when discussing fashion as a vehicle for social change and doesn’t believe it is the singular source of the revolution when it comes to changing wider societal attitudes towards the trans community.
“I’ve always been very very patient and will continue to be and I want to keep just doing my job and keep inspiring and hopefully that will mean something for culture in general.”
It is worth noting in an industry so blatantly motivated by commercial interests that the beginning of the revolution may already be here. Fashion reflects what surrounds it and changes when the world does. Models used in Australian advertising up to this point have been so homogenously white, slim and cisgender because brands assumed they were selling to a socially conservative audience that wanted to see white, slim and cisgender bodies and this is simply no longer the case.
Ultimately, Pejić believes that fashion can evade the constraints of outdated social hierarchies with a simplification of who we construe as beautiful.
“It should be somebody who walks into a room and you think, ‘Oh this person is special’. I don’t think it should always be a person that’s a size zero or a size two – or size 11. There’s a million ways of being special.”
- Elfy Scott is a journalist and writer based in Sydney