You won’t be seeing any more of Andrej Pejic, the androgynous male model who rose to fame in 2010 after Carine Roitfeld had him photographed in womenswear for Paris Vogue. An onslaught of editorials followed (including a shirtless Dossier Journal cover that was essentially banned by Barnes & Noble for fear their customers would think he was a naked woman), and he even walked as the beautiful bride in Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring ’11 Couture show (below). But Andrej’s days on the runway are over. However, Andreja’s career is just getting started.
Earlier this year, Andreja underwent sex reassignment surgery (SRS). She always knew she was a woman, but her body, or at least parts of it, didn’t match up. Yesterday, the model trekked from her current Williamsburg digs to LGBT advocacy group GLAAD’s Chelsea headquarters to speak, for the first time, about her transition. Donning a white crop top and embellished Ports 1961 skirt, Pejic, who was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina but was raised in Melbourne (hence her charming Aussie accent), looked as angelic as ever. “I feel good,” she told me before sitting down. It showed.
You can bet you’ll be seeing quite a bit of Andreja Pejic—she has a role in Sofia Coppola’s forthcoming rendition of The Little Mermaid, and plans for fashion week are already in the works. Here, the six-foot-one stunner (who, it should be noted, has cheekbones that could cut glass) opens up to Style.com about her SRS, the challenges of being a transgender model, and why, at long last, she’s “ready to face the world.”
How do you identify?
I identify as a female.
How did you identify before the sex reassignment surgery?
I figured out who I was very early on—actually, at the age of 13, with the help of the Internet—so I knew that a transition, becoming a woman, was always something I needed to do. But it wasn’t possible at the time, and I put it off, and androgyny became a way of expressing my femininity without having to explain myself to people too much. Especially to my peers [who] couldn’t understand things like “trans” and gender identity. And then obviously the modeling thing came up, and I became this androgynous male model, and that was a big part of my growing up and my self-discovery. But I always kept in mind that, ultimately, my biggest dream was to be a girl. I wasn’t ready to talk about it before in a public way because I was scared that I would not be understood. I didn’t know if people would like me. But now I’m taking that step because I’m a little older—I’m 22—and I think my story can help people. My goal is to give a human face to this struggle, and I feel like I have a responsibility.
You seem to have had a firm understanding of your identity at an early age. Was growing up as a boy difficult?
Gender dysphoria is never an easy thing to live with, mainly because people don’t understand it. For most of my childhood, I knew that I preferred all things feminine, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know that there was an explanation. I didn’t know about the possibilities. And then I went on sort of a boyhood campaign from age 9 to about 13. I tried to be a “normal” boy because I felt like my options were either to be a gay boy or a straight boy. I didn’t feel that I was gay, so I didn’t know that there were any other options until the age of 13, when I went online and discovered that there’s a whole community of trans people out there. There are doctors, there’s medical care, there’s research, and that was an eye-opener for me. From that day on, I knew what I had to do.
Some people write off SRS as a purely cosmetic surgery. Can you speak a little bit about that, and why it’s not the case?
Yeah, a lot of people view it as a plastic procedure, like you go to a surgeon and say, “Oh, I want to be a woman.” It’s so much more complicated than that. You have to get a psychiatric evaluation, which I started at the age of 13. I started seeing psychiatrists, and then I stopped when I started modeling, and I started again about a year and a half ago. But medical attention is crucial for any trans person because it helps you figure out who you are. You go through some really strict testing before you’re even allowed to have the surgery.
Are there any other myths you’d like to debunk? Or is there anything else you want the general public to understand about SRS and transgender people?
I would like them to understand that we are people. We’re human beings, and this is a human life. This is reality for us, and all we ask for is acceptance and validation for what we say that we are. It’s a basic human right.
You’ve legally changed your name from Andrej to Andreja. Why was that important to you?
I added an “a” because it’s not a full transformation —it’s just an evolution. I thought about whether I should change it or not for a while. In the West, Andrej isn’t really a masculine name. But I think [the name change] is something that my mom really wanted because, traditionally, Andrej is a Christian Orthodox name, and in that religion, it’s definitely a male name. So I kept the “j” and added an “a,” which actually becomes a name that I don’t think exists. But I wanted to keep the “j” because that’s me. That’s my name.
How did your modeling agents react when you told them you were having SRS?
It’s been an interesting experience. I had the surgery early this year, and I told my men’s agent at DNA about two weeks before the operation. I just said, “This is what’s happening,” because I didn’t want anything to stop me. I had decided. And then recently, I had a meeting with the women’s [team], and they’ve been very positive about moving from the men’s board to the women’s board, which is amazing. It’s something I guess no one’s ever done.
Weren’t you on both the men’s and women’s boards before the surgery?
Actually, all over the world I was, but not in New York. I guess the American market isn’t as progressive.
How do you feel your transition from an androgynous male model to a female model will impact your career?
I hope everything goes well. [SRS] was a personal decision. I took this step, and I said to myself, My career is just going to have to fall into place around it. So I hope that I can continue my success. I think I’ve shown that I have skills as a model, and those skills don’t just go away. I’ve had experience. I’ve been around the block.
Androgyny and the transgender community seem to be at the center of the cultural and, more specifically, the fashion conversation at the moment. Hood by Air by Shayne Oliver, who enlisted voguers to model at the Fall ’14 show, is a prime example. Where do you think this focus on the transgender community is coming from?
The trend of androgyny and the exploration of trans beauty started around 2010, and that’s when Lea T and I both started [modeling]. Everyone was kind of saying, “Oh, it’s just a trend, it’s going to go away,” and it hasn’t. I think that’s because it represents a social layer of people who feel that they don’t want to conform to traditional forms of gender—who feel traditional forms of gender are outdated. That social base feeds the trend, and it feeds the exploration in fashion.
Do you feel the fashion industry has been welcoming and supportive throughout your career?
I got my success very quickly, and the media attention has been pretty positive. People like Jean Paul Gaultier, Carine Roitfeld, and Juergen Teller have been extremely supportive. But my biggest challenge was to not always be pigeonholed, and also to make [androgyny] commercially successful, because when I started, it was such a new thing. Still, there are a lot of roadblocks, particularly when working with cosmetic brands or perfumes or those sort of commercial, corporate things. It’s been more difficult to break into that world than “fashion” because it hasn’t been done before. They don’t have any market research, and people in that world aren’t risk takers. You have to prove to them over and over that you are liked by people, you have a skill, and you can sell a product.
Is landing a beauty campaign something you aspire to do?
It’s a goal for any model! It would be cray cray. But we’ll see. I’m happy to keep doing what I love, and for me it’s like I’m already living the dream.
Have you had any experiences in castings, etc., that have been particularly frustrating?
Oh, yeah, especially in the beginning, when I first moved to London. It was like, I’d walk into the boys’ casting, and they were like, “No…you don’t belong here.” And then at the girls’ casting, they were like, “Why are they sending us boys?” So it took time for everyone to get on board. It wasn’t all sweet sailing.
What do you think the fashion industry can do to further embrace the transgender community?
It would be lovely to live in a world where trans-female models were treated as female models, and trans-male models were treated the same as male models, rather than being a niche commodity. I think that that is the biggest struggle in all this. It’s almost like African-American models back in the nineties. It was like, “Oh, you can do this, but you can’t do that. You can do runway, but no print.” So I think that’s what needs to change.
When I first met you last year, you already seemed like a pretty confident individual. Do you feel more comfortable—or more you— since having the SRS?
I think from my teenage years, when I decided I needed to express my femininity, I was happy with the way I looked. But SRS is kind of the last part—it’s sort of the icing on the cake. It makes me feel freer than ever. Now I can stand naked in front of a mirror and really enjoy my reflection. And those personal moments are important.
But you’ve always been gorgeous. Did you not enjoy your reflection before?
Not fully naked.
I know you’re close with your mom. Has she been supportive throughout this transition?
I came out to my mom at the age of 14. She didn’t understand it at first, but she’s been very supportive since.
Has going through this transition as a public figure been very difficult?
There’s a difference between coming out to your family and close friends, and coming out to the whole world and opening yourself up to judgment. When I was younger, I just wasn’t ready for that. Even now, it’s hard to navigate. I try to concentrate on myself and what I really need, but there are so many other factors that go into it. You have to figure out timing, you have to figure out agencies. Public perception influences that. It’s a lot of pressure, and modeling is a lot of pressure anyway. I think most models have to live up to something, and they struggle with that. So to have that on top of this, there have definitely been difficult moments.
If I may ask, how do you think the SRS will impact your personal and romantic life? Is that something you’re excited about exploring?
Yeah, I’m very happy with this new situation, and I’m happy to keep exploring.
Are you dating anyone?
No, I’m single. I’m open to love, so I’m taking some time off for myself now. I think that’s necessary. We’ll see. But you know, I feel more comfortable than ever, more confident than ever, and I’m ready to face the world.
Every day, Style.com’s editors reveal their current obsessions—and where to buy them. Check out today’s pick, below.
As someone with a deep love of opals (my birthstone) and the kind of delicate, unimposing jewelry that’s become synonymous with Williamsburg jewelry mecca Catbird, WWAKE is my favorite find this year. The fiery little stones are a key element among most of its designs, which makes it hard to pick just one, but this simple pairing of an opal and a petite diamond is calling out to me. I’d also heartily endorse following WWAKE on Instagram for behind-the-scenes snaps from its Brooklyn studio and serious stacking inspiration.
WWAKE Nestled Opal and Diamond Ring, $406. Buy it now.
Simone Rocha may not have taken home the LVMH Prize, but the 27-year-old designer is in greater demand than ever. This month she’s poised (like Christopher Kane before her) to launch a collaboration with J Brand, and in Love‘s latest issue, she sits down with Comme des Garçons International president (and husband to designer Rei Kawakubo) Adrian Joffe. Joffe has been a staunch supporter since Rocha debuted her first collection with Fashion East back in 2010, and he also happens to have known the designer since she was a child. In the Q&A, moderated by Love editor Jack Sunnucks, Rocha and Joffe talk cultural identity, her “abysmal” academic performance, and the six dearly departed Joffe-Kawakubo cats. Also of note? The possibility that a Simone Rocha scent may just be hitting Dover Street Market shelves in the future.
An exclusive excerpt as well as a Patrick Demarchelier-lensed, Katie Grand-styled portrait of Rocha (sporting her own design) debuts below. To read the full interview, pick up Love Issue 12, as covered by Christy Turlington (shot by Inez & Vinoodh, and pictured above), Adriana Lima, Kendall Jenner, and Amy Adams. It hits newsstands July 28.
When Love joins Simone Rocha and Adrian Joffe, the pair are debating the very important topic of pets: Adrian has just revealed that he and his wife, Rei Kawakubo, used to have six cats at home in Japan.
Adrian Joffe: We liked cats, but there’s none left—they’re all gone. So nothing at the moment. But with traveling and everything it’s sad to leave animals alone, isn’t it?
Simone Rocha: That’s exactly what happened to me. We ended up moving around so much. They really need company.
AJ: Being half Chinese, half Irish—does that influence your work, do you think? Do you feel Chinese or Irish? Or does it not matter?
SR: I think it does matter. They’re so different. But one thing that is very important in both Irish culture and Chinese culture is family. So both my mum and dad have really big families and really important relationships with all their family. I love being Irish and not looking Irish, and I love going to Hong Kong and knowing that my granny lives there and my aunts and uncles, and I can go out and they’ll all speak Cantonese and play mah-jongg.
AJ: I’m guessing, though, that you don’t like to be referred to as Simone Rocha, the half-Chinese, half-Irish designer. That limits you, doesn’t it?
SR: I’d rather just be a designer. But I am very proud. I don’t mind being called an Irish designer, because a lot of people call me a British designer. I can feel the whole Ireland kicking off when that happens!
AJ: Do you remember your first memory of liking fashion? Was there one thing that set your love of fashion in motion?
SR: It actually just felt totally natural being around fashion, being around clothes. I absolutely love the smell of plastic bags—you know, when everything’s being hung up and shipped out.
I decided to do fine art originally, because I thought fashion would be a cliché. But after a year in college I’d done sculpture, ceramics, print—and then the very last discipline was fashion. And then I was like, Oh no, this is it—this is how I can translate my creativity.
I was actually a terrible student. I was abysmal in my B.A. None of my teachers thought I cared. And I didn’t. But I was still producing work, and there was obviously something in it!
AJ: You were having fun, I hope!
SR: That was the problem! I was having far too much fun—far too interested in socializing. But then I got in on the M.A., and around two weeks into it… Well, I’d never cared so much about something in my whole life.
AJ: So now you’ve done three shops with Dover Street. Can we do your perfume, too?
SR: That would be fabulous! I’d love that. I already know what it will smell like. Something real, but something really special.
If anyone could make “hippies in fur” look chic, it’s Karl Lagerfeld. In today’s Throwback Thursdays video, Tim Blanks looks back on Fendi’s Fall ’91 show, in which Lagerfeld presented an irreverent, ultra-luxe homage to the 1960s Haight-Ashbury scene. Iconic models like Linda Evangelista were decked out in reversible fur coats, miles of fringe, bucket hats, and beads. Consider it a glamorous alternative to festival style.
Looking at Fendi past and present, Blanks explains how fashion history has unfolded—the technology, the craftsmanship, and the constant nod to the future. As for the bona fide hippies who protested Fendi’s penchant for fur? The Kaiser put it simply: “As long as people eat meat and wear leather shoes, we shouldn’t discuss that subject.” Watch the full video here, and check back next week to see Tim’s latest look into the archives.