Trans Models Were At The Forefront Of NYFW

Dressing the body is one of our last acts of freedom

by Devan Diaz

New York City has risen. The midtown tower of our commander in chief acts as a monolith, as we organize our resistance at its feet. We gather where we are needed, our rage surpassing the confines of the island. Despite the sharp winds of January, our resistance extended to the JFK international airport in Queens and the courthouse of Downtown Brooklyn. With each new executive order, we assembled out of fear for the irrevocable damage on our future. It became difficult to see the value in anything that did not work in direct opposition to our president. Weekend brunch plans were replaced with rallies in the name of women’s health or immigration rights. But as the first month of our country’s new era concluded, our city paused. Fashion week was approaching.

Through each new piece of legislation, the body has been under attack. In one month, the government has attempted to become the final word on which bodies belong here and what choices those bodies can make. Uncertain with which rights will be taken next, dressing the body is one of our last acts of freedom. In New York City, there is a necessary balance that must occur. Women and femme-presenting people often face street harassment and unsolicited attention as they go about their lives. For many of these individuals who are people of color, this attention can take a violent turn. Within these populations exists a myriad of sizes, ages, and gender identities. The equilibrium of style that is reached is one of self-protection and looking exactly as one wishes to look. Each season designers pull from this source of inspiration and regurgitate a whiter version of the truth. What is compromised is the texture of this city. This season was different. 

To say nothing is no longer negotiable. On election night, New York realized that it was not the center of the world. There is an entire part of our country between the coasts, and their eyes are watching us. For two weeks out of the year, fashion has a chance to offer the world a new insight into what is beautiful. When the standard is shrinking into something whiter and more rigid, our answer must be in our attempt to understand our problems. These problems are shared, and this season, fashion answered in unison. At Chromat, designer Becca McCharen-Tran used the richness of our city as a resource. Models Aurel Haize Odogbo, Maya Mones, and Carmen Carrera were included in the runway lineup without any mention of their trans identity. Plus size models Denise Bidot and Iskra Lawrence were shown in designs that made no attempt at hiding their figures. This season, individuality took the lead. 

Inclusivity reached its climax at the end of the week with the Marc Jacobs show. Each model was assessed as an individual, and given her own beauty look. Coming off of the heels of a season that did not have its shortage of backlash, Marc Jacobs focused on the spirit of each girl. For Fall/Winter 2017, there was a model set to make her debut. Dara, a 23-year-old California native, was set to walk her first major runway. With an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion, Dara also knows beauty. Pouring over runway images as an adolescent, what excited her most about the debut were the hair clips. 

“Obviously the whole day was amazing, but I was so excited by the hairclips. I’ve just always seen them used on models hair in backstage photos. To see them in my own hair was surreal.”

With a bouffant to rival the likes of Ronnie Spector, Dara looked the part of a supermodel. Walking behind longtime veteran Julia Nobis, there was no question that this was where she belonged. However, her debut may not have been possible a decade ago. As a girl who is transgender, her career has blossomed at a time when people are being deliberate in the pursuit of diversity. However, diversity as a concept has become something to attain instead of a constant pursuit. Dara finds inspiration outside of this. 

“I don’t want to see models who are trans just for the sake of being inclusive. I don’t solely feel represented by that image, although I am happy to see it. I want to see other parts of my personality reflected. I am inspired by certain shapes, colors, and attitudes.”

Dara was not the only one. Other trans models were on set, walking alongside Kendall Jenner and Alek Wek. Their presence was not in the press release; it was part of the vocabulary. This level of normalization allowed her to focus on the moment she’d spent so long preparing for. 

“On set, the inclusion of trans models felt seamless and not eventful. None of it was mentioned or focused on, and I never felt I was there just because I was trans. Since I was not the only one, it did not feel weird.”

For Dara, this day was a triumph. For girls like her, it offered a new insight into who is welcome in that world. Stevie, a model of trans experience, believes it is a logical business strategy. 

“Designers are doing a better service to the consumer. It shows who can wear the clothes, and displays how they will look in them.”

Stevie, 23, walked two shows this season. She was in the lineup for LRS and Mara Hoffman, two designers who were brazen in their political agendas. Raul Solis, of LRS, sent a model down the runway wearing underwear that read ‘No ban, No wall.’ Mara Hoffman opened her show with speeches by the national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington. Stevie’s trans identity was not a feature, and her presence contributed to the message. 

“I model because I like it, and I have fun doing it. However, I want to be seen in different contexts. I don’t want to be the sole provider for the context. Sometimes it feels good to relax.”

Models like Stevie and Dara have always existed. The conscious decision of their inclusion does not erase the women before them. Still, there are many facets of beauty we have not seen. We must demand nonbinary identity, differently abled people, and people of various religious backgrounds. We must leave a space open for the people we do not have the words to describe. When I asked Dara about the future, her answer was quick. 

“I can’t control what jobs I get offered, but I can control what I say yes to. I don’t want to be a part of something because they want diversity–I want to believe in the story that is being told.